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War Started With Lies, Continues With Lies

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Posted on Mar 19, 2008
Saddam Statue
The New York Times / James Hill

By Patrick Cockburn

Originally printed in The Independent.

It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime, but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet the war began with just such a mistake. Five years ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George Bush appeared on American television to say that military action had started against Iraq.

This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker. The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14 wounded, including nine women and a child.

On 7 April, the US Air Force dropped four more massive bombs on a house where Saddam was said to have been sighted in Baghdad. “I think we did get Saddam Hussein,” said the US Vice President, Dick Cheney. “He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn’t able to breathe.”

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Saddam was unharmed, probably because he had never been there, but 18 Iraqi civilians were dead. One US military leader defended the attacks, claiming they showed “US resolve and capabilities”.

Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been “phenomenal” improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of [Karbala], killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins.

The most notorious lie of all was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But critics of the war may have focused too much on WMD and not enough on later distortions.

The event which has done most to shape the present Iraqi political landscape was the savage civil war between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad and central Iraq in 2006-07 when 3,000 civilians a month were being butchered and which was won by the Shia.

The White House and Downing Street blithely denied a civil war was happening—and forced Iraq politicians who said so to recant—to pretend the crisis was less serious than it was.

More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this to shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.

On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down’s syndrome, which they could tell ... from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down’s syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa’ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa’ida was running out of volunteers.

The Times splashed ... it under the headline, “Down’s syndrome bombers kill 91”. The story stated firmly that “explosives strapped to two women with Down’s syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets”. Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down’s syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa’ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

But on 21 February, an American military spokesman said there was no evidence the bombers had Down’s. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa’ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks.

A second doctor, who did not want to give his name, pointed out that al Rashad hospital is run by the fundamentalist Shia Mehdi Army and asked: “How would it be possible for al-Qa’ida to get in there?”

Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that al-Qa’ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.


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By Ethan Boger, September 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello Fadeh,
I don’t know if you will be reading this response so long after you posted your comment, but here is my reply to:
“Since you come out as a relatively honest Israeli, though a cold-blooded “analyst” of one episode of history and focusing on one country, I would be interested in your honest opinion concerning the relationship of both Republicans and Democrats to Israel and the more than half a century unholy alliance, that sends all residential candidates to Israel, pandering to the Jewish votes and paying their homage to Israel, despite of the fact that Israel has no oil such as Saudi Arabia.”

First of all, I can tell you that for sure Roosevelt’s interest in Saudi Arabia was driven by the oil, which was discovered in the late ‘20’s (Aramco was started in 1933).
Second, with respect to Israel, the reason why both parties in the US are so pro-Israel is due to a combination of factors, but I would say the biggest one is popular support for Israel due to strong Christian identification with it and the next biggest one is the strength of the Jewish lobby and the Jewish voting bloc.

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By Fadel Abdallah, March 22, 2008 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment

“Since WWII and under both Republican and Democratic administrations the US has maintained a policy of defending Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, witness Rooselvelt’s meeting with Ibn Saud, the Truman Doctrine, the Carter Doctrine. So instead of spending the last five years debating on lies, the media should have been focusing on whether and how well the invasion/occupation fit in with the underlying strategy.”
=========================
I was intrigued by your comment, especially the part I am quoting above, coming from an Israeli. Yes Roosevelt’s meeting with Ibn Saud was an indication of recognizing the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia. However, I take issue with your point that it was all about oil, since oil was only discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938 and by the time Roosevelt met with Ibn Saud I am sure people in the industry did not know how great the Saudi oil reserves were and how important it was for world economy. I believe that Roosevelt’s meeting with Ibn Saud was more a recognition of the religious importance of Saudi being the land housing the most sacred places of the Muslim world.

But I am also disturbed by my reading of the essence of your piece in which you consider the lying, intrigue and the loss of life and destruction as less important issues deserving our attention and outrage.

Since you come out as a relatively honest Israeli, though a cold-blooded “analyst” of one episode of history and focusing on one country, I would be interested in your honest opinion concerning the relationship of both Republicans and Democrats to Israel and the more than half a century unholy alliance, that sends all residential candidates to Israel, pandering to the Jewish votes and paying their homage to Israel, despite of the fact that Israel has no oil such as Saudi Arabia.

You honest response would be appreciated!

