The Fall of Baghdad as seen by an American - 1
I want to join in the "celebrations" as well, but being the black sheep of the Iraqi "family", I will do it my own way...
So on this "special" occasion, I have decided to interview Malcolm Lagauche. This interview was not structured and intentionally so. I wanted it to flow, so there was no set of specific questions sent forth...it was one question at a time...a bit like our Iraqi lives, one day at time...
- Layla :Hello Malcolm and nice to have you "on board", the first question that comes to my mind as an Iraqi to an American, is why Iraq ?I must admit, when I first read you a few years back, I thought you were an Iraqi borrowing an English name, till you assured me that was not the case. You are very knowledgeable about Iraq and its contemporary History. So why Iraq and what attracted you to it ?
- Malcolm : Before 1990, I had little knowledge of Iraq. But, I was disgusted with the U.S. invasion of Panama shortly before Iraq came into the U.S. cross hairs. After August 2, 1990, we saw in the U.S. a constant barrage of anti-Iraq and anti-Saddam propaganda. I didn’t believe it just because of common sense.
I asked myself, "How can the leader of a country be such a butcher and only now is the world finding out? How can a leader enjoy watching people boil in acid without the world knowing of this? The stories began to become more and more preposterous.
I went to a library and looked at World Almanacs for the years 1981-1989. An almanac is basically a book with statistics and no political agenda. I found out that the UN had praised Iraq’s education system. The UN had also spoke wonders of the Iraqi medical system. Iraq’s credit rating in international business was A+, much better than that of the U.S. In 1987, the New York Times called Baghdad "the Paris of the Middle East." I knew then that I was being misled by my government.
When the first bombs fell on January 17, 1991, I went to the local grocery store at the corner of my street. I knew the owner’s name was Tony, but I did not know his nationality. I asked him, "Tony, are you an Iraqi?" He was hesitant and said, "Yes." I then shook his hand and apologized for the actions of my country. He was relieved and hugged me.
For the next 42 nights, I spent three hours in Tony’s store each night. I spoke to everyone who came in: Iraqis, Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptians, etc. I asked many questions. They all were shocked at the U.S. bombing. However, I received a great education about Iraqi culture and history. It seems every person had a different story to tell: about sports, housing, education, health services, etc. And, the vast majority admired Saddam Hussein.
For about six months after the cease-fire in 1991, I met many Iraqis whom those I met in the store referred me to. I was given magazines, books and newspapers. I got in touch with the Iraqi Interest Section working out of the Algerian Embassy in Washington D.C. I sent them postage stamps and they sent me quite a few editions of the Baghdad Observer. I did this for about five years and learned much from the newspaper. The people at the Interest Section could not spend money because of the embargo, so I had to send them stamps. Here’s an interesting observation. At that time, we heard that women in Iraq were virtual prisoners under Saddam. Yet, the Interest Section consisted of an entire female staff. I would mention this to the naysayers and they would say, "I don’t know about that." I would quickly say, "Well, I do. Why don’t you admit to the truth when it is presented?"
Within a couple of years, I had quite a few Iraqi acquaintances. At the time, in my area, there were about 30,000 Chaldeans. They were split: some hated Saddam and some loved him. Even though I tended to side with the Ba’ath at the time, as a journalist, I always tried to get all the information in case I may have been wrong. I asked many Saddam-haters why they did not like him. The answers were crazy: "He stole old woman’s gold." "He tortures Christians," "He cuts peoples’ ears off," etc. I asked each and every one if he/she ever saw any of these atrocities. The answer was always the same: no. I asked them if they knew someone who saw them. Again, no. I asked them if they ever read any reports or articles about this stuff. No. On the other hand, if I asked the pro-Saddam people a question, most could supply me with a document, or photo, or newspaper article that supported their case.
By 1995, I was giving speeches at book stores (I had written a 120-page book called The Sledgehammer and the Ant: The Real Story Behind the U.S. Destruction of Iraq) universities, various social groups, etc. Ironically, the only groups who shunned me were the so-called "peace" groups. In San Diego, there is one large group, San Diego Peace Resource Center, who seem to filter every leftist through their ranks. I called them about my book and was outright told, "We don’t touch that Iraq thing."
Coincidentally, a Baghdad daily newspaper serialized my book over 30days. A good friend of mine said the translation was excellent.
At first, I spoke of imperialism and propaganda and the results of destroying Iraq. By 1996, I added more meat to my presentations and openly began to speak highly of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party. I had seen Dr. Al-Anbari, Nizar Hamdoon and Tariq Aziz on TV and thought, "what wonderful and eloquent spokespeople." All spoke better English than those in the U.S. administration. Again, common sense came into play. If Saddam was this brutal madman, he would not have such eloquent and astute people surrounding him.
