The campaign to liberate Iraq is going well, though you might not know it from the shock and awe of the media, which apparently discovered only this week that war — even for a winning army — is hell.
As is the case in nearly every war, brave soldiers have been captured or killed, armor and aircraft have been destroyed, and Mother Nature — this time in the form of furious sandstorms — has refused to cooperate with military planners.
But the losses and setbacks have been vastly greater for Saddam Hussein’s military than for the forces fighting to topple him. With the war only a week old, Iraq’s southern oil fields and its only port city are in American hands; thousands of Iraqi soldiers are in custody; Republican Guard divisions are being ripped from the air; an anti-Saddam uprising, aided by British troops, is reportedly underway in Basra; no Scuds have been fired at Israel; and the American-led alliance is nearly at the outskirts of Baghdad. If Gulf War II will not be a second Six Day War, neither is its outcome in doubt: Saddam’s brutal fascist regime is going to be destroyed.
But it will go down fighting, and it will remain brutal and fascist to the last. And how do brutal fascists fight? They shoot POWs in the head and flaunt their corpses on camera. They site military hardware near hospitals and schools, deliberately using civilians as human shields. They wave a white flag to indicate surrender, then open up with machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades. They order noncombatants in front-line cities to attack allied troops, threatening to kill them if they refuse. They build a military bunker under the hotel at which foreign reporters are required to stay.
Yes, war is hell, but nothing experienced by the coalition forces so far compares with the hellishness of the Baathist regime they are fighting. Those who need a graphic reminder might visit the Web site of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, where Saddam’s chemical slaughter in Halabja is recalled in photos and reportage. Or they might review the work of Indict, a British organization that gathers evidence of crimes against humanity committed by members of Saddam’s government. In the Times of London last week, Ann Clwyd, a Labor member of Parliament and Indict’s chairman, quoted from one eyewitness’s affidavit:
“There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into it and we were again made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and died quickly. Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food . . . on one occasion, I saw Qusay [Saddam Hussein’s younger son] personally supervise these murders.” We can expect more such testimony in the months ahead.
Already the first Iraqis to be set free are adding to our understanding of Saddam’s murderous reign. Reporting from liberated Umm Qasr, for example, Olga Craig wrote in the Telegraph of a “bedraggled band of shoeless soldiers,” sick and hungry, desperate to surrender to an allied regiment:
“One man pulled up his shirt sleeve and held up his right hand. Two fingers had been hacked off and his upper arm was criss-crosed with scars.
“‘This is the price of defiance — of trying to run away,’ he said, his eyes beseeching. . . . ‘We know if the British and American soldiers leave as they did before, and Saddam survives, he will gas the town.’ To make sure we understood, he drew his finger swiftly across his throat.”
There were similar scenes in Safwan. The Guardian, another British paper, described the “heartfelt gladness” when the US Marines arrived. “You’re late. What took you so long?” asked a sobbing Ajami Saadoun Khlis, whose son and brother were murdered by Saddam. “God help you become victorious. I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand. We came out of the grave.”
The BBC has been far from supportive of the campaign in Iraq, but that didn’t stop its reporter David Willis from posting his observations in Basra on the Beeb’s web site:
“There are lots of people coming out, lots of children and they are applauding. The people . . . shake the hands of American forces who are seen as liberating the city of Basra.” If that was how some Basrans reacted while the city was still infested with Saddam’s secret police, imagine how they will rejoice when Basra has been de-Baathified.
Belatedly, the scales are falling even from the eyes of some antiwar activists. Daniel Pepper, an American who traveled to Baghdad to be a human shield, was shocked when ordinary Iraqis, such as his taxi driver, told him the facts of life under Saddam.
“We just sat, listening, our mouths open wide,”
Rarely has the moral gulf between wartime enemies been greater. Yesterday, seven tractor-trailers guarded by US troops brought tons of food and water into Umm Qasr, the first installment of the “massive amounts” of aid President Bush has promised the Iraqi people. At about the same time, Marines seized a Nasiriyah hospital in which Saddam’s forces had stockpiled hundreds of weapons, 3,000 chemical suits with masks, and nerve agent antidote. We fight in a just cause, and Iraqis generations hence will celebrate the coming victory.