The war of misinformation has begun
By Robert Fisk
[The Independent, UK - 16 March]:
All across the Middle East, they are deploying by the
thousand. In the deserts of Kuwait, in Amman, in
northern Iraq, in Turkey, in Israel and in Baghdad
itself. There must be 7,000 journalists and crews "in
theatre", as the more jingoistic of them like to say.
In Qatar, a massive press centre has been erected for
journalists who will not see the war. How many times
General Tommy Franks will spin his story to the press
at the nine o'clock follies, no one knows. He doesn't
even like talking to journalists.
But the journalistic resources being laid down in the
region are enormous. The BBC alone has 35 reporters in
the Middle East, 17 of them "embedded" - along with
hundreds of reporters from the American networks and
other channels - in military units. Once the invasion
starts, they will lose their freedom to write what
they want. There will be censorship. And, I'll hazard
a guess right now, we shall see many of the British
and American journalists back to their old trick of
playing toy soldiers, dressing themselves up in
military costumes for their nightly theatrical
performances on television. Incredibly, several of the
American networks have set up shop in the Kurdish
north of Iraq with orders not to file a single story
until war begins - in case this provokes the Iraqis to
expel their network reporters from Baghdad.
The orchestration will be everything, the pictures
often posed, the angles chosen by "minders", much as
the Iraqis will try to do the same thing in Baghdad.
Take yesterday's front-page pictures of massed British
troops in Kuwait, complete with arranged tanks and
perfectly formatted helicopters. This was the
perfectly planned photo-op. Of course, it won't last.
Here's a few guesses about our coverage of the war to
come. American and British forces use thousands of
depleted uranium (DU) shells - widely regarded by 1991
veterans as the cause of Gulf War syndrome as well as
thousands of child cancers in present day Iraq - to
batter their way across the Kuwaiti-Iraqi frontier.
Within hours, they will enter the city of Basra, to be
greeted by its Shia Muslim inhabitants as liberators.
US and British troops will be given roses and pelted
with rice - a traditional Arab greeting - as they
drive "victoriously" through the streets. The first
news pictures of the war will warm the hearts of
Messrs Bush and Blair. There will be virtually no
mention by reporters of the use of DU munitions.
But in Baghdad, reporters will be covering the bombing
raids that are killing civilians by the score and then
by the hundred. These journalists, as usual, will be
accused of giving "comfort to the enemy while British
troops are fighting for their lives". By now, in Basra
and other "liberated" cities south of the capital,
Iraqis are taking their fearful revenge on Saddam
Hussein's Baath party officials. Men are hanged from
lamp-posts. Much television footage of these scenes
will have to be cut to sanitise the extent of the
Far better for the US and British governments will be
the macabre discovery of torture chambers and
"rape-rooms" and prisoners with personal accounts of
the most terrible suffering at the hands of Saddam's
secret police. This will "prove" how right "we" are to
liberate these poor people. Then the US will have to
find the "weapons of mass destruction" that supposedly
provoked this bloody war. In the journalistic hunt for
these weapons, any old rocket will do for the moment.
Bunkers allegedly containing chemical weapons will be
cordoned off - too dangerous for any journalist to
approach, of course. Perhaps they actually do contain
VX or anthrax. But for the moment, the all-important
thing for Washington and London is to convince the
world that the casus belli was true - and reporters,
in or out of military costume, will be on hand to say
Baghdad is surrounded and its defenders ordered to
surrender. There will be fighting between Shias and
Sunnis around the slums of the city, the beginning of
a ferocious civil conflict for which the invading
armies are totally unprepared. US forces will sweep
past Baghdad to his home city of Tikrit in their hunt
for Saddam Hussein. Bush and Blair will appear on
television to speak of their great "victories". But as
they are boasting, the real story will begin to be
told: the break-up of Iraqi society, the return of
thousands of Basra refugees from Iran, many of them
with guns, all refusing to live under western
In the north, Kurdish guerrillas will try to enter
Kirkuk, where they will kill or "ethnically cleanse"
many of the city's Arab inhabitants. Across Iraq, the
invading armies will witness terrible scenes of
revenge which can no longer be kept off television
screens. The collapse of the Iraqi nation is now under
Of course, the Americans and British just might get
into Baghdad in three days for their roses and rice
water. That's what the British did in 1917. And from
there, it was all downhill.
Weasel words to watch for
'Inevitable revenge' - for the executions of Saddam's
Baath party officials which no one actually said were
'Stubborn' or 'suicidal' - to be used when Iraqi
forces fight rather than retreat.
'Allegedly' - for all carnage caused by Western
'At last, the damning evidence' - used when reporters
enter old torture chambers.
'Officials here are not giving us much access' - a
clear sign that reporters in Baghdad are confined to
'Life goes on' - for any pictures of Iraq's poor
'Remnants' - allegedly 'diehard' Iraqi troops still
shooting at the Americans but actually the first signs
of a resistance movement dedicated to the 'liberation'
of Iraq from its new western occupiers.
'Newly liberated' - for territory and cities newly
occupied by the Americans or British.
'What went wrong?' - to accompany pictures
illustrating the growing anarchy in Iraq as if it were