By now, my best friend was an Iraqi-American who was born and grew up in Kuwait. In the 1990s, he bought a house in Baghdad and spent half of the year in Iraq and half in the U.S. He used to tell me, "They know all about you in Iraq." Evidently, in addition to my book, they published articles I had written about Iraq.
After a few years of my quest, I began to admire Iraqis (the good ones, not the idiot Chaldeans who denigrated Saddam), I found them to be very generous and genuine people, more so than most U.S. citizens. Today, I am well-known in the Iraqi-American population of southern California. So, to make things short, in addition to trying to bring justice to Iraq, I also learned Iraqi culture and understood a great portion of it.
I have written about injustices other nations have experienced because of U.S. imperialism. But, Iraq was special. I have never seen so much propaganda against one person in my life (Saddam). I have never seen so much devastation of a country than I have with Iraq. When I first saw pictures in 1991 of the damage, I was aghast. Plus, most of my country people cheered this on. It disgusted me. These are the reasons why Iraq became so important to me.
- Layla : You have been closely following the development of events in Iraq, since the 90's. How would you describe it to the layperson, and what do you think are the core reasons behind what happened and is happening to Iraq and the Iraqis ?
- Malcolm : There are myriad reasons for this, but I’ll keep it simple. Because I am a U.S. citizens who has lived 53 of his 61years in the U.S., I have observations that foreigners may not have. The main two reasons for the destruction and ongoing humiliation of Iraq are xenophobia and ethnocentrism. I grew up here and in school used to hear the teachers tell us to "pray to God" that we were Americans. Other nationalities were either bloodthirsty tyrants or were from destitute countries. Plus, we had the best food in the U.S. I remember a sixth-grade teacher telling us how thankful we must be for having an abundant supply of white bread. She said the people of many countries had to eat that dreadful dark bread. Today, we know the white bread is full of toxic additives and the "dark bread" of many nations is much healthier. So, when an entire population is brainwashed from the age of six, it is hard for them to change their ways. When I was in first grade, we had to say a Christian prayer and also the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I knew no prayer, but I memorized it as my classmates uttered it. I thought I would be punished if I didn’t say it. And, it is preposterous to think a six-year-old kid understands the Pledge of Allegiance. Plus at every professional sporting event, the national anthem of the U.S. is played.
With all this stuff going on, when one hears of opposing views, they are not taken seriously. We have it inbred in our psyche that we are always right and that any leader of a nation who opposes any part of U.S. policy is a tyrant. It’s in our genes. Saddam’s only crime was to say "no" when the U.S. said "yes." Once he opposed U.S. hegemony, he had to go. It took years, but it happened. The same with Noriega, Castro, Allende, Soviet Union and more recently Sudan and Zimbabwe.
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, I had Palestinian-Americans and Iraqi-Americans tell me that the U.S. people were good, but the government stunk. I disagreed and said the government would not be allowed to conduct its genocidal policies if the U.S. people did not allow it to happen. Today, these same people tell me that I was right. After the Gulf War, until today, Arab-Americans have had their businesses blown up. They’ve been arrested for no reason and they’ve endured physical attacks from U.S. citizens. I have a good friend who is a professor in Minnesota. He is a Shi’ite from Basra. He speaks of his great Iraqi education and how he went to university in Baghdad and not only received clothing and free tuition, but a monthly amount of spending money as well. Today, he flies frequently. He tells me that the story is the same. He will be in the middle of a line waiting to board the plane and some goon taps him on the shoulder and takes him into a room where he must strip and be inspected. I ask U.S. citizens how they would like to be treated this way, but I never receive an answer.
- Layla :It is very interesting and informational for me as an Iraqi, to hear your American perspective, unlike the so many others - I and other Iraqis have been bombarded with.
You mentioned vitriolic propaganda campaigns against Iraq and Saddam Hussein. And I could not help but notice that the name of Saddam came up about a dozen times or so in your replies. Some believe that the occupation of Iraq was to "free it from a tyrant" and they cite so many atrocities committed like "torture, gassing of his people, mass graves" etc... others believe that it was a personal issue between Bush - father and son and Saddam Hussein. Some sort of vendetta. How do you view it ?
- Malcolm : Let there be no mistake. From August 1991 until December 30, 2006, in the U.S., the entire atrocities against Iraq were aimed at one man: Saddam Hussein. Rarely did we read about Iraq or Iraqis. It was always Saddam.
Military spokespeople would take to the TV screens and describe actions. It was always "he" not "they" when they spoke of anything. "He will try to bomb (you name it). "We have him on the run." "He’s retreating," etc. It was never written that the troops were doing anything. It was always "he." It was amazing to read in the English language something like, "We’ll get him to retreat to (fill in the name)." It was the soldiers who were retreating, not Saddam Hussein.
