Owen Byrne owen@permafrost.net
Wed, 26 Mar 2003 14:35:56 -0400

This column is on the front page of our local paper  - but I note CNN 
has mentioned "wad of bills" - it seems to be the primary way the
 US is identifying so-called "fedayeen."

Military intelligence looks like its well on its way (back) to oxymoron 



Ignorance breeds U.S. fears :Taylor

By Scott Taylor <mailto:staylor@herald.ns.ca> ON IRAQ

Ankara, Turkey - ABOUT ONE MONTH ago, a number of foreign journalists 
based in Baghdad were discussing the possible start date and potential 
development of a U.S. intervention in Iraq. The contribution from one 
American reporter may yet prove to be prophetic.

"Whatever they do, the last thing the Iraqis want to achieve is any 
initial success against the U.S. forces," he said, "because the only 
thing more dangerous than the U.S. military is the U.S. military when 
it's scared."

To illustrate his point, the American journalist used the example of the 
loss of American helicopters in Somalia, immortalized in the 2002 
Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down.

"Although everyone focused on the American losses (18 killed and dozens 
more badly wounded), what is overlooked is that the U.S. shot the hell 
out of the Somalis in the battle," explained the journalist. "Only when 
the final credits (of the movie) roll past do they note that some 500 
Somalis were killed and (over) 1,000 more were injured in that firefight."

With Iraqi resistance stiffening and U.S. forces suffering their first 
fatalities, it would seem the allied front-line forces are no longer as 
confident that this operation will be a cakewalk.

Compounding this situation is the old axiom that ignorance breeds fear. 
And from initial media reports, it is evident that both the allied 
soldiers and the embedded journalists who accompany them have virtually 
no understanding of the circumstances that surround them.

For instance, following the U.S. setback in Nasiriyah, now dubbed Ambush 
Alley by the U.S. forces, the Marines have become understandably jumpy. 
It was in this southern Iraqi city that the allies have suffered their 
most serious losses to date (10 dead, 50 wounded and 12 captured on the 
first day of fighting alone).

But from published quotes, it would appear that U.S. personnel were 
never properly briefed about Iraq.

On Monday, a number of Iraqi men, dressed in civilian clothes, were 
detained by a U.S. Marine security detail in An Nasiriyah after a search 
revealed they were carrying a large amount of Iraqi dinar notes. Lieut. 
Matt Neely, the U.S. Marine officer responsible for overseeing security 
in this city, was quoted as saying, "These individuals were suspicious 
because who carries a wad of cash in their pocket but has no shoes on?"

Obviously, this was Lieut. Neely's first contact with Iraqis, and he has 
no idea about the local currency. With the Iraqi dinar devalued by some 
7,000 per cent since 1990, everyone in Iraq carries "a wad of cash." 
(For example, $20 Cdn would amount to a stack of dinars about 10 
centimetres thick.) As for the lack of footwear among Iraqi soldiers, 
this is something that has been commented upon by many foreign 
journalists reporting from inside Iraq to exemplify the sorry state of 
Saddam's forces.

Proving to be equally ignorant of circumstances within Iraq was one 
Kuwait City-based reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp. He 
repeated a Pentagon statement that the U.S. 3rd Division had captured 
what it believed to be a site containing weapons of mass destruction. 
While the news anchor noted that no proof had been offered as yet, the 
field reporter added his own speculation.

"What made this site particularly suspicious is that it was hidden 
behind a sand berm - or wall of sand - so as to make it invisible from 
the air," he said.

If the presence of a sand berm is grounds for suspicion, then all of 
Iraq is littered with potential sites of weapons of mass destruction. 
Anyone who has driven outside of Baghdad, regardless of the direction 
taken, will recognize the ignorance of this BBC correspondent's 
statement. The Iraqi military - and even most civilian firms - uses sand 
berms to surround all of its facilities. While offering only the most 
primitive protection from munitions, sand berms do provide protection 
from the wind and are simply an inexpensive means of marking out territory.

Likewise, the allied forcesā "discovery" that Iraqi soldiers had been 
issued with gas masks was also misreported. Many reporters speculated 
that the equipping of Iraqi soldiers with such protective measures could 
only mean that Saddam Hussein intended to use his chemical arsenal. 
"After all," they concluded, "the Iraqis know that the U.S. and British 
troops would never use such illegal weapons."

The fact is, the Iraqi army - like virtually every other military force 
in the world - has always issued gas masks to its soldiers. In fact, 
many Iraqi civilians have stocked up on military surplus gas masks as 
well. This is not to protect their families from Saddam's chemical 
weapons but because they are under the mistaken belief the gas masks 
will offer them a measure of protection against radioactive fallout in 
the event of a U.S. nuclear strike.

Fear-mongering continues at the highest levels. When images of U.S. 
prisoners were broadcast on Iraqi television, U.S. President George W. 
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair immediately denounced the 
spectacle as a "war crime contravening the Geneva Convention." While the 
fact that U.S. personnel have been captured is certainly embarrassing to 
the allies, it is a hell of a stretch to call this a war crime. (Don't 
we televise images nightly of captured Iraqis?)

Bush's warning to Iraqi officials "not to harm" the prisoners seems 
unnecessary given the footage that was broadcast. All the U.S. service 
members appeared to be unhurt as they sat sipping water in front of the 
Iraqi cameras. What was disturbing was that they all looked terrified, 
and that isn't a good omen for how this war will develop.