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The Unreporting of Iraq

A hidden Holocaust

By David Cromwell


As the 10th anniversary of the devastating UN economic sanctions against Iraq approaches (6th August), it is clear that even the 'liberal' and 'independent' press is sweeping the matter under the carpet. If the government propaganda merchants in Washington and London don't even mention the dreadful suffering of the Iraqi people, then 'news' journalists can convince themselves that (a) it's not happening; (b) even if it is happening, it can't be important.

Recently, there was a brouhaha about Norman Finkelstein's book 'The Holocaust Industry' concerning the profits made out of the sufferings of the Jews - and the other many victims - of the Nazi period. Columnist Natasha Walter, writing in the London-based Independent newspaper, broadened the discussion somewhat, but still within rigid parameters appropriate to the 'free press'. She wrote accurately 'that Americans - and the British are the same - would rather wring their hands over the Holocaust than over their own crimes against humanity'. The implication was that such crimes - negro slavery and colonialism, for example - all belonged to the distant past. Today, goes the argument, the United States - with Britain in a loyal supporting role - is the defender of freedom against tyrants the world over.

But not only is there an ongoing US-driven holocaust which is denied or ignored by western elites, it is rarely even remarked upon in respectable society. We are talking here of the hidden holocaust that extends beyond the historical genocide of native American peoples and the enslavement of black people, dreadful as those events were. Millions of people have died, and many more millions condemned to lives of misery and torture, as a result of US interventions in the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. Take the following example. The US (and British) actively supported Suharto's bloody coup in Indonesia in 1965-66 when over a million were killed, followed by Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, which resulted in around 200,000 deaths.

But these are inconvenient facts which obscure the west's self-image as the 'good guys'. (And, let's face it, since World War II 'the west' has increasingly become synonymous with powerful US political and business interests). The very question of how benign are the great western powers with their proud notions of 'democracy', 'fair play' and 'respect for law and order' just does not arise. It is what therapists refer to as 'the elephant in the room'. Everyone sees it, but in polite company social etiquette dictates that nobody mentions it. It just isn't the done thing.

Let's do our damnedest to make it the done thing. Consider the Gulf War desert massacre in 1990-1991. General Norman 'Stormin' ' Schwarzkopf admitted that at least 100,000 Iraqi soldiers had been killed. Many of them died not on the battlefield, but while fleeing in retreat. This was the infamous Basra road 'turkey shoot' of Saddam's coerced and demoralised conscript army of mostly Kurds and Shia - the same oppressed minorities for which western leaders professed concern. And then there is the dreadful toll of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intense bombing campaign. According to American and French intelligence reports, over 200,000 died. All of this was barely mentioned in the 'quality' press at the time and is now all but forgotten.

The Iraqi holocaust continues today in the guise of 'economic sanctions'. Over half a million children under the age of five, and over one million Iraqis in all, have died for want of adequate medication, food or safe water supplies. But Bill Clinton and Tony Blair tell us confidently that it's all Saddam's fault and so our investigative journalists and hard-bitten editors back off, appeased. When the media is challenged to pursue the matter further - these are huge crimes against humanity, after all - they react angrily: 'We've already covered the issue. We did an article a few months ago'. This was the response I received when I attempted to interest several British broadsheets in a well-attended public meeting in London protesting the Iraqi sanctions. David Edwards, who was similarly rebuffed by The Guardian when trying to place an article on the 10th anniversary of the sanctions, wrote recently about the media: 'The main extraordinary unwritten rule is: THOU SHALT NOT QUESTION WHAT WE DO! Because, perhaps even unconsciously, they know that they are so totally open to criticism, so compromised, self-deceived and deceiving, that they cannot risk any probing or examination. '

And yet... here is a massive 'story' should anyone brave enough in the mainstream media wish to pursue it. Denis Halliday, former coordinator of the UN's 'oil for food' programme in Baghdad, resigned in 1998, accusing the west of 'genocide'. Hans von Sponeck, his successor, resigned earlier this year, stating that an entire generation of Iraqi people was being 'destroyed'. Somehow, none of this raises more than a brief murmur amongst broadcasters and journalists. Why is this?

