Reporting The Collapse of Iraq
Reporting the collapse of Iraq.


Denis Boyles

The drama of war as it unfolds today on Europe’s broadsheet pages: In Basra, the British forces are surrounded — by crowds of happy street dancers. In Karbala, American tanks are pursued — by groups of cheering Iraqis. In Baghdad, a mortar round goes hits the Palestine Hotel, where all the journalists are holed-up. For the Euro-press, things in Iraq are turning very ugly indeed.

In the ongoing media remake of The Four Feathers, now playing in newsrooms across Europe, it once again falls to the Daily Telegraph’s venerable military analyst, John Keegan, to play the role of Gen. Burroughs, the old guy who keeps explaining to the young Favershams of Fleet Street the facts of military life: “The older media generation,” Keegan writes today, “particularly those covering the war from comfortable television studios, has not covered itself with glory. Deeply infected with anti-war feeling and Left-wing antipathy to the use of force as a means of doing good, it has once again sought to depict the achievements of the West’s servicemen as a subject for disapproval.” You wouldn’t know it from reading the daily dispatches, says Keegan, but “This has been a collapse, not a war.”

If only the French had known! All across this garlic-scented land, les citoyens are slapping themselves on the forehead and saying, “Zut! “Collapses are us!” In Liberation today, the grim realization that the U.N. will play as much a role in the immediate future of Iraq as it did in peacefully resolving the crisis before the guns went off. In Le Figaro, one of Kofi Annan’s flunkies makes a brave, if funny, face: When the “therapy of reality” finally makes the U.S. awake to its arrogance, says Elisabeth Lindenmayer, it will come crawling back to the U.N. In Germany, lured into lunacy by polls and Gauls, Die Welt laments that it’s nicht von der UNO. And as everybody knows by now, if it’s nicht for the U.N., it’s nada for Old Europe.

The hope of the French-speaking world was in County Down Monday and early Tuesday, where Tony Blair and George Bush were meeting to figure out what’s next for Iraq (and, incidentally, for Northern Ireland, where some hope is held out that American endorsement of a British plan to disarm the IRA — again! — will result in some progress there). But for those praying that Blair would somehow wrestle Bush to the ground and force-feed him Euro-pacifism, the Irish Times offers bleak hope: “Mr Blair’s official spokesman, Mr Tom Kelly, told journalists in Belfast last night that the UN had made clear ‘it hasn’t the capacity, never mind the desire, to run Iraq’.” This will come as bad news at the Guardian, where a report on the meeting is rosily headlined, “Blair tells Bush: take rest of world into account”.

Meanwhile, whines Lindsay Nicholson in today’s Guardian, “I can’t take another war report about dead children.” Suffer, Nicholson. In today’s Independent, Robert Fisk, the only man who feels more pain than Clinton, visits a hospital in order to find another injured child to exploit. How’s this for a Fisk headline? “Amid Allied jubilation, a child lies in agony, clothes soaked in blood.” That’ll sweep the newsstands of Islington. Going to war with Fisk is like living with your mother-in-law. Here’s a typical graph: “Yes, I know the lines. President Saddam would have killed more Iraqis than us if we hadn’t invaded — not a very smart argument in the Kindi hospital — and that we’re doing all this for them. Didn’t Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, tell us all a few days ago that he was praying for the American troops and for the Iraqi people? Aren’t we coming here to save them — let’s not mention their oil — and isn’t President Saddam a cruel and brutal man? But amid these people, such words are an obscenity.” But he meant Wolfowitz’s words, I think

A telling pair of obituaries in today’s newspapers: In the Telegraph, General Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka “Chemical Ali”. In the Times, Michael Kelly.

Meanwhile, the BBC World Service continues to work the Arab street. This morning, a worried correspondent explained that the death of Al-Jazeera’s Tariq Ayoub by an American air strike was “almost certainly” a deliberate act. “They knew where Al-Jazeera was,” he said. And even if it isn’t actually the truth that the act was deliberate, he added, it’s how the truth is understood by Arabs that matters. And for explaining truth to Arabs, the World Service is always happy to help.

The announcement this morning of an American attack on a “leadership target” (read: Saddam’s noggin) in a residential area of Baghdad happened too late for most of the European press. So tomorrow’s another day, outrage-wise. But to see a genuinely deliberate act of violence against civilians, check out Michael Gove’s attack on “peaceniks” in today’s Times.

Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.