Robert Fisk (13 November 2002)
How seriously they took the Baghdad theatricals. "A resounding 'no' from the Iraqi parliament,'' was the headline on NBC's local affiliate here in North Carolina. "Assembly in Baghdad shows its outrage,'' was the headline in USA Today. As if the Iraqi parliament was really a parliament, as if Saddam Hussein's recent 100 per cent vote was not a fiction.
"US officials'' those all-purpose sources for lazy journalists were quickly on hand to suggest that this was "posturing''. I really needed a "US official" to tell me that. But I began to wonder, given the po-faced reporting and the presentation of Iraqi news here, if the naive world of Saddam and the naive world of America don't sometimes connect. It's as if Saddam knows this nonsense is taken seriously. Hitler was a tyrant and Saddam is a tyrant. But Hitler wasn't a clown.
Of course, the Iraqi parliament's vote doesn't mean a thing. Two hundred and fifty senators rejecting UN arms inspections and then allowing the "wise leadership'' of Saddam to make the final decision is about as serious as an Egyptian television serial (Egyptian serials are all about families in crisis and Saddam is addicted to them). Mr Salim al-Kubaisi's remark he is the head of the "Iraqi parliament's Arab and International Relations Committee" took the biscuit. Parliament, he announced, had full confidence in Saddam's "great ability to assess the situation'' and commended the Leader's "deep vision''. This was the vision, remember, that gave us the Iran-Iraq war (one million dead) and the invasion of Kuwait.
Then we have the leader's beloved son Uday still bearing the scars of his assassination attempt who intervened on the side of inspections. He thought the UN inspectors should be accepted into Iraq (which means Saddam agrees) but there should be some Arabs among the inspectorate.
This is not the first time we have heard that. Several Arab states have suggested the same thing though I don't think Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, is going to be adding Saudi scientists to his team. The real Iraqi fear is that the CIA will use the UN inspectors just as they did before and that the inspectors, far from searching for weapons of mass destruction, will be fingering sites for bombardment if/when America decides to invade.
But it's back to the old story. Saddam is going to run this one up to the wire on Friday at which point his "wisdom" and "vision" will prevail and the UN inspectors will be welcome and the American media will say just a guess "Back from the brink''. Oh, yes Saddam understands how to play the clown. And with each circus act, he makes the Americans look just that little bit more silly. A dangerous trick to play right now.
A US Marines officer came up to me after I gave a lecture at the University of North Carolina last night to tell me he was departing from his young wife and child in three days' time to go to Central Command in Tampa for the start of a longer journey. It's the same all over America. Just down from here at Fort Bragg, elements of the 82nd Airborne are said to be on the move.
A vast American armada is slowly taking shape huge quantities of armour and ordnance are being moved around the world right now from the United States and most of America doesn't even know it. "See you there,'' I said to the marine last night as we parted company. "Oh, are you coming to Central Command?'' he asked innocently. "No," I told him, "You're going to Iraq."