Hindsight and friendly fire!

First British casualties in Iraq occurred, thanks to ‘friendly fire’ of their American comrades-in-arms

Khalid Saleem March 18, 2019
The writer is former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

What follows may be called an over-the-shoulder peep at the saga of the misadventures of the powers-that-be following the erstwhile invasion of Iraq and the events that unfolded as a consequence.

Hindsight is at best a painful experience. This is particularly true if one were to look back at some of the events in recent history. Nevertheless, look back only to keep the memory green and/or to learn from past experience. In this context, casting a discerning eye at the Iraq adventure may be in order.

If one were to single out one element emerging from that rather ungainly campaign, one could perhaps point the finger at the re-hatching of the phrase ‘friendly fire’. As one recalls, the Western visual media had made such extensive and unbridled use of this phrase in that infamous era of ‘embedded journalism’ that it leads one to wonder how they would have coped if, say, a censor restriction of sorts had been placed on its use.

Those who had followed the course of the invasion of Iraq will undoubtedly recall that the first British casualties in Iraq occurred, thanks to the ‘friendly fire’ of their American comrades-in-arms.

Now, it may be argued that there is nothing very extraordinary about this occurrence and that such things do occur in the course of battles in a war of this nature in which the coalition air force and armour happened to be virtually piled up one on top of the other much like a haystack! What did emerge as bizarre, though, was the way US TV anchors and their ‘embedded’ henchmen kept plugging it in, hour after agonising hour.

The matter was verified and re-verified from every conceivable source and the issue thrashed out so thoroughly that not even a semblance of doubt remained about the fact that the servicemen in question had not fallen in legitimate combat, but were rather cut down by ‘friendly fire’.

By the end of a very trying day, the long suffering captive viewers were left in no doubt whatsoever that the wretched individuals — who had left their homes and hearths to fight what they had been led to believe was a monstrous enemy — had, in deed, been instead sacrificed at the altar of Anglo-American friendship, so to speak.

To move on, the Iraq campaign was destined to run its course without the discovery of the Weapons of Mass Destruction that were touted to be the raison d’etre of the invasion in the first place. When the umpteenth attempt at producing the ‘smoking gun’ appeared to have boomeranged, the US commanders admitted this fact in ordering their forces to shed their protective gear. The already bewildered world was left to draw its own conclusions.

The American media, and elements of the British media too — aided and abetted by highly paid spin-doctors — had worked overtime to defuse the issue. Editorial comment of the time was aimed at obfuscating the issue by throwing up such bizarre and unlikely possibilities as the possible transfer of the dreaded WMDs to neighbouring states ‘amid throngs of refugees crossing the border’.

Now that one looks back, the coalition leaders did owe it to the world to come clean about the lack of veracity of their claims. Even though they may have managed to get away with the declaration of a ‘brilliant victory’ on the battlefield, moral victory was destined to elude them unless and until they exorcised the ghost of what appeared to have been mere ‘Weapons of Mass Deception’.

While on this subject, one may perhaps append the remark that the only person to have come out of the sordid Iraq business without egg on his face was the UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix. One had had the pleasure of working side by side with Mr Blix in the late 1970s when the two of us were representing our respective countries in the UN Committee for Disarmament in Geneva.

Another authority on disarmament then there was the outstanding Nobel laureate, Garcia Robles. We, incidentally, had a rollicking time taking head-on the representatives of the nuclear weapon states on the hot subject of the elusive universal nuclear disarmament, but that, as they say, is another story!

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2019.

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