Ungrateful Ali: The Painful Paradox of Embedded Freedom

From: rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU
Date: Sat Apr 26 2003 - 13:34:18 EDT

Please feel free forward--rb

The Times of India,
New Delhi, 25 April 2003
Ungrateful Ali
The Painful Paradox of Embedded Freedom
By Siddharth Varadarajan

As he ran his tank deep into Iraq three weeks ago, Sgt Sprague 
from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, took time off 
momentarily to reflect upon the noble campaign he was part of. 
“These people got nothing,” he told the Guardian’s James Meek. 
“We’ve been all the way from Basra to here and I ain’t seen one 
shopping mall or fast food restaurant. Even in a little town like 
ours, you got a McDonald’s at one end and a Hardee’s at the 

The victors of every war produce their own narratives — some 
epochal, some ephemeral — to chronicle or celebrate, criti- cise, 
rationalise or exorcise the furies of armed conflict. But as the 
nature of the battlefield changes, so too must its literature. If Sgt 
Sprague’s observations seem slender compared to, say, 
Thucydides, this is perhaps because the historian of the 
Peloponnessian War had 27 years of fighting to reflect upon. And 
though shorter, the Mahabharata war — chronicled by Sanjaya, 
perhaps the world’s first ‘embedded journalist’ — took so many 
complex twists that the story perforce ran into several volumes.

In any case, how does one chronicle a war where we are told both 
sides emerged victorious? There is no doubt that the US won. But 
having proclaimed victory — crowning its triumph with the staged, 
spectatorial toppling of a Saddam statue — and installed a retired 
American general as viceroy, the Bush administration says the 
real victors are the Iraqis themselves. Iraqis who are now free, as 
Donald Rumsfeld put it generously, ‘‘to make mistakes and 
commit crimes and do bad things.’’ Even loot museums and burn 
libraries. ‘‘Freedom’s untidy,’’ the US defence secretary told CNN. 
‘‘Stuff happens’’. Fortunately for the Iraqi people, the untidiness of 
Rumsfeldian freedom did not extend to the country’s oil wealth. As 
Baghdad descended into chaos last week, the one building US 
troops secured — by coincidence, presumably — was the oil 

Unlike the Mahabharata, the chroniclers of Operation Iraqi 
Freedom have not been tormented by moral dilemmas, self-doubt 
or remorse. Consider this uplifting performance by CNN’s Kyra 
Phillips last week. Phillips was interviewing Dr Imad al-Najada, 
the Kuwaiti surgeon treating a 12-year-old Iraqi child, Ali, who lost 
his arms — and his entire family — in the US bombing.

CNN: Doctor, Tell us what this little boy has been saying to you.

Dr al-Najada: Actually, today he was in good condition... and 
started speaking with a journalist. The thing which he (asked Ali 
was) what message he wants to reflect from the war. He said, first 
of all, thank you for the attention they’re giving to him, but he hopes 
nobody from the children in the war will suffer like what he suffer.

CNN: Doctor, does he understand why this war took place? Has 
he talked about Iraqi freedom and the meaning? Does he 
understand it?

I didn’t see the live interview, and the transcript on CNN’s website 
provides no hint of how the doctor reacted to Ms Phillips’ touching 
belief that little Ali — ‘free’ at last but orphaned, burned and bereft 
of limbs — would actually be grateful to the US. The transcript 
merely records the doctor replying that he hadn’t discussed this 
issue with Ali because ‘‘he’s in very bad psychological trauma.’’ 
‘‘But,’’ he added, ‘‘we discussed this issue with his uncle and the 
message we got from his family, they said they are living far away 
from the American troops, from the military of Saddam...and they 
don’t know how they (i.e. the US) hit them by missiles.’’

After insisting for years that sanctions imposed — to force Iraq to 
give up weapons of mass destruction — did not affect ordinary 
Iraqis, the US is now citing their plight to demand sanctions end 
immediately. The only problem is that the thousands of litres of 
anthrax and nerve agents that the US insisted Iraq has have not yet 
been found.

If sanctions are lifted today without these WMD being accounted 
for, they could just as easily have been lifted before the war 
started, or even many years earlier, before the blood of the half a 
million Iraqi children UNICEF says died as a result was spilt.

The US wants sanctions to be lifted so that Iraqi oil can be 
exported, the revenues used to defray the costs of military 
occupation and US oil companies can take lucrative upstream 
positions there. The UN must not cooperate. Until the WMD are 
fully accounted for by UN weapons inspectors or the Iraqi people 
manage to end the US occupation, Iraqi oil revenues must go only 
into a UN-run account. Here, their use can be regulated to ensure 
companies from the US — which defied the UN in invading Iraq — 
do not benefit from the aggression.

The embargo on non-military imports can immediately be 
suspended without the WMD being accounted for, provided the US 
acknowledges in the Security Council that its stated rationale for 
invading Iraq — to destroy prohibited weapons it finally never found 
— had no legal basis. The US must also agree to submit its 
political and military leadership to the jurisdiction of the 
International Criminal Court for the Prosecutor to establish the 
extent of their liability for war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Finally, Ali and other victims of the US invasion — and of the 
economic sanctions kept in place all these years by Washington 
— should be allowed to sue the US government. The money for 
Iraq’s reconstruction should come from these reparations, and not 
from the oil resources of a people who have already suffered so 

Siddharth Varadarajan
Deputy Chief of National Bureau
The Times of India
7 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg
New Delhi 110 002
Office: (91-11) 2349-2048
Fax: (91-11) 2335-1606

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