There is, of course, no conspiracy. It's more subtle, powerful and pervasive than that, as Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Edwards and others have demonstrated. At one level it's market forces at work - the requirement to satisfy the constraints and priorities of advertisers and corporate owners, for example. But there is also a reluctance in the media, bordering on fear, to confront political and business elites. Stir in, too, lashings of lustful journalistic longings to belong to the higher circles of power. 'Mr President, Foreign Secretary, Defense Minister - speak to me, please. Me, me, me!' Most journalists love having direct access to the corridors of power. 'According to sources inside the Cabinet...', 'It is understood that the Prime Minister feels that...', etc., etc. No wonder journalist John Pilger, a distinguished exception, describes the majority of his professional colleagues as 'the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda'.

But powerful interests do not rely solely on a network of complacent journalists. These days the military establishment have their own spin doctors. Martin Howard, the intriguingly titled 'director of news' at the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), has been diligent in waging a bizarre propaganda war in support of the continued illegal British and American bombing of Iraq. His remit is ostensibly to scour the letters pages of the British press for anti-Nato sentiments and to respond with the full force of his position. His responses are exemplars of obfuscation and duplicity. A recent contribution in The Independent defended the US and the UK patrols of the 'no-fly' zones which were set up, he said, to protect northern Kurds and southern Shiites. However, while UN resolutions call for the protection of Iraqi minorities there is no stipulation for military enforcement of the zones, as claimed by Howard.

However, as even the establishment New York Times reported on 25 February 1998, 'no United Nations resolutions created the restricted zones'. This has not stopped the zones growing in size over the years. When President Clinton ordered missile attacks against Iraq on September 3 and 4, 1996, he admitted during his weekly radio address, 'I ordered the attacks in order to extend the no-fly zone'. This was done unilaterally, without authorisation from the UN. But when has the US ever sought authorisation from the UN to pursue its own agenda? In his letter to The Independent, MoD spin doctor Martin Howard claims that British or American aeroplanes were not responsible for the deaths, reported in the same newspaper, of several Iraqis on 17 May this year. 'Nato planes weren't flying that day', he claimed, as the reporter could have determined if only 'he had bothered to check' with Howard. Of the 300 Iraqis that have been killed, and another 800 injured, in the 18 months of intense bombings since December 1998, Howard had nothing to say. He goes on to proclaim support for UN security council resolutions. Yet there is no mention of UN resolution 687, paragraph 14, which calls for regional disarmament as the basis for reducing Iraq's arsenal of weapons.

The truth is that by arming Iraq's neighbours in the Middle East, the west is contravening the same UN resolution which it uses to maintain arguments for sustaining economic sanctions against Iraq. Peter Hinchcliffe, former British ambassador to Kuwait, and like Howard an enthusiastic revisionist, recently regurgitated in the British press the US and UK government line that courtesy of the UN's 'oil for food' programme, Saddam 'could have chosen to feed the Iraqi people (and treat them)'. Never mind that once UN expenses and reparations to Kuwait and big business have been creamed off, just $190 is left per head of population per year. Denis Halliday, who has actually seen at first hand the devastating effects on the Iraqi people, politely described this sum as 'pitifully inadequate'. According to the UN Children's Fund, the sanctions are killing of up to 200 children under the age of five every day. Even on a 'slow news day', the US and British public are left uninformed of what their governments are doing in their name. Journalists call this surreal and deadly state of affairs 'maintaining professionalism'.

How can we reconcile these ghastly facts with the widespread belief in the essential goodness of our 'liberal-democratic west'? We cannot. 'Our boasted civilisation', said the writer Jack London, 'is based upon blood, soaked in blood, and neither you nor I nor any of us can escape the scarlet stains.' Far from living in a benign society, we are actually living under a monstrous system that promotes power and profit above concern for justice and life. We must suspect that those elite few who benefit most from the present arrangement are fully aware of this fact. As for the rest of society, the depiction of reality presented here is such a disturbing notion that many would rather reject it outright than question the lies they are fed daily by the media. But then, as George Orwell once wrote, 'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' Only then can we prevent another Vietnam. Another East Timor. Another Iraq.  

see also: 21st Century Genocide: A Mission of Peace to Iraq, by David Edwards

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Emanzipation Humanum, version 7. 2000, criticism, suggestions as to form and content, dialogue, translation into other languages are all desired