Magazine article The Spectator

The Sound of Rockets in the Morning

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sound of Rockets in the Morning

Article excerpt


Twelve months after the war which was supposed to return Iraq to the 'international community', to open it up for democracy, trade and progress, Baghdad is a city almost totally cut off from the outside world.

Not one of the four main roads linking the capital with its neighbours, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Kuwait, is safe to travel on. At the city approaches from north, south and west, Baghdad has gunmen like London has DIY warehouses. Iraqis are routinely stopped and robbed. As for foreigners, anyone stupid enough to try these roads has, in the last few days, almost always ended up a hostage, or dead.

There is only one comparatively safe way in for Westerners - a single daily flight from Amman with Royal Jordanian, the last civil airline still reckless enough to fly into the war zone. On board, RJ gallantly pretends that everything is normal. There are boarding passes, in-flight magazines, small beige meals on plastic trays. But then you notice that the entire crew seem to be South African. Many of your fellow passengers are wearing stetsons. And when we come in to land, it is with a plummeting, G-force-inducing corkscrew descent, designed to confuse anti-aircraft missiles and keep the insurgents guessing about our final angle of approach until the last possible moment.

On the road in from the airport, all the palm trees have been chopped down to provide clear fields of fire. The parapets of every overbridge are topped with high barbed-wire fences to prevent the grateful locals throwing rocks at us. The terminal itself is a 'sterile zone', with no Iraqi and no civilian motor vehicle allowed within two miles of it. The first port of call, after dropping your bags at the hotel, is the Royal Jordanian office to make absolutely sure of your seat out. The scene there is like Saigon, say, two weeks before the fall: not quite open panic just yet, but not far off it. The price of a return ticket for the 80-minute flight has risen to £850.

The Coalition's loss of the most basic of all possible military necessities - the security of its own supply, not to mention escape, routes - says everything about the terrible mess it now finds itself in. After the final collapse, earlier this year, of the case on weapons of mass destruction, the events of the last ten days have ruthlessly stripped away all Whitehall's and Washington's other remaining fantasies, deceptions and pretences about Iraq: that the situation is 'gradually improving', that the Iraqi people welcome us, that the resistance is confined to 'international terrorists' and Baathist 'remnants' determined to recapture the golden days of Saddam. These must be the world's only known 'remnants' which grow bigger every week.

In Britain's case, there is also loss of the greatest delusion of all - that the British have any control whatever over the actions of the Coalition. British officials have been reduced to complaining to newspapers that they wouldn't do it like this, never the best of signs.

The main US military spokesman, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, is quite clearly a man in denial. As recently as Tuesday, he was still claiming that the fighting in the main battlefield, Fallujah, was all due to foreign fighters, including the 'key alQa'eda linchpin', Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been linked by the Americans to more terrorist attacks than Semtex. Yet only about 5 per cent of those captured or killed in Fallujah have been foreigners. Kimmitt is the same man who greeted the beginning of the violence last week as a 'localised uptick'.

Watching Kimmitt's performance, it suddenly dawned on me that the Coalition is in the same position as Saddam was during the war, living in a bunker, convincing himself that everything was fine when all around the seeds of failure were being sown. What has been lost since 4 April is not territory: that can, and no doubt will, be regained, the supply routes re-secured; the military force facing the Americans is not that great. …

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