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By Daniel Barker, March 22, 2008 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Give me a break!  You liberals worship celebrities who travel by private jet.  I wonder how much petroleum that uses.  Americans routinely consume too much meat - I wonder how much petroleum that uses - and no one bats an eye.

People continue to buy and drive oversized SUVs - where is the protest?

If we really cared about the war in Iraq we would be doing something about it.

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By Ed Oleen, March 21, 2008 at 8:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m pretty sure that peak oil has already come and gone and we are on the down-slope.  Meanwhile at least one of the car companies - I don’t remember which one - thinks that Hydrogen is the wave of the future, and I keep on waiting for the NASA to have a major hydrogen accident…

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By Carl Olson, March 21, 2008 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

The U.S. has become the best friend of Big Oil by being a de facto member of the oil cartel OPEC.  By occupying Iraq in 2003, the U.S. has taken over all major government powers, including the membership in OPEC.  The U.S./Iraqi delegate to OPEC has always voted for the price-raising production cutbacks.  The U.S. has cut back oil production in Iraq to below what Saddam Hussein produced.

$100 oil has impoverished the publics of the world.  The big winners are the dubious regimes on the Persian Gulf, the Russians, and so on.  No wonder they want the U. S. in Iraq for 100 years.

Congress should investigate.  The Presidential candidates should speak up.

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By Ethan Boger, March 21, 2008 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When I was a boy growing up in Israel, we could spot an American from a mile away. The pale skin, the Bermuda shorts and the sneakers and sox were dead giveaways. We used to call them “sabonim” - soaps. The term sabon became synonymous with the stereotypical American personality: naive, gullible, inflexible and incapable of thinking around a corner.

Forty years later these traits keep popping up in the US media. The rationale given for invading Iraq was a fig leaf and everybody knew it or should have known it. The true reason was this: Saddam was an unpredictable maniac sitting on potentially 400 billion barrels of oil. Containment was a failing and risky policy. If it failed, Iraq under his rule could become as rich as Saudi Arabia and pose a serious threat to regional stability and even to world economic stability.

Since WWII and under both Republican and Democratic administrations the US has maintained a policy of defending Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, witness Rooselvelt’s meeting with Ibn Saud, the Truman Doctrine, the Carter Doctrine. So instead of spending the last five years debating on lies, the media should have been focusing on whether and how well the invasion/occupation fit in with the underlying strategy.

Senior officials in the administration – Cheney, Rice, Powell and others – are cold warriors driven by the same perceived need to contain Russia and China that has been another hallmark of US foreign policy since WWII. Controlling Iraq fits well with this strategy, pushing back on Russia’s historic drive to gain access to warm water and push back on China’s grasp of worldwide energy resources.

Peak oil is a looming scenario that must have figured into policymakers’ decisions. A shortage of oil in a world driven by energy needs will send the price higher and higher, eventually choking world economic growth. He who controls the oil would have an enormous political leverage. Shouldn’t it be the US?

Probably in a matter of 10 years or so the truth about Cheney’s energy task force, the Downing Street memo and other matters will come out. Nevertheless, it is astonishing that the public debate among the more serious pundits has never homed in on the strategic aspects outlined above.

It is as if history began in 2003. Nobody seems to want to connect the present to a laundry list of active meddling in Iraq and Iran that dates back to the fifties. The reasons for this are clear. Americans – we Sabonim - are unwilling to confront the reality that we are a nation locked into a global struggle for survival. We think of ourselves as idealistic lovers of freedom and democracy while spending a trillion dollars a year on arms and the manipulation of other nations.

Cheney and company need to be acknowledged for their willingness to confront this reality. Did they lie? Of course they did. It happens to be illegal to invade another country, so excuses had to be made. Did they misjudge the length and cost of the war? Yes they did, and badly. Was the occupation bungled? Yes it was. Has the Iraqi nation suffered enormously? Yes, it has.

In historical terms, however, the question that will be asked will be: did the US correctly perceive the strategic threats and did its actions produce strategic benefits outweighing the costs?

And in political terms, the right question to ask now is: will the next president continue the Middle East policy of his predecessors - the one that stretches all the way back to Roosevelt and has led us to outright occupation of Iraq, or will he (or she) be willing to fundamentally rethink US commitments to the Gulf Region and the global game of chicken with Russia and China?

Those are the questions that an enlightened Media should be asking. The questions about the lying? So they lied. Get over it! And get a tan!

