IN JULY OF 2007 my old magazine the
Iraq in March of 1976 was eight years into the rule of the Ba’ath Party. The nominal president Ahmad Hassan Abu Bakr, whose ugly face was on all the posters and banners, was understood to be terminally ailing from diabetes. Now and then, and always phrased in careful and oblique tones, one heard talk of his vice president Saddam Hussein, seemingly the head of the party’s security apparatus. “Make a note of the name,” I wrote in my dispatch, adding that “as the situation grows more complicated Saddam Hussein will rise more clearly to the top.” I am not so embarrassed to have written that—unless it be embarrassment for my rather leaden prose. But leaden prose always tends to be a symptom of other problems and if I am honest I think I can reconstruct the cause of my own
It was my second visit to Iraq and I knew approximately four things about the country. The first was that it had been a British colonial invention, carved out between the other arbitrary frontiers of the post-Ottoman Middle East, between Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This meant that, as a British socialist, I had an instinctive sympathy with its nationalists. The second thing I knew was that it had a large Kurdish minority, and that the rights of this minority had long been a major cause of the Left. The third thing I knew was that the Ba’ath Party, which called itself socialist, was at least ostensibly secular and not religious. The fourth thing I knew was that the casinos and brothels and nightclubs of London, just then awash in Gulf Arab clientele after the free-for-all of the post-1973 oil embargo, did not tend to feature droves of greedy Iraqis throwing their country’s wealth away on drink and harlots. On the visible evidence, partly confirmed to me by guarded British diplomats at the Alwiyah Club near the River Tigris, Iraq was using its immense national income to create a serious infrastructure—of building and development, but also of health and welfare.
My friend Gavin Young, the great travel writer and gay ex-Guardsman, had told me of the Marsh Arabs of the southern wetlands, pursuing an antique manner of life that still had strong biblical trace elements to it, but when I mentioned my wish for a visit down there, the relevant Iraqi officials steadfastly stonewalled me and tried to put me off. “Why do you want to see backwardness? We are a modern country now.” This dimly jogged my memory of visitors to the USSR being taken to see tractor factories while collectivization was ravaging the countryside, but in truth I slightly prefer the city to the countryside and meanwhile I had found myself an extraordinary companion of the urban sort.
My first meeting with Mazen al-Zahawi was, I would say, unpropitious. In return for a visa, the Ba’athists insisted on providing me with a “guide.” Many regimes do this as a means of keeping visiting scribes under control: you may sometimes escape a “minder” but there’s an art and a science to it and it can take time. As I stood in line at Baghdad Airport for my passport to be stamped, I could see a group of people waiting on the other side of the barrier and instantly made up my mind which one I hoped would
I can’t remember how we passed the time in the car—there was a chauffeur, in front of whom he was icily silent—but we got to the hotel and he said he’d let me check in and then meet me in the bar. I took my time. When I eventually pulled myself onto the neighboring stool, it was in order to feign exhaustion and to see if perhaps I might take an uninvigilated walk in the city while he thought I was napping. But he took off his shades, leaned toward me, placed his hand firmly on my knee and said: “I believe we are going to be
Mazen did not at all disappoint. He took me to his family home near the banks of the Tigris, which proved to be the former house of Hitler’s envoy to Iraq at the time of the pro-Nazi coup in favor of Rashid Ali in 1941, a coup that, as I was to learn, had been supported by the political ancestors of the Ba’ath. There was a rather squawking home-made recording of Wilde’s three-act masterpiece, in which Gavin’s booming baritone and Mazen’s lilting response could be discerned. It all rather conformed to Susan Sontag’s speculations about “camp” and “fascinating fascism.” I wondered uneasily what Gavin had told Mazen about me: Young was one of those old queens who believes that deep down all men are queer as clockwork oranges. But Mazen’s own double life proved to be much more subtle and convoluted than that.
For one thing, he was by ancestry half-Kurdish. This was nothing special on its own; intermarriage between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq, as between Sunni and Shi’a, used to be a commonplace. But Iraq had just emerged from a bitter border war with the Shah of Iran, in which Henry Kissinger had used the Kurdish militias in the north as a proxy against Baghdad and then famously abandoned them, to be massacred on the hillsides, in order to seal a deal with the Shah. This had opened Iraqi Kurds to the charge of disloyalty, bad enough at any time, and also of being tools of Iran and its ally Israel, which was even worse. But it wasn’t enough for Mazen to be half-Kurdish and (by night) all gay. During the rest of the working day he was on call to be one of the interpreters for Saddam Hussein. I had frequently met homosexuals who liked to live dangerously or on thin ice but this was the most daring feat of sociopolitical cross-dressing I had encountered to date.
Together we went to visit factories and dams and ministries—and mosques and museums and ziggurats—by day, and Baghdad’s demimonde at night. My friend Marina Warner, back in London, was thinking of writing an opera about the Gilgamesh legend, and Mazen arranged for me to meet a keeper of antiquities at Gertrude Bell’s National Museum to see if he might have anything useful to impart. (“Don’t be too
I was increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinians by then, and was hoping that if any Arab state would outgrow the humiliation of the 1973 defeat by Israel, it would be a secular one and not a Saudi-type or otherwise theocratic manifestation, so I said “yes” without any particular reflection. Accordingly, I was taken to a villa to meet Sabri al-Banna, known as “Abu Nidal” (“father of struggle”), who was at the time emerging as one of Yasser Arafat’s main enemies. The meeting began inauspiciously when Abu Nidal asked me if I would like to be trained in one of his camps. No thanks, I explained. From this awkward beginning there was a further decline. I was then asked if I knew Said Hammami, the envoy of the PLO in London. I did in fact know him. He was a brave and decent man, who in a series of articles in the London
Somewhat more intellectually testing was my encounter with the Iraqi Communist Party, then a real power in the state and in the society (and the only faction in Iraq which for secular and internationalist reasons
Later that night Mazen took me to dinner on a houseboat on the Tigris to meet a man named Yahya Thanayan who owned his own printing press. This old boy, as I thought of him, had been in prison under every regime in Baghdad since the British. The worst of all, he told me, had been his imprisonment under the current one. He had received the personal attentions of the dreaded Nadim Kzar, head of the secret police (who had recently been executed as part of the process by which Saddam Hussein was annexing all such powers to himself). However, Thanayan went on, he nonetheless believed that the Ba’athist government was the best that the unhappy country had yet had to endure. He was a cultivated man and did not seem to be suffering from any gruesome repressed masochism. And Mazen, too, half-Kurdish as he was and absolutely not cut out for life in any sort of Sparta, seemed genuine in acknowledging the regime’s achievements. Oil had been nationalized and was not, as in neighboring Saudi Arabia or Iran, the property of a horde of venal monarchs and their princelings. Arab unity and secularism were being preached in the face of a tide of reaction sweeping the region.