Even from the beginning of August 1990, we heard the most preposterous stuff. A psychologist advised George Bush I to pronounce Saddam’s name as "Sodom." This subliminally made U.S. citizens think of "sodomy." It sickened me to see person-after-person go on TV and talk about "Sodom."
The statement, "He gasses his own people" was the most powerful weapon the U.S. had. I met myriad Americans who said, "I could oppose invading Iraq, but he gasses his own people." One person told me that and I asked, "Do you know where Halabjah is?" "Sure," he said, "It’s in Iraq." I then said, "No shit. Where?" He said he did not know. I then gave him a short lesson in geography and said it was close to the Iranian border and many Iranian troops were there at times. Then I asked, "What kind of gas was used?" He scratched his head and responded, "How the hell do I know?" "How was it delivered?" I continued. Again, "I don’t know." Finally, I asked, "how the fuck can you say ‘he gasses his own people?’ when you have no idea of the location or the kind of gas used to kill Kurds?" He then said, "Well, I heard it on FOX News." I gave him a short education and mentioned the cyanogen was the gas that killed the Kurds and that Iran had stockpiles and Iraq never possessed one gram. He became frustrated and said, "I don’t want to know anything about that." This was the typical attitude inside the U.S.
Plus, look at the statement: He gasses his own people. What about Vietnam where tens of thousands of civilians were killed by napalm. Nobody mentioned that. In other words, it’s okay to gas foreigners, but not your own people. There was no logic and there was no scrutiny until just before the March 2003 invasion when people like Stephen Pellitiere wrote articles pointing the finger at Iran. Pellitiere was the head CIA analyst in 1988 and always maintained that Iran gassed the Kurds of Iraq. Plus, about 300 bodies were found, not the legendary 5,000 used for U.S. propaganda purposes. Condoleezza Rice used the figure 20,000.
Here is my biggest argument against Iraq’s involvement in gassing the Kurds. For years, the U.S. has offered anyone who was involved to come forward and tell how Iraq did it and that person would be paid a handsome amount of money. Not one has stepped forward. Not one pilot; not one supply person who helped load the bombs, not one clerk who processed the ordering of the material, etc. No one came forward because Iraq did not gas the Kurds. And, no one can say that nobody came forward because Saddam would kill their families. Saddam is dead.
We heard psychologists on TV say that Saddam was insane because of the angle of his eyebrows. He was beaten constantly as a child by other children and therefore became a sadist. He beat his wife and daughters. The list goes on and on.
Two days before the 2003 invasion, National Public Radio (NPR) held a call-in-session about the impending violence. NPR is regarded by most Americans as a professional and objective news agency. One woman called and said her husband was already to go to help "free" the Iraqi people from the beast in Baghdad. She said her husband was stationed in "Gutter." He was in Qatar, but most Americans pronounced it "gutter," making it a putdown for an Arab country. Of course, Qatar caved in and allowed U.S. troops to use the country as a staging area, but even it had to be denigrated by pronouncing its name as "gutter."
Shortly after, a Iraqi-American woman called. The commentator asked about her view of the U.S. She said she was close to attaining her university degree and had a good social life. The announcer said, "See. She likes this country and now has a chance to have a fruitful life." Then, the woman stated, "Saddam is not all that bad. He’s done a lot of great things for Iraq." There was silence. Not one of the moderators said a word. They hoped no one heard. Then, the woman said, "Maybe you didn’t hear me, but Saddam has done a lot of great things … " and then she was cut off. If they were real journalists, they would have had her explain why she made the statement. What they did was cut her off and not even admit she was on the air. The announcer then said, "We have a caller from El Cajon on the line." They screened the callers and when the woman said she was a university student, they automatically thought she would say something negative about Saddam. When I arrived home, I called NPR and asked, off the air, why they cut the woman short. They told me that they never received such a call. Hundreds of thousands of people heard it, yet they said the call never occurred.
The mass graves are another story. The news always said, "He killed hundreds of thousands." I would tell people he must have been one busy person to do all this himself. It was always "he," not "they." In November 2003, Tony Blair told the world that 400,000 people in mass graves had already been found in Iraq. The world was sickened. The dirty bastard Saddam. USAID, a U.S. government agency carried the story and said that Saddam’s crimes were the worst since Hitler. However, on July 18, 2004, Blair told The Independent daily newspaper that he "mis-spoke" and only about 5,000 graves had been found. This is quite a difference. Not one word appeared in the U.S. press about what should have been one of the most important news items in modern history. Then, I took the time to research the 5,000. Half were found in the north of Iraq and were killed in the 1990s during the Kurdish civil war. These could not be attributed to Saddam because, at the time, Baghdad had no control over the area. Then, I discovered that more than 90% of the other 2,500 were killed by U.S. bombs in the 1991 Gulf War. In the period of nine months, the number of people the Butcher of Baghdad killed went from 400,000 to 250. And, I’m sure most, if not all, of the remaining 250 were soldiers killed in combat during the Shia insurrection in 1991. These are hard facts, even published by the mainstream press, yet the lies persist. To this day, if you go to the USAID website, the number 400,000 is still used.
