So, three years after the international crimes against humanity in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania we were bombing Fallujah. Come again? Hands up those who knew the name of Fallujah on 11 September 2001. Or Samarra. Or Ramadi. Or Anbar province. Or Amarah. Or Tel Afar, the latest target in our “war on terror’’ although most of us would find it hard to locate on a map (look at northern Iraq, find Mosul and go one inch to the left). Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
Three years ago, it was all about Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida; then, at about the time of the Enron scandal and I have a New York professor to thank for spotting the switching point it was Saddam and weapons of mass destruction and 45 minutes and human rights abuses in Iraq and, well, the rest is history. And now, at last, the Americans admit that vast areas of Iraq are outside government control. We are going to have to “liberate” them, all over again.
Like we reliberated Najaf and Kufa, “to kill or capture Muqtada Sadr’’, according to Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, and like we lay siege to Fallujah back in April when we claimed, or at least the US Marines did, that we were going to eliminate “terrorism’’ in the city. In fact, its local military commander has since had his head chopped off by the insurgents and Fallujah, save for an occasional bloody air raid, remains outside all government control.
These past two weeks, I’ve been learning a lot about the hatred Iraqis feel towards us. Trowelling back through my reporter’s notebooks of the 1990s, I’ve found page after page of my hand-written evidence of Iraqi anger; fury at the sanctions which killed half a million children, indignation by doctors at our use of depleted uranium shells in the 1991 Gulf War (we used them again last year, but let’s take these things one rage at a time) and deep, abiding resentment towards us, the West. One article I wrote for The Independent in 1998 asked why Iraqis do not tear us limb from limb, which is what some Iraqis did to the American mercenaries they killed in Fallujah last April.
But we expected to be loved, welcomed, greeted, fêted, embraced by these people. First, we bombarded Stone Age Afghanistan and proclaimed it “liberated”, then we invaded Iraq to “liberate” Iraqis too. Wouldn’t the Shia love us? Didn’t we get rid of Saddam Hussein? Well, history tells a different story. We dumped the Sunni Muslim King Feisal on the Shia Muslims in the 1920s. Then we encouraged them to rise against Saddam in 1991, and left them to die in Saddam’s torture chambers. And now, we reassemble Saddam’s old rascals, their torturers, and put them back in power to “fight terror’’, and we lay siege to Muqtada Sadr in Najaf.
We all have our memories of 11 September 2001. I was on a plane heading for America. And I remember, as the foreign desk at The Independent told me over the aircraft’s satellite phone of each new massacre in the United States, how I told the captain, and how the crew and I prowled the plane to look for possible suicide pilots. I think I found about 13; alas, of course, they were all Arabs and completely innocent. But it told me of the new world in which I was supposed to live. “Them’’ and “Us’’.
In my airline seat, I started to write my story for that night’s paper. Then I stopped and asked the foreign desk in London by this time the aircraft was dumping its fuel off Ireland before returning to Europe to connect me to the newspaper’s copytaker, because only by “talking” my story to her, rather than writing it, could I find the words I needed. And so I “talked” my report, of folly and betrayal and lies in the Middle East, of injustice and cruelty and war, so it had come to this.
And in the days to come I learnt, too, what this meant. Merely to ask why the murderers of 11 September had done their bloody deeds was to befriend “terrorism”. Merely to ask what had been in the minds of the killers was to give them support. Any cop, confronted by any crime, looks for a motive. But confronted by an international crime against humanity, we were not to be allowed to seek the motive. America’s relations with the Middle East, especially the nature of its relationship with Israel, was to remain an unspoken and unquestioned subject.
I’ve come to understand, in the three years since, what this means. Don’t ask questions. Even when I was almost killed by a crowd of Afghans in December 2001 furious that their relatives had been killed in B-52 strikes The Wall Street Journal announced in a headline that I had “got my due” because I was a “multiculturalist”. I still get letters telling me that my mother, Peggy, was Adolf Eichmann’s daughter.
Peggy was in the RAF in 1940, repairing radios on damaged Spitfires, as I recalled at her funeral in 1998. But I also remember, at the service in the chancel of the little stone Kentish church, that I angrily suggested that if President Bill Clinton had spent as much money on research into Parkinson’s disease as he had just spent in firing cruise missiles into Afghanistan at Osama bin Laden (and it must have been the first time Bin Laden’s name was uttered in the precincts of the Church of England) then my mother would not have been in the wooden box beside me.
She missed 11 September 2001 by three years and a day. But there was one thing she would, I feel sure, have agreed with me: That we should not allow 19 murderers to change our world. George Bush and Tony Blair are doing their best to make sure the murderers DO change our world. And that is why we are in Iraq.