So the article which I eventually wrote, while it certainly emphasized political repression, attempted to be fair on these points. Iraq was investing in its people; its constitution at least formally defined it as an Arab and Kurdish state (which was more than its NATO neighbor Turkey had ever done for its largest minority); it was modernizing and non-Islamic in its rhetoric. Yet I still grimaced when I re-read the piece, because what I left out was the most important thing of all: the X factor that was later summarized so well by the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya in the title of his book
I followed developments in Iraq after I got home, and began belatedly to appreciate that I had been shown the way things were actually pointing. Saddam Hussein soon made himself president and not long after that launched an all-out assault on the Iraqi Communists, smashing his main rival to the Left with a campaign of arrests and torture that was a mere foretaste of things to come. He began to spend more of his country’s vast wealth on re-armament, clearly not intending to abide by the border truce he had signed with Iran. He also began to make Baghdad a haven for international gangsters. Just after New Year’s Day in 1978, hugely to my horror and dismay, an agent of Abu Nidal’s walked into the office of Said Hammami in Hay Hill in Mayfair and shot him dead. I had in fact gone to see Hammami on my return from London, and told him that this obscure Palestinian in Baghdad was making threatening noises at him. Said had shrugged—he had heard this kind of nasty bravado before. Now I was in the position, not just of having delivered a warning from a terrorist, but of having seen the threat explicitly carried out. This was the opening of an astonishing spree of murder and mayhem: in his day Abu Nidal’s name was almost as notorious as Osama bin Laden’s was later to become. He went on to bomb Rome and Vienna airports, and to assassinate several of Arafat’s more negotiation-minded lieutenants. Issam Sartawi, the PLO delegate to the Socialist International, was gunned down while talking to my friend Vassos Lyssarides, leader of the Socialist Party of Cyprus. Every time a possible “back channel” was opened between Israelis and Palestinians, a long arm would reach out from Iraq, and the Palestinian interlocutor would be slain.
Even Iraqis in London lived under the Republic of Fear. My main contact at the embassy was the cultural officer, Naji Sabry al-Hadithi. He was a fairly literate and civilized fellow with a wonderful feeling for English, and he would invite me to lavish lunches and once to an Iraqi
A small further inducement was offered to my magazine. The Iraqi embassy paid for a full-page advertisement, in which the Ba’athist regime offered all Iraqi Jews the right to come home and reclaim their property and citizenship. This attempt at restitution for the deportations and confiscations that had followed 1948—and the public hangings of Jews that had followed Israel’s victory in 1967—was no doubt as hypocritical as Saddam’s pro forma recognition of the Kurds. But at least it was the compliment that vice paid to virtue. In Baghdad I had sometimes teased Mazen by asking him how many Jews had accepted the offer and come back. “A trickle,” was his invariable reply, until one day he couldn’t keep it up anymore and said “not even Mr. Ben-Trickle has exercised his right of return.”
As the repression and terror in Iraq became more theatrically cruel, a group called CARDRI (Campaign for the Restoration of Democratic Rights in Iraq) was founded, by an old Communist friend of mine from Oxford named Fran Hazelton. It joined the list of many good causes from Chile to South Africa that drew the signatures of “Left” members of Parliament and intellectuals. I still have its archives and membership lists in my possession. But I admit that I let my own interest lapse a bit and that I wasn’t in any case able to get another visa to visit the country. I also stopped hearing from my former Iraqi friends as the pall over the country thickened and as the long insane war with Iran, launched by Saddam in 1979, with the support of the pious born-again creep Jimmy Carter, went pitilessly on. Under cover of this war, Saddam made a deliberate attempt at the extirpation of the Kurdish people by deploying weapons of mass destruction. He also began the building of a nuclear reactor at Osirak, badly hit but not destroyed by the Israelis in 1981. I kept in occasional touch with the Kurdish exile office in Washington, where by then I lived, and with some elements of the Iraqi Left. (My old Communist acquaintance Dr. Rajim Ahina managed to escape from Baghdad and died in London, where he is buried next to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.)
In the spring of 1990 I flew from Washington to Aspen, Colorado, to attend a summit meeting between George H.W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Thatcher arrived seeming distinctly frazzled and out of sorts: the Bush administration was clearly leaning toward Chancellor Kohl’s reunified Germany as its new best friend in Europe, and her own good friend Ian Gow had been blown up by the Provisional IRA a few nights before. And then the entire picture was altered by one bold stroke: Saddam Hussein announced that the state of Kuwait, a member state of the United Nations, the Arab League, and many other international assemblies, had overnight become the nineteenth province of Iraq.
I spent that extraordinary weekend at Aspen in two minds and in two places. This was plainly a case of undisguised aggression and annexation, and one quaked to think what the civilians of Kuwait were undergoing. The Iraqi general in charge of the “operation,” I soon enough learned, was Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for his atrocities in Kurdistan. On the other hand, the Bush administration had been telling the Iraqis that it was neutral in the long-standing border dispute between Baghdad and the Kuwaiti royal family, and as between Ba’athists and feudal emirs there didn’t seem to be that much worth fighting over. It was true that Saddam Hussein had not long before employed poison gas against what President Bush insultingly persisted in calling “his own” people, but it was likewise true that the war material for this outrage had been supplied by the Reagan administration.
