Wednesday, March 26, 2003


“It’s hot!” One of my students shouts this to me as he makes his way, sweating, across the campus here at the university.

It’s nice! At least we’re not in the middle of a sandstorm in Iraq....

Raven looks up as I come in.

“Here’s a guy with his fingers in his eyes.” Raven points at the front page of La Jornada on the computer screen. The headline: SANDSTORM PARALYZES INVASION!

The Three Stooges used to put their fingers in each others’ eyes, Rave.

“Before my time, apparently.” Rave yawns and reaches for a sweet roll, hits a different window with the mouse. “Want to hear about an un-imbedded journalist?”

Robert Fisk, I presume.

“Not Dr. Livingstone. This is an interview with him by the Democracy Now folks, and I will just read some of it:

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: Set the scene for us in Baghdad right now.

Robert Fisk, The Independent: Well, it’s been a relatively—relatively being the word—quiet night, there’s been quite a lot of explosions about an hour ago. There have obviously been an awful lot of missiles arriving on some target, but I would say it was about 4 or 5 miles away. You can hear the change in air pressure and you can hear this long, low rumble like drums or like someone banging on a drum deep beneath the ground, but quite a ways away. There have only been 2 or 3 explosions near the center of the city, which is where I am, in the last 12 hours. So, I suppose you could say that, comparatively, to anyone living in central Baghdad, it’s been a quiet night. The strange thing is that the intensity of the attacks on Baghdad changes quite extraordinarily; you’ll get one evening when you can actually sleep through it all, and the next evening when you see the explosions red hot around you.

Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! Correspondent: Robert Fisk, you wrote in one of your most recent articles, actually, the title of it was "Iraq Will Become a Quagmire for the Americans" and I think many people within the US administration were surprised to find the kinds of resistance they have in places like Nasiriyah. We have the two Apache helicopters that have apparently been shot down and many US casualties so far. Do you think the Americans were caught by surprise, particularly by the resistance in the south where everyone was saying that the people are against Saddam Hussein?

Robert Fisk: Well, they shouldn’t have been caught by surprise; there were plenty of us writing that this was going to be a disaster and a catastrophe and that they were going to take casualties. You know, one thing I think the Bush administration has shown as a characteristic, is that it dreams up moral ideas and then believes that they’re all true, and characterizes this policy by assuming that everyone else will then play their roles. In their attempt to dream up an excuse to invade Iraq, they’ve started out, remember, by saying first of all that there are weapons of mass destruction. We were then told that al Qaeda had links to Iraq, which, there certainly isn’t an al Qaeda link. Then we were told that there were links to September 11th, which was rubbish. And in the end, the best the Bush administration could do was to say, “Well, we’re going to liberate the people of Iraq”. And because it provided this excuse, it obviously then had to believe that these people wanted to be liberated by the Americans. And, as the Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said a few hours ago, I was listening to him in person, the Americans expected to be greeted with roses and music- and they were greeted with bullets. Saddam did not get knocked off his perch straight away, and I think that, to a considerable degree, the American administration allowed that little cabal of advisors around Bush- I’m talking about Perle, Wolfowitz, and these other people—people who have never been to war, never served their country, never put on a uniform- nor, indeed, has Mr. Bush ever served his country- they persuaded themselves of this Hollywood scenario of GIs driving through the streets of Iraqi cities being showered with roses by a relieved populace who desperately want this offer of democracy that Mr. Bush has put on offer-as reality. And the truth of the matter is that Iraq has a very, very strong political tradition of strong anti-colonial struggle.

Amy Goodman: Do you think Saddam Hussein is in control?

Robert Fisk: Oh yes, absolutely. There have been a few incidents, I mean there was a little bit of shooting last night and there were the rumors that people had come from Saddam City and there were clashes with security forces or security agents, and rumors of a railway line being blown up, which was denied by the authorities, but there is no doubt Saddam is in control. It’s very funny sitting here, in a strange way, I suppose, if you could listen to some of the things that were said about the United States here, you’d laugh in America, but I’ve been listening to this uproariously funny argument about whether Saddam’s speech was recorded before the war and whether they have look-alikes. So, that in fact, the speech that Saddam made 24 hours ago, less than 24 hours ago, a speech that was very important if you read the text carefully and understand what he was trying to do, it has been totally warped in the United States by a concentration not on what he was saying, but whether it was actually him that was saying it. The American correspondent was saying to me yesterday morning, “This is ridiculous, we simply can’t report the story, because every time we have to deal with something Saddam says, the Pentagon claims it’s not him or it’s his double or it was recorded 2 weeks ago”. So, the story ceases to be about what the man says, the story starts to be this totally mythical, fictional idea that it really isn’t Saddam or it’s his double, etcetera. I watched this recording on television, all his television broadcasts are recordings because he’s not so stupid as to do a live broadcast and get bombed by the Americans while he’s doing it. The one thing you learn if you’re a target is not to do live television broadcasts, or radio for that matter, or, indeed telephone. But if you listen and read the text of what Saddam said, it has clearly been recorded in the previous few hours, and I can tell you, having once actually met the man, it absolutely was Saddam Hussein.

Jeremy Scahill: Robert Fisk, what are you seeing in terms of the preparations for the defense of Baghdad? The people that we’ve been interviewing inside of Iraq- both ordinary Iraqis as well as journalists and others, are saying that there aren’t really visible signs that there are any overt preparations underway. What’s your sense?

Robert Fisk: Well, it doesn’t look like Stalingrad to me, but I guess in Stalingrad there probably weren’t a lot of preparations. I’ve been more than 20 miles outside of Baghdad, and you can certainly see troops building big artillery vetments around the city. I mean, positions for heavy artillery and mortars, army vehicles hidden under overpasses, the big barracks of long ago-as in Serbia before the NATO bombardment have long been abandoned. Most of these cruise missiles that we hear exploding at night are bursting into government buildings, ministries, offices and barracks that have long ago been abandoned. There’s nobody inside them; they are empty. I’ve watched ministries take all their computers out, trays- even the pictures from the walls. That is the degree to which these buildings are empty; they are shells. Inside the city, there have been a lot of trenches dug beside roads, sandbag positions set up. In some cases, holes dug with sandbags around them to make positions on road intersections to make positions for snipers and machine gunners. This is pretty primitive stuff.

Amy Goodman: General Colin Powell said that foreign journalists should leave as the campaign of so-called ‘shock and awe’ is initiated- and it has started. Why have you chosen to remain in Baghdad?

Robert Fisk: Because I don’t work for Colin Powell, I work for a British newspaper called The Independent; if you read it, you’ll find that we are.”

Nice piece, Rave. Glad you just hit the high spots of it, though. It’s definitely not where I want to be now, either.

“Funny. I was all set to run into you in Badgad, and ask that all important question.” Rave has a mad gleam in his eye.

Okay. I’ll bite. What’s the question?

“What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?”

Well, we know why Robert Fisk is there—he doesn’t work for Colin Powell. Doesn’t Dylan quote something in that song about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels? Better you should be asking Tommy Franks for the answer.

“He might get the wrong idea.”

No, he won’t. He’ll just quote a few more lines from the song: “If you steal a little they throw you in jail. If you steal a lot they make you king....”

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