Monday, April 14, 2003

Stabbed in the back
Revealing story on the front page of today's daily Al-Mustaqbal, owned by Rafik Hariri: a report from the ever gullible Najwa Qassem in Baghdad who spoke to an Iraqi major, Amer Fouad Ahmad. Most intriguing was his allegation that the fall of Baghdad was essentially the result of a deal cut between the U.S. and Saddam, a view inceasingly popular in the Arab world. Reportedly, before the Americans entered Baghdad a senior Saddam aide, Lt-Gen Sufyan Jghayb, flew around the city in an Apache helicopter to instruct Republican Guard units to step down.

The story is full of holes: for one thing, the officer mentions an extremely high number of deaths around Baghdad airport (13 survivors from a unit of 320), so that not all units seemed to be in on the "deal." But does that make sense? Presumably the Americans would have cut a deal to save their soldiers' lives, meaning all Iraqi units would have had to have been neutralized. Secondly, Ahmad has no direct evidence of Jghayb's shuttle. Third, his indirect evidence for a "deal" is that Iraqi units were told to evaluate the battle against the U.S. wherever they were, without recourse to central command, so that what ensued was chaos. But that decision could just as easily have been a result of poor leadership by the regime.

The tenor of the argument is that Saddam's regime and the Republican Guard cut a prior deal with the U.S., and the victims were the Iraqi Army and people. That seems a convenient way to absolve the Army of its responsibility for not fighting, and recourse to conspiracy theories is often how military men respond to setbacks. Having said that, to date we really have no clear account why the Iraqis so readily abandoned Baghdad. And things won't necessarily be helped by the American military's efforts to shape interpretation of the war to conform with its own interests.

In this context you might want to read John Broder's and Eric Schmitt's a long New York Times report yesterday which seemed to offer a solidly conventional (and entirely uncritical) version of the war, based almost exclusively on conversations with U.S. military personnel. Or you can try to catch what Tommy Franks told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Sunday.

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