I have to admit, also, and with shame, that my own personal animosity against Bush was a factor in itself. I had simply detested the way in which he had lied his way as vice president through the Iran-
I have never been able to rid myself of the view that Bush was not really surprised to read the first reports from Kuwait—I watched him receive them very calmly—and only became upset when he learned that Saddam Hussein had taken the entire country. The whole thing stank of a pre-arranged carve-up gone wrong. It was almost impossible to read the transcript of his envoy’s last meeting with Saddam and to form any other opinion. Ambassador April Glaspie, whom I had known briefly in London, explicitly told the Iraqi dictator that the United States took no position on his quarrel with the Kuwaitis. Had Saddam taken only the Rumaila oil field and the Bubiyan and Warba islands, there would have been no
The official rhetoric of the Bush administration made me suspicious as well. Saddam Hussein was suddenly compared to Hitler by people who had never noticed the resemblance before. Alarmist official propaganda—about Iraqi armored divisions poised on the Saudi border, and about Kuwaiti babies being thrown out of incubators to die on the cold floor—proved to be exaggeration or fabrication. The Saudi tyranny appeared to be the chief beneficiary of the dispatch of Coalition forces, while Saddam’s mad blustering against Israel—and Arafat’s wicked and stupid decision to embrace Saddam—seemed to mean yet another excuse for relegating the question of Palestinian statehood to the end of the queue. So with a fairly good conscience I continued to write and speak against the impending war, and to point out all the contradictions in the Bush position. After all, if Saddam was really Hitler, then surely we were committed not just to rescuing Kuwait but to invading Iraq and finding it a new government? And what gave us the right to do that, we the pals of the Saudis, betrayers of the Kurds, and horsetraders with the Iranian mullahs?
Every now and then, however, I found myself repressing a misgiving or two. Kuwait may not have been a model state, but it had a certain openness and, as Edward Said pointed out publicly, had made room on its small territory at least for a limited parliament, as well as for many Palestinian refugees. All reports from Iraqi dissidents seemed to suggest that the reign of terror inside the country was actually even worse than Washington was alleging. And it seemed that Saddam Hussein was absolutely incapable of realizing that he had made a calamitous mistake. I flew with Bush’s party on Air Force One to Saudi Arabia, asking annoying questions at every opportunity and further irritating the Saudis by asking if I could have an interview with their honored Muslim guest, Field Marshall Idi Amin of Uganda. Then I went up to Dhahran, to the gigantic base where the Coalition was assembling its armada. It was at once clear that Iraq had no chance of holding off, let alone defeating, such a vast and sophisticated force. Any Iraqi conscripts put in the way of this juggernaut would simply be vaporized. Had the Ba’athists learned nothing from their previous military adventures?
When the war did come, not only were those luckless soldiers vaporized but so too were many civilians. Power stations, water supplies, bridges, and other crucial facilities in major cities were likewise hit with so-called smart bombs. And yet, it became clear, the Iraqi leadership was not going to be made to suffer alongside “its” people. Saddam’s Republican Guard units between Kuwait City and Baghdad were left unscathed, while a column of scruffy stragglers and camp followers, trudging away from Kuwait after the surrender, was hit from the sky again and again and smeared all over the road of the Mutla Pass: the press gave this the unimaginative name of the “Highway of Death” but I thought, and wrote, and still think, that it was a grotesque carnival of turkey-shooting sadism. Before the war, my old Marxist comrade Fred Halliday had broken ranks to some extent and told the Left: “You can avoid war, but only by leaving Kuwait in the hands of Saddam Hussein. You can be anti-imperialist, but you will have to decide if imperialism is worse than fascism.” I had been briefly swayed by this but was later to write with scorn that Comrade Halliday had been proved wrong. With Bush, you could have both imperialism
It was only on revisiting the region in the immediate aftermath that I slowly came to realize that my own logic could be turned, or rather could turn itself, against me. What if the war
Once I had crossed Turkey and made an illegal entry into northern Iraq at the Habur checkpoint, I entered on a scene that did a bit more than merely change my outlook. The Kurdish provinces of Saddam Hussein’s dominion had been turned into a howling wilderness. In company with a clever, witty, tough-minded Iraqi-Jewish photographer who had seized this moment to “trickle” back to his ancestral country, and with two Kurdish militants as guides, I worked my way down the Zab River and through the mountains toward the once thickly populated towns and cities of the lower-lying areas. Nothing prepares you for how lush and green the uplands are. Nor could anything have prepared me for the chain of wrecked and gutted and poisoned cities that showed Saddam’s unquenchable thirst for destruction. This is perhaps how the Scottish Highlands or the Irish farmlands might have felt after the “clearances”: village after village and township after township voided of population and then dynamited or bulldozed, while on charred and desolate bits of the landscape ugly blockhouse encampments had been built to “concentrate” those thereby dispossessed. This was grim enough but then, along a road dotted with the hulks of T-34 Russian-built tanks, came something more reminiscent of eastern Poland in the early 1940s.
The Kurdish city of Halabja had been hit by Iraqi chemical weapons in March of 1988, losing over five thousand of its citizens in just one afternoon. Three years later, it was still possible to interview and to photograph people whose wounds were still burning and suppurating, or whose lungs had been corroded. It was also possible to do a little work to counter the “denial” campaign that some “experts” had already begun, claiming that it had been the Iranians who bombed the town. There were several unexploded chemical bombs still wedged in the basements of ruined buildings, with Iraqi Air Force markings on their casings, and I had myself photographed by Ed Kashi while crouching next to one of these.
It was, in fact, only after the ghastly war with Iran was
From Shaqlawa it wasn’t too terribly far to the still-disputed cities of Suleimanya and Kirkuk, to which the temporarily demoralized Iraqi army had withdrawn. Our crappy Turkish rental car had died on us without a whimper. Jalal Talabani, the bearlike socialist who was the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, lent us a jeep and two stalwarts so that we could proceed farther and faster. The two
The Western soldiers up in this part of Iraq were mainly British, as were many of the planes and helicopters, but the vast airdrops of food and clothing and medicine were largely American-organized and the emplacement of a “no-fly zone” over the region, preventing the renewal of any coordinated assault by Saddam, depended very considerably on United States Air Force bases in neighboring Turkey. Though Bush and Thatcher had had no desire whatever to become drawn into the internal dynamics of Iraq after the retrieval of Kuwait, domestic public opinion had rebelled at the sight of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in flight, starving on the hillsides and machine-gunned along the roads. Was this any way to end a war for “liberation”? For me the immediate question became, Was I to be a part of this public opinion or not? I felt that I had no choice. Well then, what had become, or what was left, of my formerly proud “anti-war” stance? Was it anything much more than an affectation, or a residue?
