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Iraq Diary Of A War

"For many Iraqis the allied forces are invaders desecrating their country's honor and dignity. This is an unforgivable sin in Iraq's culture. Land and territory are as sacred as the honor of women and occupation is as vile, shameful and abominable as rape," wrote Hala Jaber three years ago.
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Mar 16, 2006
Iraq. Year three. Well, so much for the "cakewalk" they promised us. Unless of course it was devil's cake they had in mind. To their credit, the planners working overtime in the sub-basements of the Pentagon got the initial phase of the war right.

It was the apres-guerre they had trouble with and grossly miscalculated, particularly, when it came to gauging Arab and Muslim reaction to the American-led invasion.

Just four days into the war I remember writing "this war is not unfolding entirely as planned." But in all fairness, all the best laid-out and most meticulous war plans are forced to change once the first bullet is fired. Even armchair warriors will admit to that.

And Iraq was no different. The fog of war had blurred events in this quasi-Orwellian conflict from its very beginning. The war planners had promised us that this was going to be a quick war. Quick compared with what? The Hundred Year War? The War of the Roses? What became clear only seven days into the conflict, despite the fog of war, is that resistance met by coalition forces has been far stronger than that anticipated by the war planners.

Secondly, much to their surprise, British and American soldiers had discovered that instead of being greeted with open arms as liberators -- and as they had expected -- they were greeted with volleys of machinegun fire and heavy opposition from Iraqi troops and irregulars faithful to Saddam Hussein.

Coalition forces, the administration led us to believe, should have expected a repetition of Desert Storm, as was the case the last time an American-led coalition battled Iraqi troops after Saddam invaded Kuwait. The war planners explained that the "shock and awe" campaign would quickly crush any resistance by Iraqi troops, which would rapidly succumb to the superior trained, better-armed and technologically advanced might of the coalition.

Again, writing barely a week into the war, this correspondent observed: "This, however, does not seem to be the case. The battle for Basra, Iraq's second largest city and a mere two-hour car drive from Kuwait, the main staging area of the coalition, is still raging. Coalition troops had to drop massive 2,000-pound bombs on the Baath party headquarters in the city to silence troops faithful to Saddam."

The first few weeks of battle saw a 21st-centruy military force armed with state-of-the-art "Star Wars" weaponry do battle with an army emerging from the history books, poorly equipped with antiquated Soviet T-54 tanks and rocket propelled grenades.

Saddam's Fedayeen, those dreaded black-clad thugs who answered directly to Saddam's eldest son, Uday, would emerge from the shadows of the orange-hazed sand storms to engage in guerilla type hit-and-run attacks on coalition troops, in moves that were reminiscent of Vietcong tactics. Yes, the fog of war blurred events.

From the get go, there was confusion. Rumors of Saddam's death were over-exaggerated. Every time the coalition bombed one of his palaces or bunkers he kept popping up on Iraqi TV. And with reports of his many doubles, it was like trying to find Waldo in Baghdad.

Then there was the propaganda war -- the one for which Iraq's Information Minister, the infamous Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, deserved an Oscar for his supporting role. In one of those surreal moments I was monitoring two television sets in the office. One was tuned to al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite channel based in Qatar, and the other to Britain's Sky News. Both were broadcasting live from Baghdad.

Sky: "The Americans own much of Baghdad." They quoted U.S. sources saying, "American troops occupy several government buildings in central Baghdad." They showed footage of American tanks and armored personnel carriers driving along what are clearly the banks of the Tigris River. We could see U.S. troops standing under the giant crossed swords in Saddam's favorite parade grounds. I know the place well, having been there during the previous Gulf War 12 years earlier.

At the same time on al-Jazeera: their correspondent chatting nonchalantly with al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister. They are in a street outside the ministry building. There are no Americans in sight.

Meanwhile, gunfire and artillery is clearly audible in the background. A thick haze of yellowish-orange smoke blankets the background, rendering visibility impossible beyond just a few yards, adding to the fog of war and the strangeness of this battle. The live image beamed by Sky News looks somewhat like a cross between Rembrandt's "Stormy Landscapes" and the "River Scene with Vessels Becalmed" by Jan Van de Cappelle.

Bizarre? Yes, and it got stranger.

Al-Sahhaf tells a gaggle of reporters clad in protective flak vests and combat helmets standing outside the press office in the heart of Baghdad that "U.S. forces learned a lesson last night they will never forget.

"We slaughtered them and will continue to slaughter them," says the Iraqi minister.

Turning slightly to look at Sky News I see Iraqis surrendering to American soldiers. I see Iraqi prisoners of war squatting on the ground with American soldiers pointing their guns at them. I see Iraqis jumping into the river to escape American gunfire. I see burning Iraqi tanks and vehicles. I see dead Iraqis.

A quick turn to the left and al-Sahhaf is still there, defiantly stating that the Americans will be vanquished. Does this man live on a dream planet?

Yet Al-Sahhaf insists that Baghdad is "secure and great."

Not according to Sky. Not according to reality.

Three years on: looking back at my notes, I wrote: The reason the United States and Great Britain went to war with Iraq was to remove a potentially unfriendly regime that could cause great harm to the West and to its neighbors. Given Iraq's predisposition of invading its neighbors and its inexorable desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, for the sake of world stability, regime change became the order of the day.

But in so doing, the United States and Britain have unwittingly laid out the groundwork for even greater hatred which will, without a doubt, come back to haunt the West for many generations.

Around the same time, writing in the Sunday Times from Baghdad, Hala Jaber, a veteran of several Mideast conflicts explained that "honor is Iraq's secret weapon."

Nearly two weeks into the conflict many observers will have agreed on one thing; the fighting the coalition is witnessing is not so much in support of Saddam but to defend Iraq's honor.

"For many Iraqis the allied forces are invaders desecrating their country's honor and dignity. This is an unforgivable sin in Iraq's culture. Land and territory are as sacred as the honor of women and occupation is as vile, shameful and abominable as rape," wrote Jaber.

That was three years ago. Many of those Iraqis are still fighting.

Source: United Press International

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