Hard News by Russell Brown

Like nobody really died

"We share sacrifices. We share grief. We pray for those families who mourn the loss of life; American families, British families …" George W. Bush let the sentence hang in the air. I genuinely thought he was about to say "Iraqi families". It would have been a decent and thoughtful thing to do. But he didn't.

Instead, Bush and Blair got through the whole of their press conference in Belfast yesterday, each paying tribute to coalition dead, without acknowledging that any Iraqi citizen has suffered so much as a paper cut in the past two weeks. As an exercise in denial, it was right up there with the daily briefings from the Iraqi information minister.

Both men are often described by their supporters as "courageous". But real courage would dictate that they tackled the consequences of their actions head-on. Contend that the deaths of civilians - or, let's face it, the poor Iraqi conscripts - have been a regrettable consequence of the pursuit of a greater goal of liberation. They might even be right. But they didn't try. It was like nobody had really died.

But, then, tragic stories like that of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, orphaned and hideously injured when a missile struck his house this week, raise the bar pretty high on a war of liberation. The Jordan Times story on the boy is particularly heart-wrenching. I cried when I read this:

"Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" Abbas asked. "If I don't get a pair of hands I will commit suicide," he said with tears spilling down his cheeks.

Al-Jazeera also covered the story, with, inevitably, upsetting pictures. It did get a little play in the Western media - to their credit, Reuters, the CNN World website and USA Today picked it up. Ali may receive prosthetic arms from a British charity as a direct result. But, unlike the slick rescue of a pretty, blonde US private, it didn't command the world's front pages.

The loyal troops at NZPundit.com - all two of them - are in a lather about my "unhealthy" post yesterday. Craig Ranapia wondered if "a desire for 'unmediated' cover as a conduit for 'truth' is just a way to make sadistic voyeurism respectable?". So he doesn't seem moved by the death and dismemberment of bystanders, just the thought of showing it. What an excellent value system.

His friend Gordy thought my post was "sad", which it was, but not in the sense he meant it. The raw hospital footage I saw - and, more to the point, heard - preyed on my mind all day yesterday. No one, surely, could have felt otherwise. Well, maybe Gordy could:

"THe US has achieved a stunning stunning victory at historically minimal costs," he chirped, "and once the evidence starts flooding out of what a dispicable [sic] regime has just been defeated, its either admit you're wrong or demand unmeetable standards of proof."

Yes, the various Iraqi forces fighting the US and British troops have been pounded to within an inch of defeat. They have been outmatched for weapons, technology, communications and competence of command. Since Sunday in Baghdad they have died at a ratio of about a thousand to one versus US troops. But - through patriotism, fear or a mixture of both - many of them have kept coming. They have crowded into cars and buses and charged the US lines, AK47s pointlessly blazing, imminent precision death assured. They all have families. If you don't feel anything about that, you have no soul.

We'll leave "stunning stunning victory" for history to call. It has been rapid, yes, and, assuming that the infrastructure can be restored, that the US promises of self-determination can be taken at face value, that resistance can be quelled inside months, that Rumsfeld's threats to invade Syria and Iran are just idle bluster, that Perle and Cheney aren’t allowed to install their millionaire criminal friend Ahmed Chalabi, there is the promise of a better world for the Iraqi people. The question, of course, is whether less traumatising options for change were foreclosed in the charge to war.

But the predictions of Richard Perle that "patriotic Iraqis" would be "willing to fight to liberate their country" by fighting with US forces, that support from the US would trigger "a full-blown insurrection against Saddam" and so on have been quite unfounded. Reports from the Islamic world constantly and consistently speak of a defeat for liberal, West-facing ideas as the war has rolled on.

This from the weblog of Salam Pax (who I hope is alright), a supporter of democracy in Iraq and a victim of the regime:

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do." Samuel P. Huntington

Shias in Southern Iraq certainly have a right to feel liberated, but they appear to be making the limits of their affection for the Americans quite clear. And people who scorned the endless pictures of adoring subjects around Saddam might be advised to temper their hailing of the odd welcoming crowd in Basra. This is, after all, a country where it pays to smile nicely at the man with the gun.

Robert Fisk has some vox pops on liberation from Baghdad's hospitals.

The US has budgeted 120 times more for military action than for humanitarian aid. (Which raises the question of whether it might have been kinder to offer Saddam and his inner circle several billion dollars each to just go away.)

And, just by way of comedy, an illustration of why the idea that Bush had something to contribute to the Northern Ireland peace process yesterday was so absurd. No, it wasn't Bush's mangled reference to "young generations of Northern Irelanders". Or even the White House statement last week that Bush was meeting Blair in "Dublin". No, it's the official schedule that outlined “the Trip of the President to Belfast, Ireland.” Jaysus. Isn't that what all the fighting's been about all these years? These people are way too stupid to run the world …