Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Leaving Iraq before mission is accomplished would be a betrayal

By Mary Riddell  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Britain is braced for US President George W. Bush's arrival. London police leave has been cancelled, and the Stop the War Coalition is planning demonstrations and civil disobedience to "unwelcome" the president.

The highlight will be the toppling, Saddam-style, of a Dubya statue in Trafalgar Square.

Although Bush will not move into his guest suite at Buckingham Palace until Nov. 19, the action starts tomorrow when protesters will be burning him in effigy. For activists lacking the necessary skills, the coalition's website offers a DIY Dubya mask.

"Print George and photocopy him on to A3 paper or card," the instructions read. "Color and bend him to your satisfaction, and attach him to a guy [effigy] of your own choosing." Burning George, it promises, will generate "a warm feeling."

But not, naturally, the comforting glow that British Prime Minister Tony Blair envisaged when planning the first state visit by a US president. By now, weapons of mass destruction should have been secured, Iraq should be a secular democracy, and Bush should be emblazoned in glory rather than torched in paraffin.

Instead, the president has placard trouble. At home, he is haunted by the "Mission Accomplished" banner strung behind him on the USS Abraham Lincoln when he declared the Iraq war over. Now he is pretending, not quite accurately, that it was all the navy's idea, rather than the White House's. Over here, hubristic slogans are not the problem. The "Make Tea Not War" posters of the prewar marches are already being replaced with something pithier.

Peace is slippery to define. To Samuel Johnson, it was the product of mutual cowardice. To Cicero, it was liberty in tranquility. Now it means "Fuck Bush" banners and presidential pyres for bonfire night. This is the Turner Prize of protest, featuring Stop the War activists as the Chapman Brothers of mass action. The forthcoming civil disobedience will be non-violent, organizers stress, but the whiff of brutalism conjures up a world where no such caveat is feasible.

More military staff have now died in Iraq during the postwar period than in the invasion, and violence increases. Suicide-bomb attacks on the Red Cross building and three police stations killed 34 people and injured 200 in Baghdad, prompting the UN to pull out more staff in the week in which America planned to vaunt its success.

The Madrid conference of potential donor countries had raised US$33 billion of grants and (much less desirably) loans, a key bridge in Baghdad was to reopen and the curfew withdrawn as Ramadan began and Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary, flew in. The result was carnage and an attack, killing a US army colonel, on Wolfowitz's hotel.

Meanwhile in Britain, both supporters of the war and its opponents are strangely paralyzed. The former have two lines of argument. The first, pathetic shot is that anyone who deplores what is going on must want Saddam back. The second is Panglossian drivel about how Iraqi misery is confected by Western pessimists too blinkered to see that the populace is happy, that schools are of a standard to satisfy the pickiest parent and that Russell & Bromley shoe shops will be springing up any day now in Kirkuk high street.

It is true that there is good news, too, principally outside the Sunni triangle. UNICEF, for example, points to a million children inoculated in September, and new school books. But the agency's spokesman in Geneva tells a bleaker story. Aid workers are confused and fearful. All but local staff have now left Baghdad offices besieged behind concrete barricades and moved to Jordan.

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