All those who have had similar or comparable experiences will recognize the problem at once: it is not possible for long to be just a little bit heretical. To see American and British forces greeted by the people as liberators; to see the people’s evident disappointment that this liberation was only to be partial; to see a nearly exterminated population regain its pulse and begin returning and rebuilding: this took a bit of assimilating. And my old Left training wasn’t entirely useless to me, either. With the exception of the Mahabad Republic, briefly proclaimed with Communist support in Iranian Kurdistan after the Second World War and swiftly put down by the Shah, this was the closest that the Kurds, the largest population in the world without a state of its own, had come to controlling a piece of the earth that was distinctively theirs. Nor could I help noticing how many red flags were on display, how few mullahs there seemed to be, and how many invocations of old internationalist slogans were to be heard. It was chaotic and improvised; the men had a tendency to give the women back seats and to feel themselves naked unless festooned with weapons; the atmosphere was somewhat tribal for my taste but, as Orwell said when analyzing his own mixed feelings about republican and anarchist Catalonia, “I recognized it at once as a state of affairs worth fighting for.” The idea of “Reds for Bush” might seem incongruous, but it was a very great deal more wholesome than “pacifists for Saddam.”
With Ed Kashi I produced a short book about the Kurdish struggle, and I kept in touch with Barham Salih, the Kurdish representative in Washington, who had gone home to start reconstructing his country. (He is today the elected prime minister of the autonomous northern region.) The rest of Iraq meanwhile was retaken by Saddam Hussein as the private property of himself and his horrifying sons. Limitations to the reach of this crime family took the form of UN-mandated international sanctions, and of “no-fly” zones in the airspace of the country’s northern and southern provinces, which at least prevented a renewal of air-supported mass murder against the Kurdish and Shi’a populations. Almost every single day, Saddam’s forces fired on the British and American planes that patrolled and enforced those zones. As well as being in a state of unstable ceasefire, then, Iraq was also in a condition of being “half-slave and half-free”: a volatile situation that clearly could not continue indefinitely.
Other things—Bosnia, Rwanda—emerged to trouble the sleep of those who cared about human rights. But what I had learned in Iraq was working somewhere in my mind. I got hold of a copy of the video that showed how Saddam Hussein had actually confirmed himself in power. This snuff-movie opens with a plenary session of the Ba’ath Party central committee: perhaps a hundred men. Suddenly the doors are locked and Saddam, in the chair, announces a special session. Into the room is dragged an obviously broken man, who begins to emit a robotic confession of treason and subversion, that he sobs has been instigated by Syrian and other agents. As the (literally) extorted confession unfolds, names begin to be named. Once a fellow-conspirator is identified, guards come to his seat and haul him from the room. The reclining Saddam, meanwhile, lights a large cigar and contentedly scans his dossiers. The sickness of fear in the room is such that men begin to crack up and weep, rising to their feet to shout hysterical praise, even love, for the leader. Inexorably, though, the cull continues, and faces and bodies go slack as their owners are pinioned and led away. When it is over, about half the committee members are left, moaning with relief and heaving with ardent love for the boss. (In an accompanying sequel, which I have not seen, they were apparently required to go into the yard outside and shoot the other half, thus sealing the pact with Saddam. I am not sure that even Beria or Himmler would have had the nerve and ingenuity and cruelty to come up with that.)
So, whenever the subject of Iraq came up, as it did keep on doing through the Clinton years, I had no excuse for not knowing the following things: I knew that its one-party, one-leader state machine was modeled on the precedents of both National Socialism and Stalinism, to say nothing of Al Capone. I knew that its police force was searching for psychopathic killers and sadistic serial murderers, not in order to arrest them but to
From time to time I would be asked to sign a petition against the sanctions, which were said to be killing tens of thousands of young and old Iraqis by the denial of medical supplies and food. I couldn’t bring myself to be persuaded by this pseudo-humanitarianism. In the same period, Saddam had built himself a new palace in each of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, while products like infant formula—actually provided to Iraq under the oil-for-food program—were turning up on the black market being sold by Iraqi government agents. More and more, it seemed to me, anyone who really cared for the well-being and survival of Iraqis should be arguing for the removal of the insane despotism that had necessitated the sanctions and that was eating the country alive.
The verdict of insanity was important all by itself. It seemed increasingly obvious to me that Saddam Hussein was
I slowly began to make friends with the Iraqi exiles—authentic secularists for the most part—who were advocating “regime change.” Quite where this rather awkward, euphemistic formulation originated I cannot be certain. It seems to have crept into currency at about the time, during the Clinton administration, when Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act, making it long-term American policy to replace Saddam Hussein and short-term policy to set up a budget for his Iraqi opponents. This half-way house gave a temporary home to the idea that, while Iraqis were not strong enough to do the job themselves, the USA was not exactly undertaking to do it for them, either. Out of such sheepish, shame-faced half-acknowledgments, the “regime change” discourse began to chug into a sort of life.
Spike Milligan once wrote a book about being a shambolic conscript in some forgotten cookhouse in the wartime British Army and titled it
The first of our faction was Kanan Makiya. In his books
Makiya is an Iraqi of partly English parentage whose family calling was that of architecture. Possibly the most penetrating of his many books about Saddam and Saddamism is called
My first instinct might have been to dynamite such a Golgotha but Kanan was always collected and cool. “No, Christopher, we shall ask to have it rededicated as a place of memorial for
At a certain moment at the end of that first Gulf War, the Kurdish guerrilla forces had briefly occupied the centers of two or three northern Iraqi cities and captured a huge trove of documents belonging to the Saddam regime. These massive steel file cabinets contained the sort of self-incriminating evidence that would make future “denial” impossible: here were the still-reeking records of the killing fields, the mass graves, the torture sessions, and the illegal weapons. The Kurdish leadership had about one satellite phone to go around in those days, but it knew enough to call Peter Galbraith, whom I briefly introduce as our next co-conspirator.
