Pentagon’s liberation show

Pentagon’s liberation show

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

We all saw it last week. It was shown on TV over and over again and plastered on the front pages of nearly every major newspaper here and in Britain.

President Bush termed it “a historic moment.” News outlets prattled of “liberation,” “a day of extraordinary drama and historic images,” and several declared the war in Iraq to be over.

This momentous event, of course, was the toppling of a 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in Al-Fardus Square in central Baghdad.

The London Daily Express, the press outlet for the Blair government, trumpeted: “In historic scenes reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of civilians cheered as young men mounted the statue and tied a makeshift noose around Saddam’s neck.”

A U.S. Marine armored vehicle then pulled the towering sculpture to the ground, where cheering Iraqis pummeled and kicked it repeatedly.

But we need to back up a bit to fully understand just what happened there. Three days earlier, at the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, the scene of earlier bitter fighting, four giant C-130 aircraft landed at the airport.

They disgorged about 700 members of the Free Iraqi Forces militia, led by Ahmed Chalabi. Most of them hadn’t been in Iraq in years. Chalabi heads the Iraqi National Congress, a dissident group, and is favored by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to head a puppet government in Iraq.

On April 9, some of this bunch was crowded together in the square before the big statue. Someone had taken a photo of the Nasiriyah arrival a few days before. Lo and behold, one of the faces of the “thousands of happy Iraqis” was that of one of Chalabi’s men. How many others in the “crowd” were also Iraqi imports remains unknown.

Even more fortunate, Reuters took a long-range photo of Al-Fardus Square. On television, it appeared jammed with cheering Iraqis and the statue loomed large in the picture.

But Reuters’ photo showed the square ringed by U.S. tanks and no more than 200 people in the place. Television cameras were tightly focused on the statue and the few yards right in front of it. Viewers did not see the tanks nor the mostly empty square. The celebrated “event” was completely bogus, planned and carried out by the Pentagon to convey its message of liberation and victory.

But the war is not over, and Baghdad is only partially controlled. The very night of the statue incident, more U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians died in combat. A suicide bomber killed several Marines and wounded four others not far from Al-Fardus Square.

Civilians, including a 6-year-old girl, were shot and killed by U.S. troops. Two children were shot down at a checkpoint and nine family members injured. Hours later, a Red Cross convoy was deliberately fired on by Anglo-American forces as it sought to bring medical supplies to Baghdad hospitals.

A British television newscast declared: “A war of three weeks has brought an end to decades of Iraqi misery.” But the fighting has not ended and Iraqi misery is entering a new phase. Since the war is almost over—in the eyes of some of the media—detailed and accurate reporting from Iraq is no longer considered necessary.

Most Iraqis are not celebrating, nor are they in the streets. They are staying in their homes, fearful of the gangs of thugs roaming the city and stealing whatever they can get and robbing anyone they chance upon.

Anglo-American troops were encountering heavy resistance in other parts of Baghdad, and they met remnants of the Republican Guards, paramilitary forces, Iraqi civilians and hundreds of volunteer fighters from other Arab states.

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