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Thursday, April 08, 2004


9 APRIL 03

The U.S. is a clever, benign nation - but brash and naive in certain respects. The reason why the Stars and Stripes ended up covering Saddam's statue in Firdos Square on 9 April 2003 - before it was removed and replaced with a less decorously tucked in Iraqi flag - is that the U.S. does not seem to have officers in charge of its soldiers at critical times. Do they spend enough time educating these soldiers, as the British Army does, into what they are doing?

The flag, surviving 9/11, was the biggest public relations disaster the Americans could possibly have thought up: though the spin was ratcheted up several notches on both sides of the Atlantic a few days later to try to persuade us that it was winning the war that mattered, not little mistakes involving the pride of Iraqis (= who ought to be grateful and shut up). And this public relations disaster, all because the U.S. appears to keep its soldiers in blissful ignorance of the reasons why they fight and, by all accounts, where they are fighting. Some "grunts" interviewed on TV seemed to be unsure which country there were fighting in. Arabs everywhere will be making cynical jokes about The Flag and 9/11 for years to come. And all because many U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq appear to have no idea of the for what and the for why.

I stick by the principle of what I said then. I supported the liberation of the Iraqis knowing the stated reasons for the invasion were bogus. I had lived in Baghdad in the '50s as a pre-teen and wanted to imagine the wonderful Iraq I knew back again. Not yet.

I was a bit harsh on the officer corps of the US Army, but still remain mystified as to why no one made more of this flag fiasco. I still think it is a symbol of how lacking in understanding the US is of Iraq and the Iraqis. I still think many of those soldiers thought they were dealing with 9/11 by entering Baghdad. I think many of them probably still do.
I still think Iraq would be further forward, a year on, if the US had not made so many mistakes in the first year of occupation. Being an old cynic, the chaos theory might be as good an explanation as any. Invasion Lite failed and Occupation Lite will fail too.


repost from 9 April 03

"Look at me, Haraj"
"I want to see your eyes."
"Ohhhh..." [turns away in embarrassment]
I stand by his side looking at him as he turns away and then I look quizzically at Mum. She later tells me that his eyes are like Meltis' Fruits (This is a make of soft fruit jellies available in the UK at the time)

Haraj lived in a big house diagonally across from us. We two played in the street. One day when I was alone, playing in the driveway, another boy appeared offering me a large drawstring bag of marbles for 50 fils. I begged Mum for the money. She is soft hearted so she agreed. Cock of the walk, I took up the challenge of a game of marbles.

The game they played involved scooping out a shallow hole the size of a large fist in the sand of the should-have-been pavement, against a garden wall, standing 4-5 feet away on the roadside curb and throwing marbles into the hole. There were several effective techniques: straight into the hole, bouncing of the wall or off the ground. If you threw two - and they went in - your opponent had to pay you two; if one or both didn't go in, they were both his. The choice of how many you threw was up to you: one wimpish; two, safe; three risky; four suicidal (or brave, depending on how one looks at it).

I recall, soon after I bought the marbles, Haraj, an Iraqi boy and me playing in the boiling sun until I lost every single marble in that bag - fifty at least. When I went in for supper I dare not tell Mum I had lost them all. It slipped out a few days later.

Haraj once invited me to his house when everyone was out. They were Armenians and this street in the Armenian quarter. They were middle class business people. The thing I remember most vividly was a row of hand-made shoes that belonged to his grandfather. I had never seen rows of shiny shoes like that before. Haraj explained that he wore one pair a day. That way they lasted for years.

I feel as if there was an old violin, or was told about one. The feeling I have of being in the house, cool marble floors, old furniture, ornate pictures, special smells, is there in my head but I cannot describe what I think I saw apart from the row of shoes.

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