I had known Galbraith, son of the author of
A tremendous comrade in precisely this aspect of the work was Ann Clwyd, who had been the Wales correspondent of the
Again, if one were trying to assemble an informal international for the overthrow of fascism in Iraq, one could not dispense with Rolf Ekeus. He was and is the quintessential Swedish Social Democrat, personally and politically dedicated to every conceivable good cause from multilateral disarmament to the abolition of apartheid. (His brilliant wife, Kim, had been Sweden’s liaison with Nelson Mandela and the ANC since the 1960s.) Rolf had represented his country as ambassador in Washington and at the UN, and had after the Gulf War been placed in charge of the United Nations inspections in Iraq. It was said of him, correctly, that he had found and destroyed more Iraqi WMDs than the Coalition forces had managed to identify, let alone to neutralize, in the entire course of the war. And it had been, for him, a highly educational experience. Invited to a private meeting with Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s Catholic Christian crony and then–foreign minister, he had been offered a straight-out bribe of $2.5 million on condition that his inspection reports become more lenient. In that eventuality, he was calmly assured, this little trifle would be considered a mere first installment. (Ambassador Ekeus had a long and deserved reputation for incorruptibility, and the chances of his acceptance must have been reckoned as extremely close to nil, so if you conclude from this that the Iraqis were trying the same strategy on all United Nations personnel, you are probably using your head.) After the bribery was refused, an attempt was made to poison Rolf. And after that failed, his crucial defector-informants, the Kamel brothers, who were Saddam Hussein’s in-laws and who had exposed the special “ministry of concealment” set up to deceive the inspectors, were lured back from Jordan to Iraq and murdered under a flag of truce. But those who make the presumption of innocence in the case of homicidal dictators take a lot of persuading. When it was decided to resume UN “inspections” once more, as a weak alternative to the Bush-Blair call for the existing resolutions to be enforced, Kofi Annan did at least call for Rolf Ekeus to be reappointed to the task he had already shown that he could do. The French and Russian and Chinese delegations made certain that another quite different Swede got the post instead: a bureaucrat under whose supervision both Iraq and North Korea had made the word “inspections” look risible.
The other great influences in our little conspiracy were Barham Salih, the aforementioned Kurdish envoy to Washington, and Kenneth Pollack, a liberal member of the Clinton administration’s National Security Council. In 1990 he had vainly tried to warn a sunken and complacent CIA that Saddam Hussein was mobilizing for an invasion of Kuwait and had been met with stupid condescension from the sort of “intelligence” bureaucrat who believed that Iraq was run by a cynical but rational calculator. (And also, needless to add, by a modernizing “secularist.”) Ken’s book, regrettably and sensationally titled
There came a day when my friend Jim Hoagland, an extremely knowledgeable and careful correspondent and columnist for the
An Anglo-Arab Trotskyist; a son of a Canada-born socialist economist; a passionate Welshwoman of the Labour movement; a Swedish Social Democrat and internationalist; a Kurdish socialist who had spent many years as a political prisoner; a mild and almost wonk-like think-tanker (if I do beg his pardon for saying so); and an exile member of the old Baghdad financier class, whose first training was that of mathematician. What a multifariously sinister crew! But this was the original combination of influences by which political Washington was eventually persuaded that Iraq should be helped into a post-Saddam era, if necessary by force. I specify the
After I had written a few polemics about Iraq, and taken part in several television debates on the subject, I received a call one day from the Pentagon. It was from Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, asking if I would like to come and see him. This would make my second visit to the Defense Department, since during the run-up to the previous Gulf War I had been invited to speak to the Policy Planning Staff
The thing that struck me most, once I had presented myself at his office, was the extent to which Wolfowitz wanted to live down precisely this image. The first thing he showed me was a photograph of the “Situation Room” in the mid-1980s, where, around the table I could see President Reagan and most of his foreign-policy team, from Weinberger to Shultz to Donald Regan, slumped in attitudes of mild exhaustion. Off to the side was a more youthful Wolfowitz. He told me that this picture, which had pride of place in his office, was of exactly the moment when the Reaganites had narrowly voted to dump the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines in 1986 and to recognize the election victory of his opponent Cory Aquino. “It was the first argument I won,” said Wolfowitz proudly. “I said that if we supported a dictator to keep hold of a base, we would end up losing the base and also deserving to do so. Whereas,” he went on, “by joining the side of ‘people power’ in Manila that year, we helped democracy movements spread through Taiwan and South Korea and even I think into Tiananmen Square in 1989.” He gave me a friendly smile: “It was the opposite of a Kissinger policy.”
All right, I admit I was intrigued. Wolfowitz took the view that, great as the risks of “democratization” might be, they were as nothing to the risks of dictatorship: the most unstable and volatile system of all. The only area of the globe after 1989 where this had not been tried was the Arab sphere. It was time to confront the Bush/Powell/Kissinger consensus that had left Saddam Hussein in possession of Iraq after 1991. I suspect that, if the Democrats had won the election of 2000, and if Wolfowitz had remained a Democrat and been given the self-same job, many liberals and leftists in Washington would have been praising him for tackling the racist assumption that Arabs preferred, or even needed, to be ruled by despots.
That night I was going with Kanan Makiya to a private dinner in the Cleveland Park section of the city, to help set up the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. It turned out that Wolfowitz was to be the after-dinner speaker. He made a very forceful and lucid presentation, without notes, so that in a way I could have skipped the meeting we’d had at one of America’s three “Ground Zeros” that afternoon. But I still would not have missed seeing that Reagan-era photograph. When the dinner was over—we had heard the news that Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa would adorn the letterhead of the Committee—Kanan and I walked slowly back through a drenching rain that neither of us really noticed. It had been a whole quarter of a century since Saddam Hussein had taken control of Iraq: Hitler had ruled for twelve years and Stalin for about twenty-five. “I think, comrade,” I told him as the water started to run down my back and we bid
On another occasion, when the Turkish government was being more than usually obnoxious, and refusing the use of American bases on Turkish soil for the deployment of a “northern front,” unless Turkish troops were also to be allowed into Iraqi Kurdistan, I asked Wolfowitz whether the United States would permit such a sell-out. Again he was without ambivalence: Turkish boots on Iraqi soil would not be allowed. If the Turks insisted on exacting that price, the liberation of Iraq would go ahead without them (which it did).
Wait a moment, did I not just promise to be “self-critical”? Of course, what I
As the Iraq debate became more intense, it became suddenly obvious to me that I couldn’t any longer remain where I was on the political “spectrum.” Huge “anti-war” demonstrations were being organized by forces that actually exemplified what the CIA and others had na?vely maintained was impossible: a declared alliance between Ba’athist sympathizers and Islamic fundamentalists. The partisans of the failed One Party/One Leader state were now linking arms with the adorers of the One God. Some saw, or thought they saw, something “ironic” in this. My old friend Nick Cohen wrote scornfully that on a certain date, “about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime.” But what is “liberal-minded” about the Muslim Brotherhood and its clone-groups, or about the rump of British Stalinism, or about the purulent sect into which my former comrades of the International Socialists had mutated? To them—to the organizers and moving spirits of the march in other words—the very word “liberal” was a term of contempt.
