The bonds of love
December 23, 2002 | More from Don Murray
The inspectors are diligent, racing out every morning on their errands of massive responsibility. Fewer journalists now chase them; the daily runs have become background news. Only one month into their search of Saddam's sites and already the inspectors are merely a sideshow.
The Americans made sure of that, pronoucing the ominous words 'material breach' only days after getting their hands on the Iraqis' 12,000-page declaration on the country's arms of mass destruction. 'Material breach' is the trigger phrase in the UN resolution that opens the door to armed retaliation against the recalcitrant regime that has shown itself unwilling to co-operate. For the moment, only the U.S. is brandishing the word. The inspectors will go on inspecting until the end of January, but the die appears to be cast.
The prevailing view, from the street to the top in Iraq, is that conflict will come. Tariq Aziz, the vice-premier and long-time lieutenant of President Saddam Hussein, recently received a delegation of American and Canadian peace activists. Aziz is a Christian and he seems to believe continued peace would require divine intervention. In answer to a question from the activists, he said: "only a miracle would now save the country from war."
Another view of the future, expressed furtively in the street, also takes for granted a new war. "I detest Saddam," one man said, "but what will come after?"
And there is a third view, expressed most dramatically by Abdul Jabar Alkubaisy. This is a man who has spent his life fighting Saddam and his Baath party. The penalty for this was jail in the early 1970s, and then exile in the 1980s. In exile, Alkubaisy ran the Left Baath party. To punish him, the regime took two of his brothers and executed them. Alkubaisy continued his political battle.
Yet now, after 26 years, he has returned to Iraq, one of seven opposition party leaders to do so. His reasoning is simple. "I must show solidarity if Iraq is to be attacked by an outside aggressor. It's not a question of trust (in Saddam). I must stand with my country against America."
This is an extreme example of a commonly-held position. Saddam may be detestable, in the eyes of many of his citizens, but they must stand by the regime if it is attacked by outside forces. Nor is this limited to Iraq. The same phenomenon was evident when NATO bombed Serbia in 1999. Serbs rallied to support their leader, Slobodan Milosevic. But the solidarity didn't last. A year later Milosevic was toppled and two years later he was in jail in The Hague, awaiting trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The prospect of war is inflationary. Journalists and their requests for visas multiply dramatically. As a consequence, prices at the press centre of the Ministry of Information have more than doubled in two months. The temptation to describe this as a classic example of the law of supply and demand should be avoided. Like so much else in Saddam's Iraq, the Ministry of Information is a monopoly supplier.
To work in the country, journalists must use the ministry's services and 'minders,' and they must pay handsomely for them. The compulsory cost merely to be allowed to work and send reports out is now more than $300 a day for a television crew. And the prospect is that the monopoly supplier will jack the price up still further.
There are other inflationary twists at the press centre. The small group of competent minders (a minder is a necessary companion for any journalist who wishes to interview anyone officially or merely to film or record sound in the street) are now soliciting top-up contracts from news organizations. In return for this money they will work to make sure that the organization that 'sponsors' them gets new visas when the existing ones run out. And thanks to another inflationary decision of the monopoly supplier, visas run out after 10 days. More visas, more 'tips,' more money for the ministry.
All of this has a whiff of Gotterdammerung or, to be more precise, the twilight of the regime. If indeed there is 'regime change' imposed by force, the monopoly suppliers at the ministry would be swept into the proverbial ashcan of history. It's hard to earn money in ashcans. Better to lay away some savings now.
And so, in the press centre, you may witness the strange scene as large American news organizations promise any amount of money to the monopoly supplier so their representatives can be on the ground to watch their country's bombs and troops do their damage in Iraq.
Other organizations from other countries must make humbler, cheaper pleas. When the CBC asked a senior figure in the press centre what would be the best way to assure that visas would be delivered with a minimum of delay, the answer was unexpected, to say the least.
"We must reinforce our bonds of love," said the harried official.
Unexpected, yes, but perhaps appropriate in the holiday season.