Special Iraq Edition
'The Toppled Statue Hoax', 'An Interest in Conflicts; a Conflict-of-Interest', 'PBS (the Pentagon Broadcasting System) Debuts', 'The Fugitive Kind', 'My Guy's a Winner; Your Guy's a Wiener', and 'Hi-Falutin Tax Inequities'
April 23, 2003

The Toppled Statue Hoax
A photo from the Palestine Hotel reveals the "celebration" surrounding the toppling of Saddam's statue was a hoax.
In a flurry of breathless reports, a host of US reporters compared the videotaped collapse of Saddam's monumental statue in Baghdad's Al-Fardus Square as a "historic" event on par with the demolition of the Berlin Wall. London's Daily Express reported that "thousands of civilians cheered as young men mounted the statue and tied a makeshift noose around Saddam's neck." The facts proved to be much less impressive.

A series of uncensored photos now widely available on the Internet reveals that the event was a publicity hoax closely stage-managed by the US military. There were no jubilant throngs spontaneously attempting to topple the statue. As photos from the upper floors of the Palestine Hotel revealed, fewer than 100 people were gathered in the plaza at the time. Four US tanks had been set up around the plaza to keep unwanted spectators at bay.

Many of the Iraqis who participated in the toppling bore a remarkable resemblance to members of the Free Iraqi Forces Militia flown into Nasiriyah on April 6 aboard the same US Air Force cargo plane that brought leader-for-hire Ahmed Chelabi back to Iraq after a 47-year absence.

On the stuttering push from Basra to Baghdad, US forces made a habit of demolishing effigies of Saddam and filming the results for rebroadcast on American TV screens. These scenes became so formulaic that many Americans were left thinking: "Tearing down large photos and statues of a megalomaniacal leader is a great thing, but why are Americans doing the work. Shouldn't this be something we should leave to the Iraqis to do for themselves?"

(By the way, how is it that so many soldiers seem to be carrying around full-sized US flags ready to be hoisted and unfurled? Does every jar-head wear a vacuum-shrunk flag-in-a-pouch pinned to his or her utility belt?)

Khaled Bayoumi, a human shield from Sweden who was on the ground in Iraq when the US troops entered Baghdad, told the Dagens Nyheter (Sweden's largest daily newspaper) that "until noon on the 9th of April, I didn't see a single torn picture of Saddam anywhere. If people had wanted to turn over statues, they could have gone for some of the many smaller ones, without the help of an American tank. Had this been a political uproar, then people would have turned over statues first and looted afterwards."

Much hoo-hah was made of a US Marine Cpl. Edward Chin's gaffe in wrapping a US flag around the face of Saddam's statue before it was crumpled. Someone quickly shouted to Cpl. Chin to swap the Stars and Bars for an Iraqi flag. All well and good. But wait, what flag did Chin next deploy? An Iraqi flag that dated from the time before the rise of Hussein and his Baath Party in 1963. In other words, a rare antique of a flag that had been banned in the country for 40 years.

Has anyone asked how such a flag managed to make its way to that particular square at that particular moment? Allow me to offer a supposition: The flag flew into the country in the belly of the same US transport plane that inserted the 700 members of Chelabi's ex-pat fan club. One of these gentlemen had the banner on his person, waiting for just the "right moment" to unfurl it for posterity. The Pentagon's PsyOps corps, as is their wont, happened to be on hand to call out the tanks and dish up a hot helping of posterity just in time for the evening news.

An Interest in Conflicts; a Conflict-of-Interest
When one powerful country invades a weaker one, the damage is bound to be pretty one-sided. And when the country administering the blows is simultaneously handing out the rights to rebuild the damaged roads, airfields, pipelines, wells and buildings to its closest friends and political contributors, there's an obvious temptation to "sweeten the payback" by increasing the damage on the ground.

After all, the more damage done to the Victim Nation, the more money is to be made on the reconstruction contracts. And when many of the key war-planners have professional and financial ties to the multinationals getting the reconstruction contracts, one is left to wonder if they aren't inclined to tolerate a higher level of violence and devastation than might be absolutely necessary.

When word came down that Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Haliburton (Vice President Dick Cheney's former company) would be in charge of rebuilding blasted and burning oil wells in Iraq, some conspiracy-minded souls feared that this would invite a replay of the hellish scene from Gulf War I, where hundreds of burning oil wells filled the skies with flame and poisonous smoke.

Fortunately, Saddam Hussein largely kept the promise he made to Dan Rather ("A country does not destroy its own wealth") and only a few wells in the south went up in flames.

PBS (the Pentagon Broadcasting System) Debuts
After failing to knock Iraqi TV off the air with repeated bombings that destroyed the transmission towers and, finally, the Ministry of Information, the US and Britain finally began beaming propaganda into Iraq via a flying broadcast station called "Commando Solo."

Allied broadcasts commenced with a group appearance by Tony Blair and George W. Bush who greeted viewers (the few who still had access to electricity in the largely blacked-out capital) with two pre-taped statements. In his pre-recorded address to the Iraqi people, Bush assured his audience that "Coalition forces will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security." (Given the carnival of looting that was taking place on the streets at that very moment, it was probably best for Bush that most Iraqis didn't have the juice to power their TV screens.)