The Anfal Campaign was another fiasco. The number of deaths attributed to this is 182,000. The figure was assessed by Human Rights Watch. In the early 1990s, a couple of reporters decided to check on this. When they asked the head of Human Rights Watch how he came up with this figure, he said, "We used estimates based on estimates and circumstantial evidence." Unreal. If a lawyer in a U.S. court presented his case in these words, the judge would dismiss the trial and fine the attorney for wasting the court’s time.
As far as I can tell, when asked to provide victims of the "gassing" in the Anfal Campaign, not one Kurd would produce one. Finally, after the press said this may have been a hoax, they produced a victim in Turkey. They refused to let the press in the areas they maintained were gassed in Iraq. In Turkey, a 15-year-old kid showed up as a victim. He had burns on his face. The reporter asked if a doctor could examine him. At first the Kurds said "no." Then, they finally allowed a doctor to look at the kid, knowing that their lies were being reported. The doctor concluded the kid’s face was burned from a household chemical, such as lye, not chemical weapons. When asked where the bodies were from the alleged massacre, a New York Times reporter said the people were herded into trucks and a convoy of 182,000 people made its way to the south of Iraq where Saddam killed them. Someone asked the reporter how such a large convoy could be undetected by satellites. He could not answer the question. Then, he again asked, "Where are the bodies?" The reporter was silent and then said that Saddam probably had a vaporizing ray that made them disappear totally.
As far as all the torture machines attributed to Saddam, I ask the same question as I do about the bodies from the Anfal campaign: where were they? You and I both know that if there were all these torture machines, they would have been discovered by U.S. troops and shown 24 hours a day on worldwide television.
As for Bush wanting revenge for Saddam’s supposed intent of killing his father, that did not have much to do with the entire scenario of demonizing. In 1993, Seymour Hersh wrote a great piece debunking the assassination attempt. Then about eight months ago, the U.S. opened many of the files of the Ba’ath government that they stole from Baghdad. There was not one word about an assassination attempt. At the time, the U.S. government said that the Iraqis kept impeccable records and if anything like this was planned, it would have been recorded. Then they made an official statement that said there was no assassination attempt. It’s great that they told the truth, only it was 15 years too late.
From 1991 to 2003, many Americans told me that they felt sorry for the Iraqi people and would like to see them freed. I asked each one, "When is the last fucking time you ever cared about an Iraqi? You call them camel jockeys and sand niggers, and now all of a sudden you care?" I never received an answer.
During the embargo years, few Americans even knew about the sanctions. A few days before the March 2003 invasion, that piece of shit Oprah Winfrey was a guest on a talk show. She was heralding the brave American men and women who would finally free Iraq. A telephone caller asked her how she could be so pro-war after Iraq had gone through almost 13 years of an embargo. Winfrey replied, "What embargo? I’ve never heard of it." Millions of Americans look to this hunk of garbage as their guide to morals and social mores, and she had never heard of the embargo.
I would say that about 98% of the negative propaganda targeted Saddam. To Americans, it’s easy to demonize one person. It’s much simpler than knowing real facts about a country. Saddam was easy to demonize in the U.S. He was an Arab and most Americans don’t like Arabs. If you look at many of the enemies of the U.S. over the past few decades, they had dark skin and moustaches or beards.
I will conclude by saying that in my lifetime, I have never seen such vile lies thrust against anyone as those used to denigrate Saddam Hussein. They worked.
Here is a very interesting observation. During the Vietnam War, there was much propaganda. It was mostly aimed at communism: If Vietnam fell, the whole area would be commie. This was dispelled when a unified communist Vietnam went to war against two other communist countries: Cambodia and China. That showed how wrong the assessment of the U.S. was.
However, during the war, very little was written to demonize Ho Chi Minh. It was always the commies. But, against Iraq, it was always Saddam, not Ba'athism that was the enemy. Vietnam and Iraq are similar in that the U.S. invaded both for no legitimate reason other than imperialism. The differences were in the application of the designation of the enemy: In Vietnam, it was communism. In Iraq, it was Saddam.
to be continued...I promise.
P.S: I really wanted to post some Iraqi art, but for some reason, it is IMPOSSIBLE to upload any pictures and provide a link to Malcolm Lagauche Website. There is NO compose and edit mode on my blog anymore. I have a feeling I have been hacked or contaminated by 10000 bugs -- again.