I did a few things in swift succession. I resigned my position as columnist for
Odd little snippet from conference: I don’t think I recorded the weird little paradox about the
I don’t remember the silence being quite absolute, because I had mentioned some courageous socialists like Barham Salih and Rolf Ekeus of whom some of the audience had at least heard. Attending the rally was Chris Mullin, one of the best and bravest and wittiest
The speeches were lacklustre with one notable exception: Christopher Hitchens, who argued the case for military intervention in Iraq. He appealed to those present “as internationalists, as people who can think for yourselves.” It was not a war on Iraq that was proposed, he argued, but a war on Saddam. He urged the left to be a bit self-critical….“If the left had had its way, General Galtieri would still be the President of Argentina; Milosevic would still be in power in Belgrade; Kosovo would be an empty wilderness; Mullah Omar would still be in Kabul.”
I step over some further kind things that Chris had to say, and come to his “counterarguments,” put to me over a subsequent cocktail: “chaos, civilian casualties,
The “WMD” question, as everybody hopes now to forget, was very often a rhetorical tool in the hands of those who wanted to leave Saddam Hussein in power. Attack him, and he would unleash the weapons of horror that he had wielded so promiscuously before. This resembled one of those “prisoners’ dilemma” games, where each forced choice tightens the noose and reduces the number of options. Meanwhile, every concession that Saddam
I had been closer to the scenery of WMD-use than most people, but I thought, and wrote, that Saddam’s command over such weaponry in 2002–2003 was more latent than blatant. He certainly had some resources, some scientists, some elements and ingredients, and a long criminal record of both use and concealment. If I could have had it proved to me beyond doubt that he did NOT have any serious stockpiles on hand, I would have argued—did in fact argue—that this made it the perfect time to hit him ruthlessly and conclusively. It would both punish the previous use and prevent any repetition of it. It would also bring Iraq into verifiable compliance with the ever-flourished and ever-cited UN and its important resolutions, thus allowing the lifting of economic sanctions and—according to the most vocal critics of such sanctions—saving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from being or becoming civilian casualties.
In all my discussions with Wolfowitz and his people at the Pentagon, I never heard anything alarmist on the WMD issue. It was presumed that at some level Iraq remained a potential WMD state, and it was assumed that Saddam Hussein would never agree to come into compliance even with Hans Blix’s very feeble “inspections” (which indeed he never did). This in itself was yet another proof of the inherent lunacy of the regime, and of the na?vet? of those who thought that it, or its deranged leader, could ever be treated as a rational actor. It was this that I had meant when talking to Chris Mullin about the approach of an “implosion” point. By holding a referendum and claiming the first-ever 100 percent turnout (and 100 percent proportion of the turnout as a “yes” vote, at that) and by opening the wings of the horrible Abu Ghraib prison that contained the murderers and rapists and thieves who were part of the surplus value of his system, Saddam had given warning of the approach of his Ceausescu moment: a crazy meltdown of authority. Given the already-existing “chaos” in Iraq, and the divide-and-rule means by which the regime exploited religious and tribal hatreds, a meltdown was more likely to lead to a Rwanda on the Gulf than to a Romania. Absent a Coalition force, it would also lead to invasions from Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Everything therefore pointed to the need for the international community to intervene at last, and on the right side for once, in maimed and traumatized Iraq, and to help it make the transition to some version of its right mind.
The WMD could be taken as emblematic of everything foul and wasteful about the Ba’athist system. I can remember only one instance where I was in any way “briefed” by anyone at the Defense Department. Underneath a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad, the parts and some of the ingredients of a chemical weapon had been located and identified with the help of local informers. I was told this off the record, and told also that I was not to make any use of the information. It was thought that, when the use of a holy place to hide such weaponry was disclosed by the intervention, it would help to change Muslim opinion. I still have the photographs that were taken in that mosque after the liberation, showing the cache of weaponry just where I had been told it would be. But if I was ever na?ve about anything having to do with Iraqi WMD, it was in believing that the production of evidence like that, or indeed any other kind of evidence, would make even the most limited impression on the heavily armored certainties of the faithful.
Terror, the most abject terror, is in the atmosphere about us—a consuming passion, like that of jealousy—a haunting, exhausting specter, which sits like a blight upon life. Such a settled state of terror is one of the most awful of human phenomena. The air holds ghosts, all joy is dead; the sun is black, the mouth parched, the mind rent and in tatters.