So what does "liberated" television mean, under US tutelage? According to White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer, "For decades, the Iraqi people have heard nothing but totalitarian propaganda that was designed to prop up the regime of Saddam Hussein. That will now change."

With Commando Solo broadcasting from 6 to 11 nightly, the Coalition of the Willing has five hours to fill every day. These programming responsibilities were given to the military rather than the State Department because, Fleischer explained, the Pentagon's use of deeply "embedded" reporters had demonstrated its "commitment to a free press."

Daniel Brumberg, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted that Iraqi broadcasts would eventually be taken over by a team from the US Agency for International Development. In the meantime, Brumberg explained, an important part of the broadcasts in "liberated" Iraq would be to identify "the crimes of [the Hussein] regime and those responsible." Because of the importance to keep the "focus on stories that remind viewers their lives were much worse under Hussein," Liberated TV would feature "stories about the chambers of horror and torture and so on, that will make some difference."

Brumberg acknowledged that Free Iraq TV would have to have "some Iraqi voices involved." The best way to accomplish this, Brumberg suggested, was to "bring in Iraqi expatirates from London." The downside, of course, was that these outsiders "are not going to be seen as credible by the people."

According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Brits and Yanks would use their commandeered air-time "to ask Iraqis to help in their search for sites of weapons of mass destruction." The broadcasts could also be used to encourage viewers to rat-out former regime leaders who might be in hiding.

But once the viewers get tired of replays of the George and Tony Show, and after they have memorized the announcements about where to find food, water and medicine, what will the US fall back on to fill the remaining broadcast day? Perhaps the repeated offers of financial rewards in exchange for intelligence tips, could generate a new series of local programming with features called "Dialing for Dinars" or "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

The Iraqis may have been robbed of 7,000 years of cultural artifacts that once filled the National Museum, but that doesn't mean they are ready to be exposed to reruns of American Idol, Fear Factor or the Anna Nicole Show.

For the near term, the Iraqi viewing audience will be forced to confront an even more debilitating spectacle on their TV screens. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: "Iraqis will... get to see the Pentagon briefings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld, translated into Arabic." (Unfortunately, "adding insult to injury" is not yet recognized as a crime under the Geneva Convention.)

The Fugitive Kind
Familiar faces? At least one of Ahmad Chelabi's close associates apparently showed up in Baghdad to celebrate the toppling of Saddam's statue.

While the looters were still running circles around US troops in Baghdad, Colin Powell, George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld all found time to warn neighboring Syria that it could be the next country to feel the full weight of the US boot heel on its neck.

Syria's crimes were two-fold: the old stand-by, "suspicion of having WMDs," and a new infraction, "harboring fugitive members of Saddam's regime."

Ironies abound. No mention was made of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members who are known to have successfully sought -- and found -- refuge in Pakistan and Afghanistan. No mention was made of the September 11 plotters who hatched their schemes and honed their skills in: Germany, Canada and Jeb Bush's Florida.

And certainly no mention was made of pretender-to-the-Iraqi-throne Ahmed Chelabi who is a fugitive from justice in neighboring Jordan. The judicial system in Jordan convicted Chelabi on more than 20 counts of fraud and tossed him in jail following the collapse of his banking empire. Chelabi would still be serving time in a jail cell in Jordan but for the fact that he managed to escape the country cowering inside the trunk of a car.

If the US wants Syria to turn over any Baath Party fugitives, it better be prepared to first turn over Mr. Chelabi to the justice system in Jordan.

My Guy's a Winner; Your Guy's a Wiener
Failed-businessman-turned-would-be-charismatic-leader Ahmed Chelabi is the favorite flavor among an elite crowd of Washington powerbrokers that includes Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. But Chelabi has no friends in the CIA. The spookmeisters eye Chelabi with suspicion and dismiss him as damaged goods.

This might lead one to believe that the CIA had picked a more sterling alternative to anoint as the new leader of George W. Bush's "free and democratic" Iraq. Well, be prepared for a shock. The CIA's candidate was none other than Nazar Al-Khazraji, a former Iraqi general who stands accused of ordering the chemical gassing of 180,000 Kurds. You might think this would prove a liability for someone in line to replace Saddam "He Gassed his own People" Hussein, but the CIA moves in mysterious ways.

The CIA was so certain that Al-Khazraji was the real goods, that they sent a squad of covert agents to Denmark to spirit him out of the country. Al-Khazrahi's whereabouts are said to be unknown but eyewitnesses report that, despite his added years and white hair, al-Khazraji was recognized by some grudge-holding locals in a northern Iraqi town.

According to a report in Sweden's Dagens Nyheter, Al-Khazraji and Shia-Muslim leader Abdul Majid al-Khoei, were both reportedly "chopped to pieces by a raging crowd in Najaf because they were perceived to be American marionettes."

Hi-Falutin' Tax Inequities

I don't know how you fared on Tax Day, April 15, but here's how the two Top Boys in DC did.

George W. Bush (and Laura) reported $811,100 in adjusted gross income (AGI) and paid $250,202 in taxes -- 31 percent.

Dick Cheney, reported $1.2 million in AGI and reportedly "owed $341,114" (the media didn't actually state that he'd paid anything yet).

But wait a minute! Cheney's tax rate constitutes only 28 percent of his AGI! How is it that someone who claims almost twice as much taxable income has a tax rate that's two percent lower? Chalk it up to more tax breaks for the rich.

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