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By Ed Oleen, March 21, 2008 at 10:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And the Cheney monster was on the box last night or the night before referring to the same tissue of lies.  Is there no limit to their shameful conduct?

Why-o-why has Nancy Pellosi refused to even mention the subject of impeachment?  Why (as far as I can tell) haven’t any - not ANY of our Democrat members of the House arisen to roach the subject?

Is there no way to “stop their gobs” before November?

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By sacredcow, March 21, 2008 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your distinctions don’t hold water.

Christianity’s belief in heaven, with or without virgins, is a fantatically fantastice fantasy.

America’a god and religion justify American atrocities. It is America’s crusade. It is the myth of American “false manhood”, John Wayne, the American Cowboy, slaying evil and bringing American style truth and justice to the world.

The Christian Doctrine, the thumpers and believers, condemn homosexuality every day in this country.

Muslims aren’t the only ones suffering elitist fanaticism, wont to slay those who refuse to convert. Just ask any jew about the christian ‘end of times’ scenario, where christians slay un-converted jews even while ascending into their heavenly fantasy.

“Evil, malignant psychopatic leaders of this so-called faith”? Are you talking about Pat Robertson and the fundamentalist gang? Bush?

There is, however, one distinction between us and them that does hold water. We are over there. We are trying to change their way of life.

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By Don Vito, March 20, 2008 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right… hmmm… Allow me to contrast Americans, whom you claim are “in the longest state of denial in history” with another group - muslims, who have been in a state of denial since they bought into that whole Muhammad fairy tale back in the 7th century.

Also, we’re apparently “the most fanatic believers in lies” in the world.  Interesting claim…. more so than the fanatic belief in lies such as virgins awaiting you in heaven if you murder your fellow man?

More so than fanatically believing in the lie that your god and religion commands you to perform atrocities against women and children if they perpetrate some perceived slight against your false manhood?

More so than fanatically believing in the lie that homosexuality doesn’t exist in your god-sanctioned country?

More so than fanatically believing in the lie that all other religions literally represent satan and you’re commanded to either convert their adherents or murder them?

More so than fanatically believing in the legion of lies spouted by the evil, malignant psychopaths that are the leaders of this so-called faith?  Lies that command brother to murder brother simply because they belong to a variant sect of the same religion, yet pray to the same god using the same religious text?

Oh, okay… just needed to clear that up.  Nothing like a little hyperbole to allow us bigoted extremists to make our points.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, March 19, 2008 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment

Obviously our Congress (both parties and the psuedo Independent-joey) are all complicite. Our Supreme Court is stacked with more accomplices. Our military leaders are cowards and our so called ‘Free Press’ are cowards and Whores.
So at what point can We Issue Indictments (for and)without going through all these Useless (corrupted) Employees?
I’m encouraging the State AG to investigate an dindict the Dems who threw the MI Primary. I’ve even promised to vote for him if he runs for Gov against my former electee Granholm. bu tno doubt that Repug Ag is corrpt through & through. Of course that’s assuming I haven’t picked up on how lying soemtimes gets thing moving in the direction desired- Look at those who have betrayed US and how far they have gotten in their agenda.New Millenia, New Blood From Pres to Mayors.

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By Fadel Abdallah, March 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment

While I am reading and commenting on the enlightened pieces Truthdig publish for its readers, I find it absurd noticing the marginal ad of Gore Vidal’s “very fine collector’s copy” novel for $ 350.00. With all due respect for Vidal’s talent and liberal thought, I am questioning the wisdom and economics of producing such expensive editions of a novel, especially at these times of economic stress. Days ago, I bought two hard bound deluxe copies of the “Arabian Nights” and “Don Quixote” for $20.00 each, so why should Vidal’s novel be so expensive?!

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By Fadel Abdallah, March 19, 2008 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment

So, one can rightly say that Bush and gang and Blair and gang have earned the title of the most pathetic liars in history. And equally, they have earned the title of having the longest state of denial in history! And based on this, and in the absence of a mass revolution against their evil liar leaders, the American and British people can be justifiably called the most fanatic believers in lies and the ones who are guilty by association through their swallowing the lies and funding the wars based on these lies!

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By weather, March 19, 2008 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the media for mollifying the madness. W/great precision and diabolic choreography we got f-ked in Technicolor.

NPR/PBS they’re just more erudite in projecting deceit and deflecting essential investigation.

The rest of MSM is the WalMart of fraud on the cheap, a box store of rabbit holes.

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