Magazine article The Spectator

The US Is Bringing Liberty and Equality to Iraq, but Not Fraternity: That Would Be Sexist

Magazine article The Spectator

The US Is Bringing Liberty and Equality to Iraq, but Not Fraternity: That Would Be Sexist

Article excerpt

Inside Baghdad there is another Baghdad. It is called the Green Zone and my Times colleague Richard Beeston wrote about it in The Spectator a few weeks ago. I visited the Green Zone last month. This was virtual reality. Outside lies a dirty and dangerous country. Within, you encounter a magic park where newly planted young trees wave in the breeze and hopeful Americans with perfect teeth speak only of freedom.

I had come to attend one of the regular press conferences at which the US generals commanding the different military zones report progress in their sector. Inside are marbled halls built by Saddam for an international convention which never convened, and along with a gaggle of local and foreign journalists I waited as a young US soldier adjusted the lectern and projected on to the podium backdrop (in English and Arabic) the logo of the Coalition Provisional Authority: 'Liberty, Equality'; Fraternity has been dropped. Off-message, gender-balance-wisc. Another soldier, more senior this time, announced the programme of speakers and asked us to switch off our mobile phones. A third soldier came in to adjust the microphones.

Soldiers do most things in the Green Zone. They march about saluting each other, set up the press conferences and take the press conferences. In their ideal world they would also ask the questions and then report their own answers. All are dressed in similar pale-yellow-beige, sandy-looking camouflages. All, from generals down, wear pale desert boots. Most have pale Caucasian faces and many have sandy hair too. From time to time, even in the Green Zone, one of this bleached, almost eyebrowless tribe quicksteps tightly past a representative of the Iraq outside - a nation of swarthy, dark-skinned people with thick black hair, bushy eyebrows, colourful shirts, bad teeth and a looser walk. You get the weird impression that one or the other the soldier or the Iraqi - must be a ghost: two figures in a photograph in which one figure has been horribly overexposed. The blanched combatant looks like an intruder from a parallel universe, superimposed upon this Middle Eastern one. Idly you wonder whether one might sail like the Mary Celeste right through the other. Sometimes duty propels the bleached ones temporarily beyond the cultural biosphere of their Green Zone and into the real Iraq, where they stare around as though they had been beamed down into an alien planet but might at any moment - please God - be beamed up home to Missouri.

On to the podium strode Brigadier General Carter F. Ham. He had come to report progress in the military governance of the northern sector. He looked awkward. He looked a decent sort. He looked profoundly unconvinced that he had been put on this Earth to command heathen tribes speaking strange tongues far from his native land. On to the screen behind him was now projected a big circular emblem, stamped around its circumference, as on a coin, in English and Arabic, the boast 'OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM'.

As he spoke, Arab-speaking journalists among us put on headphones. When they spoke General Ham awaited a translation, and a minute's silence would ensue as he listened to his headphones, staring glassily around. Then he would answer in English. It was fun to guess from his answers what the questions had been. General Ham made a statement about security in his sector, taking care to mention America's 'Coalition Partners' at least once, and coining the immortal phrase, 'We are grateful to the Albanian commando. …

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