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Posted Wednesday, November 11, 2004

In England last century we were always taught instinctively not to trust a man who spoke fluent French. Now I think the rule must be not to trust an Iraqi who speaks perfect English.

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November 11, 2004 (Wednesday)
London (England)

TODAY is the third day of the American (oops, "coalition") offensive against Falluja in Iraq. We know only what we are told by the media, who are embedded only with the invading army, and not represented on the defending side at all.

Even on the BBC, the facts vary wildly. The invaders have ten, fifteen, twenty thousand troops. Or less. Or more. They are encircling the city. There are gaps through which the top men have escaped. Their commander is al-Zarqawi. But others voice the suspicion that he is a figment of the CIA's PsyWar operations -- after all, he was the ringleader on the Nick Berg beheading video (except that he wasn't, as the Internet knows).

There is however a unanimity as to terms and designations which suggests that what Joachim von Ribbentrop's foreign office used to call Sprachregelungen, and are now called style-sheets, have been sent out to the newscasters.

The defenders (labeled "terrorists" by the invaders, as even insurgents sounds too respectable) are said variously to number a few hundred, or two, or ten thousand, depending on the point the pundit is trying to make. They are just wild guesses. More mystifyingly, the number of Iraqi troops collaborating with the American invaders varies from two to four thousand, although one television anchorman, on BBC2, used the figure "two hundred" which seems more likely.

In which case the "terrorists", who yesterday claimed to have captured twenty of the latter, have captured one-tenth of the Iraqi collaborators, whose likely fate might as of this moment seem grim unless they are to be held as pawns for later negotiation.

The battlefield commanders have in their own interests ordained that the media are not to be present inside the bomb-blasted and terror-stricken (what used to be called "shocked and awed") city. Bodies littering the streets make bad press for the democracies responsible for having thus transported them from life to death.

The rest is darkness. The British Broadcasting Corporation appears to have telephoned professional people in the wrecked city at random, and secured eyewitness accounts, and these are not reassuring. I rather doubt that the major American networks will have displayed the same enterprise.

Blair in the House

white house

PRESIDING over this entire grisly but as yet invisible spectacle are the historic figures of Mr Illiterate Bush and Mr Sanctimonious Blair (above), each of whom we have seen, straight-faced but stuttering on the television newscasts, and even proclaiming on the steps of the White House and in the chamber of Britain's ancient Parliament, that in invading the once-peaceful city of Falluja, the "coalition forces" are but doing the bidding of Iraq's sovereign prime minister, Mr Iyad "Vidkun" Allawi.

To call this spectacle undignified, would itself be undignified; "unedifying" might be better. Or even criminal, as in war-crime, because those of us familiar with the darker recesses of European of history recall a certain Austrian minister, Mr Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who was prevailed upon to courier a letter to Adolf Hitler inviting him to send his troops into Austria in March 1938; and a certain Slovak minister, Father Tiso, who sent a similar letter to Berlin, at Hitler's bidding, pleading with him to send the Wehrmacht, at that time the world's mightiest army, into Prague in March 1939. That made it all legit', d'you see?

If there is any justice in the world -- and do I hear a hollow, mocking chuckle coming from its four corners? -- I pray that the complaisant Mr Allawi, if not his paymasters, may one day suffer the same fate as Messrs Seyss-Inquart and Tiso, a fate which involved a rope and a trapdoor, when that war was over.


Iyad Allawi WHO is Allawi, this latest in a long line of Iraqi hoods? Is this the same man whom three independent eye-witnesses described only weeks ago as entering an Iraqi police station and executing in cold blood half a dozen "suspects," Soviet-style, with a bullet in the back of the head, suspects whom the local authorities had merely rounded up for questioning. This fine democratic leader screamed at the watching police officers, "This is how to do it!"

In England last century we were always taught instinctively not to trust a man who spoke fluent French. Now I think the rule must be not to trust an Iraqi who speaks perfect English (or, in the case of Ahmed Chalabi, American).

I groan for the day when an intrepid British television interviewer puts it squarely to Allawi or any of his fellow-Quislings like this:

"May I compliment you on your excellent spoken English? Much better than Saddam's. But then of course you and your pals spent many years in England, didn't you! That's right, in the pay of the British Intelligence service, MI6. Being groomed for just this job. Isn't that what people call a stooge? How does it feel to be a hired stooge, Mr Allawi?

"And isn't it right that after you got your training, you were infiltrated back into Iraq, and carried out car-bombing operations on behalf of MI6 and the CIA, which killed numbers of innocent people, in an attempt to destabilize the Saddam administration?"

Now isn't that what old-fashioned people used to describe as a terrorist, and sometimes still do? Is this unpleasant specimen really the best man we could find for the job?

Meanwhile, our own leaders have turned the English language, of which Allawi and his cohorts have such a fluent command, on its head.

Falluja hospital

What do you normally call a handful of brave young men who, armed only with primitive AK-47 automatic rifles and a few grenades, knowingly sacrifice their lives to defend their cities from invasion by a mighty foreign armada, borne in from across the oceans, of Abrams Mark I tanks, armoured infantry carriers, humvees, self-propelled guns, howitzers, helicopter and AC-130 gunships, 2,000-pound bombs, rockets, and the rest? "Heroic resistance fighters?"

No, they, the defenders, are the terrorists. That word has a useful ring, because it ties implicitly into President George W Bush's "war on terror," and thus into the still-mindful specter of two tall buildings collapsing in New York's business district in September 2001.

Perversely, what do you call the ten, fifteen, or twenty thousand professional and well-armed soldiers, otherwise brave men from the prairies of Illinois and the plains of Colorado, whose job it is to invade the city and kill (as their commanders boast) every single "dumb" defender: liberators.

As something of a wordsmith myself, I find it repellent, and I will not go along with it. I am just sorry that our journalists do, because historians won't.


AT 9:55 am there is a call from an anonymous North London voice. "Arafat today, you tomorrow." (I take it that Yasir Arafat has died.) Another death threat. What a hero.

I ask him to speak up, several times, as I tell him I'm getting a bit deaf, and haven't caught what he's saying, and I keep asking him to repeat it, adding after the fifth or sixth time that he should stay on the line just a bit longer to give the police time to trace the call. He drops the phone. Nice types we have in this city now.


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