Iraq: Words of war or war of words?

By Carlton Samarajiwa
The War in Iraq, “a campaign unlike any other in history”, in the words of General Tommy Franks, has left thousands wounded, maimed and dead - men, women and children. It has also left, amidst the devastating tragedies of the madness of war, a trail of metaphor and imagery, verbiage and phraseology, and also lies and deceptions to stretch the English language to its limits.

The new lingo
The US-led forces were described not as occupiers but as “liberators”, as their leaders sought to “grab a slice of Iraqi's oil cake”. “Regime change” and “deBaathific-ation” is what they aimed at, which, in effect, meant ousting a repressive regime through sheer military power, regardless of world opinion, anti-war rallies or UN consensus. “Waging war has become part of the single super power's role in the world,” wrote Maureen David of the New York Times, despondently. The writer of a letter to the Los Angeles Times said, “We have learned two things from the war in Iraq. We have learned that the Tigris flows through Baghdad, and the Hubris flows through White House.”

Abbreviations and acronyms also entered the lingo of the Iraqi war. RMA is one such, standing for “Revolution in Military Affairs”. Another is WMD for “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. To rid Iraq of WMD was trotted out as the rationale and pretext for a brutal and fraudulent war, but there has been no evidence yet of the existence of such weapons.

“Shock and Awe” to describe a war of “Strategy and Surprise” and “Command and Control” and “Ambush and Anxiety” are memorable alliterative two-word phrases that emerged from a war to “dismantle a dictatorship”. “Cheat and retreat” was the name of Saddam's campaign to hide his WMD. These are examples of words linked in pairs to convey a single mea-ning. H. W. Fowler calls them “Siamese Twins, clichés that lie in wait to fill a vacuum in the brain”.

The war itself was described, not without a touch of poetry, as being “of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before” as the US forces looked for “targets of opportunity” to “dismantle a dictatorship”.

Nicknames also were bandied about freely. Saddam, “the Butcher of Baghdad” had to be removed for the safety of America's “skies and cities”, said “the Texan Cowboy in the White House”. Ali Hassan al-Majid was nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for his use of mustard gas and nerve agents against the Kurds. “The Dirty Nine” is what members of Saddam's murderers' club (the more people they killed, the more credible they were) were known as.

An eye for an eye
Battles too, fought and won or lost, were christened, beginning with what Saddam named the “Mother of All Battles” in the 1991 Gulf War, which father Bush called “Desert Storm”. The US military made the necessary adaptation in Gulf War II, and called their massive air ordnance “the Mother of All Bombs”.

The Baghdad regime dug deep in the lexicon of Arabic insults for the appropriate verbal salvo and broadside to lob at the “Allies of the Devil”, an insult traded for the “Axis of Evil”. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf took to the airwaves regularly before Baghdad fell to describe the US-led “Coalition of the Willing” as “an international gang of criminal bastards”, “blood-sucking bastards”, “ignorant imperialists”, and “losers and fools”. The advancing for-ces were called “flo-cks of sheep doomed to die” or “a snake slithering thro-ugh the desert”.

Come again?
What does “real-time” information mean? Was it intelligence on Iraq's defences by the Fedayeen paramilitary or the Special Republican Guard and the hunt for information on what was happening inside Baghdad?

The many “embedded” news correspondents armed with “minicams” created through the War in Iraq a new nomenclature for war correspondents. Hats off, anyway, to the many courageous women too who were “embedded” with forces such as the Marine Expeditionary Force or the Charlie Company to give us first-hand information about this propaganda war, also called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

“Getting inside the decision loop” was another Rumsfieldian phrase that came into vogue. It meant that the Iraqi troops were unable to react in time to events.

“The Samson Option” was what Saddam faced, according to military analyst Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution. It meant that like the Biblical figure Samson, Saddam could have decided to pull down the temple around him.

There was also hypocrisy aplenty. Now that the dirty work had been done by Bush and Blair, Chirac and Putin and Schroeder expressed their gladness from the sidelines about the outcome of the war. Hypocrisy unadulterated; having the cake and eating it. Putin has to collect large amounts of money (over $ 8 billion) given to Saddam Hussein to buy Russian weapons. Hypocrisy again:

Bush and Blair invoked the Geneva Convention while at the same time ignoring their part of the commitment, according to the Convention, to maintain law and order in the land they conquered. Ahamed Chalabi, who was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan in 1989 and has lived in exile for decades, was airlifted to Iraq to lead the US installed interim administration. A bank robber for a repressive dictator.

Reading it wrong

The first casualty of war, they say, is truth; it is replaced by misinformation, disinformation, deception and lies. Iraq's defiant Information Minister Mohammed Saif al-Sabha broadcast: “The coalition troops have been chased out of the airport. We have defeated them. In fact, we have crushed them. We have crushed them outside the whole area of the airport. Iraqi troops had killed hundreds of coalition troops out of Baghdad.”

We were asked to believe these lies even as the “liberators” were occupying Saddam International Airport and renaming it Baghdad International Airport as photographic and film evidence testified while several life-size statues of Saddam were falling as Baghdad was falling and American bombs were pounding the city and destroying Saddam's fabled palaces. The contrast between official Iraqi announcements and the reality of the Iraqi war was both stark and comic.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.