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December 2003 • Vol 3, No. 11 •

Laughter and Lies in London

By Frida Berrigan

The crowd in Whitehall Palace laughed with President George W. Bush when he noted that the last distinguished American to visit in London was the magician David Blaine who suspended himself above the Thames in a glass box this summer. Bush quipped that “a few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me.”

After the laughter died down, Bush turned toward more serious topics. Before a now solemn and respectful throng, the President promised, “democracy will succeed in Iraq, because our will is firm, our word is good and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom.”

The contrast between this grand assurance and the blunt and bellicose declarations of on-the-ground military leaders could not be more striking.

While Bush promises that “we will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country,” Major General Charles H. Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, promises that his forces are going to “use a sledgehammer to smash a walnut” in Iraq.

General Swannack’s metaphor is apt. U.S. fighter planes and helicopter gunships have been dropping 500-pound bombs on “suspected guerrilla positions” without warning and in neighborhoods populated by civilians. In a November 19 article, the Associated Press reported that even bigger bombs were being used, saying that U.S. planes dropped two 2,000 pound, satellite guided bombs the night before, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. A military spokesman said only that the target was “camps suspected to have been used for bomb making.” U.S. bombers also dropped 1,000-pound bombs on “terrorist targets,” near the northern city of Kirkuk.

When 2,000 pound bombs are used against targets in populated areas, not just the walnuts or guerrillas and terrorists are getting smashed. The AP spoke with a terrified housewife living near one of the bomb targets who said, “me and my children spent the night shaking. We do not want to be their targets.’’

But targets they are. Since the end of March, when Bush’s war for their liberation began, thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. Iraq Body Count, an independent database of media-reported deaths, estimates that between 7,878 and 9,708 civilians have been killed in “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

These “unintended casualties” (called “collateral damage” in another war) add fuel to the guerrillas’ fires, as they lash out against U.S. troops and international humanitarian organizations.

Then the U.S. military ratchets up aggressive and indiscriminate tactics in response. U.S. forces launched “Operation Iron Hammer” on November 12, bombing the meeting places of suspected insurgents in and around Baghdad. Reuters reports that “Operation Iron Hammer” is derived from the German word Eisenhammer, a code name meaning “iron hammer” which referred to the Nazi’s plan to destroy Soviet generating plants.

The sledgehammer strategy is smashing guerrillas and civilians alike, and endangering the lives of American and allied troops as well. Already bloody November has claimed 86 “Operation Enduring Freedom,” a daily death rate of 4.3.

More smashing and sledge-hammering will not reduce the death toll in Iraq.

But, as the London trip demonstrates, President Bush is choosing to exist in an airtight bubble of lies and optimistic rhetoric, worlds removed from the 2,000-pound bombs, the gaping holes in Iraqi neighborhoods, the terrified and targeted Iraqi mothers, and the flag draped coffins of dead soldiers.

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate with the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center





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