The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big brother blind to Basra model

Washington, April 11: Forty eight hours after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the tables are being turned on those who ‘liberated’ Iraqis from Baath party tyranny.

As images of decapitated statues of the Iraqi dictator were overtaken by scenes of unimpeded looting and mayhem all across the country, the UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) said in a statement that “inaction by the occupying powers is in violation of the Geneva conventions, which explicitly state that medical establishments must be protected, that the wounded and sick must be the object of particular protection and respect, and that hospital personnel must be protected and must be free to carry on their duties”.

In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair was clearly on the defensive when he said: “Let us understand that in the main this anger and disorder is being directed against the regime and symbols of the regime that has brutalised its people in a systematic way, a regime which has kept itself rich while keeping its people poor.”

The spokesman rationalised that “the action against some of the hospitals in Baghdad is being directed at those hospitals which were the preserve of the elite of the regime”.

Contrary to the growing concern in Whitehall about ‘free’ Iraq descending into chaos, the response at the Pentagon bordered on the farcical.

Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations, was asked why American troops were standing by even as more damage was being wreaked on the Iraqi capital than what it sustained in US bombing.

“You can’t do everything at once, although you try to do as many things simultaneously as you can do safely,” McChrystal said irritably.

Underlining Washington’s priorities, he said: “Clearly, the focus right now has got to be on getting the death squads and the Special Republican Guard elements identified and defeated and out of the city, because that is the major threat.”

Reporters were stunned by what he then said: “Looting is a problem, but it is not a major threat. People are not being killed in looting. So that’s something we have to do as we have the time and capability to do it. Sure, we want the looting to stop, but it is something that will be gotten to.”

Behind the facade of Anglo-American unity and the effort to put on a brave front in the light of a major crisis developing in Baghdad and cities in the north, the British are advising the Americans to follow their model in Basra.

“The situation there is now calm,” Blair’s spokesman said of the southern Iraqi city. “We believe that model will work throughout Baghdad.”

He asserted that “we are actually seeing here a pattern that has been played out in other countries where a repressive regime has fallen. We saw a similar mixture in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, but initial disorder does give way to stability and that is what has happened in Basra”.

Notwithstanding the comparisons to Kosovo and Sierra Leone, it is clear that the Americans were taken by surprise by the sudden turn of events in Baghdad and other cities and are totally unprepared for it.

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad yesterday briefed the UNOHCI and summed up the situation in the Iraqi capital in two words: “anarchy and chaos”.

The UNOHCI statement issued after that briefing said “the coalition forces seem to be unable to restrain the looters or impose any sort of controls on the mobs that now govern the streets”.

In the US State Department, Middle East experts with long memories are privately worried that what happened in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion in 1982 may be repeated in Iraq.

Lebanese Shias then welcomed the Israeli army as liberators from the tyranny of the Palestinians, but in a short time gave birth to the Hezbollah, which terrorises Israel and America to this day.

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