Armenia: Travels and Studies 
During all this I never quite lost the surreal sense that I had become in some way a pro-government dissident and that of all the paradoxes of my little life this might have to register as the most acute one. But it was the demonstrators in the streets—I was teaching at Berkeley for much of the first spring of the Iraq war—who struck me as the real conformists of the scenario. Accused of becoming a sell-out by working for the interwar Yugoslav republic, Rebecca West’s guide (and covert lover) Constantine, in
I still cannot bear to imagine the idea of a victory for Putin and Chirac and Annan and Schroeder, let alone the Chinese or the Saudis, but in the event the glad moment came when Saddam Hussein outdid himself and refused to save his evil system even by making the small concession of admitting and proving to the UN that he didn’t currently possess any workable WMDs. I crossed the Kuwaiti border into Iraq not long after the first wave had gone racing up toward Baghdad and saw a little of the barbaric state to which southern Iraqi society had been reduced by a combination of Saddamism and the sanctions that it had necessitated. In Kuwait City I had watched Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles being shot out of the sky as they were fired randomly toward his now-liberated former colony, and smiled as I saw all the members of the press corps donning gas masks and running to the shelters to avoid the shower of chemical weapons, gases, and nerve-agents which never turned up—and in which they later claimed never to have believed. I can say for myself that I didn’t bring, or wear, or own, a gas mask, or believe that any element of Saddam’s armed forces—except the imported and
And that was just the hacks. A few days later came a more considered piece by the cultivated Jonathan Raban, deploying almost faultlessly the wrinkled lip across which he and his fellow members of the Anglo-American
Passionate ideologues are incurious by nature and have no time for obstructive details. It’s impossible to think of Paul Wolfowitz curling up for the evening with Edward Said’s
Made perhaps unintentionally absurd by that use of the expression “curled up” to depict the act of reading (“You’ll usually find me,” says Bertie Wooster to Florence Craye in
In point of fact, Paul Wolfowitz wrote his doctoral dissertation on water and salinity in the Arab world, has lived for many years with an Arab woman scholar with close connections to Palestinian reformers, speaks more Arabic than Jonathan Raban, was married previously to an anthropologist with a special interest in the Muslim societies of Malaysia and Indonesia, was himself a diplomat in Jakarta and speaks some of the Bahasa language, too, and once telephoned me to disagree with a detail in something I had written about the Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Wolfowitz was for many years the dean of a major school of Johns Hopkins University and is thanked by name in the acknowledgments of Azar Nafisi’s brave, beautiful book
I prefer to think that I am not unusually thin-skinned when it comes to clumsy innuendos on the Jewish question. But this sort of stuff was a complete give-away, and I do think that one must never just sit there when it is being vented. As an undergraduate at Oxford I was once asked by a friendly don at All Souls if I would help him arrange a gentle punting trip for Sir Max Mallowan—also a fellow of the college, by then rather elderly—and Lady Mallowan. I agreed readily, and not just because Lady Mallowan was better known as Agatha Christie. Sir Max had been the
When I went back to Iraq again, after the liberation was complete, I was myself engaged on a sort of “dig,” and I decided to travel with Paul Wolfowitz. It was in its own way an archaeological and anthropological expedition. Here are some of the things we unearthed or observed. Unnoticed by almost everybody, and unreported by most newspapers, Saddam Hussein’s former chief physicist Dr. Mahdi Obeidi had waited until a few weeks after the fall of Baghdad to accost some American soldiers and invite them to excavate his back garden. There he showed them the components of a gas centrifuge—the crown jewels of uranium enrichment—along with a two-foot stack of blueprints. This burial had originally been ordered by Saddam’s younger son Qusay, who had himself been in charge of the Ministry of Concealment, and had outlasted many visits by “inspectors.” I myself rather doubt that Hans Blix would ever have found the trove on his own.
Not long after that, a sandstorm near Baghdad uncovered a bizarre row of shimmering airplane tailfins. These proved to be the gravemarkers of a squadron of expensive Russian-built MIG-25 jet fighters. The point of the burial was and still remains unclear: one might as well set a jet engine on fire as immerse it in a dune. But the instinct for “hugger-mugger interment” among the eerie upper echelons of the Ba’ath Party seems to have been strongly ingrained. Iraq is almost the size of California. I dare say that they buried other military secrets that we will never know about.
Near the northern town of Kirkuk, in the June that followed the invasion, a total of eight million dollars in cash was dug out of the garden of Saddam Hussein’s personal secretary. Along with this came a further few million dollars’ worth of jewelry, “belonging” to Saddam Hussein’s wife. In the end, Saddam Hussein himself was pulled in an undignified manner from an underground hole where he had taken ignominious refuge.
But the worst of all the unearthings and diggings and disinterments took place not far from the ruins of Babylon, in the town of Al-Hilla. On 13 May 2003, not long after the liberation, frenzied local people had begged American forces to come and help, and also to bear witness. Ever since 1991 and the massive repression of the Shi’a uprising, the site had had an evil and disgusting reputation. It was said by witnesses that three truckloads of people, three times a day, for a month, had been driven here. Forced into pre-dug mass graves, they were then either shot or buried alive. Seizing the chance to identify their missing loved ones, local people had swarmed to the place as soon as Saddam’s regime disintegrated, and uncovered three thousand bodies with their bare hands before calling for help from the Coalition. By the time I got there, the excavation process was becoming more dignified and orderly but nothing could render it less obscene.
Lines of plastic body bags were laid out on the ground, sometimes “tagged” with personal items and identifying documents. Where digging was complete, the ground had been consecrated as a resting place. Elsewhere, the ghastly spadework continued. The two men in charge of the scene were a Major Schmidt from New Jersey and Dr. Rafed Fakher Husain, a strikingly composed Iraqi physician. “We lived without rights,” he told me with a gesture of his hand toward this area of darkness. “And without ideas.” The second sentence seemed to hang in the noisome air for longer than the first, and to express the desolation more completely. There were sixty-two more such sites, I was to learn, in this province of southern Iraq alone.
It was mid-July, when the Mesopotamian heat can without effort bring off the achievement of 120 degrees. This means a constant smearing of oneself with sunscreen and the exuding of drenching perspiration. The hair becomes matted and damp. The clothes cling. And then the wind gets up… I suddenly realized that a paste was forming all over me, made up of various greases and slimes, natural and artificial, and thickly overlaid by a crust from the clinging filth of a mass grave. I hope never again to feel so utterly befouled. It was in the nostrils, in the eyes… on the tongue and in the
Also unearthed, but this time in paper form and in the state archives, were documents showing that a surprising number of “anti-war” politicians in several countries were the beneficiaries of “Oil for Food” kickbacks—in other words of money stolen directly from the suffering Iraqi people about whom they orated. There was also a letter from my old friend Naji Sabry al-Hadithi, who had ended up as Saddam Hussein’s last foreign minister. It was addressed to Saddam himself, in the closing moments of the regime, and it expressed concern, of a sort that I believe is worth recording.
It was distressing, wrote Naji, to see the reports of Iraqi civilians rushing forward to greet advancing American and British soldiers. Such deplorable events were discrediting the heroic Saddamist struggle in the wider world. Might it not be advisable, he suggested to his leader, to send some of the suicide-martyrs of the
Anyway, Naji’s scheme was indeed adopted, as were some other “measures.” A woman in the town of Nasiriyah was publicly hanged for welcoming the liberators. We have video footage of other Iraqis having their tongues cut out or their extremities lopped off for the same offense, by the sort of black-cowled holy warriors who have become so drearily familiar to us since. It matters to me to remember this Saturnalia of butchery, because of third-hand observers who like to mock the idea that Iraqis ever saluted their liberators with “sweets and flowers” or whatever the sneer happens to be.
I cannot exactly vouch for the kinds of sweets or the sorts of flowers, but in Iraq I saw some quite extraordinary things and I will not be made to deny the evidence of my own eyes. Along the road from Basra one day in the summer of 2003, traveling all the way to the holy Shi’ite cities of Najaf and Karbala, I sat in a very lightly armed American convoy of civilian cars and saw people run to the roadside, with no advance notice of our arrival—I know this because I know we hadn’t planned in advance to take that road—and simply wave and smile and show signs of happiness. It was completely unlike anything stage-managed, which in the Iraq of Saddam had involved great orchestrated ululations and contortions and mad avowals of the willingness for blood-sacrifice. It was normal and proportional, and in its way rather beautiful, and I give the lie to those who say I did not see those crowds or clasp those hands.
Landing by chopper on another occasion in the Marshes, I did see a less-spontaneous (they knew we were coming) and more hysterical greeting. But the Marsh Arabs were hardly likely to react any other way, having had their ancient riparian habitat once destroyed by Saddam and now reflooded by the Americans. In those amazing reed palaces that could by a stretch have dated back to the mythical Abraham, the enthusiasm and hospitality might have been prepared but could not possibly have been feigned.
As for Kurdistan, I had already seen this land when it was Saddam’s people who had the mastery of it. Here one met an even more respectful joy, in a territory which did not any longer require—or ask for—a single Western soldier. Here, we were the guests in a different sense because the people of northern Iraq already had secure stewardship of their own affairs and were firmly but politely outgrowing their former protectors. To witness this was wholly, profoundly satisfactory: I am sorry for those who have never had the experience of seeing the victory of a national liberation movement, and I feel cold contempt for those who jeer at it.
Naji Sabry’s horrible suggestion that such enthusiasm be quelled in such a way—he had the grace to look abashed when I next saw him in exile in Quatar—of course makes the additional implicit point that the Ba’athist leadership knew, and took for granted, that it had suicide squads at its disposal. This in turn suggests a long and official collusion between the Saddam regime and the religious zealots. Abu Nidal had become by this time quite old hat (he was actually murdered by Saddam’s police just as the Allies were surrounding Baghdad Airport, lest he disclose anything inconvenient). Captured by the Coalition while still under Iraqi protection was Abbu Abbas, leader of the gang that had rolled Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair from the deck of the
This thieves’ kitchen dimension, of a country run by criminals and sadists, was not confined to the drugs-and-thugs corruption and terrorism side. And once again, I was to pick up the spoor of an old connection. Rolf Ekeus came round to my apartment one day and showed me the name of the Iraqi diplomat who had visited the little West African country of Niger: a statelet famous only for its production of yellowcake uranium. The name was Wissam Zahawi. He was the brother of my louche gay part-Kurdish friend, the by-now late Mazen. He was also, or had been at the time of his trip to Niger, Saddam Hussein’s ambassador to the Vatican. I expressed incomprehension. What was an envoy to the Holy See doing in Niger? Obviously he was not taking a vacation. Rolf then explained two things to me. The first was that Wissam Zahawi had, when Rolf was at the United Nations, been one of Saddam Hussein’s chief envoys for discussions on nuclear matters (this at a time when the Iraqis had functioning reactors). The second was that, during the period of sanctions that followed the Kuwait war, no Western European country had full diplomatic relations with Baghdad. The Vatican was the sole exception, so it was sent a very senior Iraqi envoy to act as a listening post. And this man, a specialist in nuclear matters, had made a discreet side trip to Niger. This was to suggest exactly what most right-thinking people were convinced was
I published a few columns on this, drawing at one point an angry email from Ambassador Zahawi that very satisfyingly blustered and bluffed on what he’d really been up to. I also received—this is what sometimes makes journalism worthwhile—a letter from a BBC correspondent named Gordon Correa who had been writing a book about A.Q. Khan. This was the Pakistani proprietor of the nuclear black market that had supplied fissile material to Libya, North Korea, very probably to Syria, and was open for business with any member of the “rogue states” club. (Saddam’s people, we already knew for sure, had been meeting North Korean missile salesmen in Damascus until just before the invasion, when Kim Jong Il’s mercenary bargainers took fright and went home.) It turned out, said the highly interested Mr. Correa, that his man Khan had
Recently declassified papers show the British embassy in Baghdad reporting back to London in these terms: Saddam’s accession to office was “the first smooth transfer of power since 1958” and, though “strong-arm methods may be needed to steady the ship, Saddam will not flinch.”
I used to make a point, later on in Washington, of arguing that no operations in Iraq should ever again be given the stupid code-name prefix of “Desert.” Mesopotamia is not a desert.
Today, in an echo of the Latin American vernacular about those who were, rather than had, “disappeared,” Kurdish people describe certain towns or groups as having been “Anfalled.”
Kanan got his museum, and the Memory Foundation is now an archive for victims and survivors whose narrative would otherwise never have been set down. This remarkable achievement remains a continual cause of spite and resentment.
I had of course heard that Ahmad had once been indicted—by a military court in Jordan when it was Saddam’s ally—for being a shady businessman. I have also read persuasive evidence that this was a frame-up, as were many other charges—“puppet of the CIA,” for one absurd example—that were made against him. My main difference with him is, and remains, his alignment with a confessional bloc in the Iraqi parliament. But without him, there might well not be an Iraqi parliament.
See, for the best account of this upheaval in real time, James Fenton’s book The Snap Revolution.
To be fair, Ian McEwan’s highly acute novel Saturday, which is easily the best evocation of this street-theater event, does capture the anguish of many “liberals” who did turn out. His work was also the first to isolate the unstinting self-regard that underlies the terribly OK-seeming mantra of “Not In Our Name.”
It impressed me very much to see my Kurdish friends, including Iraq’s first-ever democratically chosen president, Jalal Talabani, publicly voice their opposition to the death penalty for Saddam Hussein and the other convicted war criminals. This appeal to clemency arose partly from their adherence to the Socialist International and also from their wish to begin Iraq again without a blood reckoning. After what they had endured, their forebearance was something extraordinary. In Kurdistan itself, where tribal retributionism was not so much in evidence, Barham Salih personally declined to sign death-warrants for the Islamist gangsters who had murdered his guards and very nearly slain him on his own doorstep.
This document was originally published by my old friend Patrick Cockburn, perhaps the best chronicler of the war and certainly its most fervent and intelligent critic.
This verifiable account is often confused with a bungled attempt to sell some forged documents from the embassy of Niger in Rome: a false trail that, whether out of cupidity or design, wasted the time of several already time-wasting “inquiries.”