April 1, 2003
THIS WAR IS NOT WORKING
By Peter Arnett
The Mirror, London
I am still in shock and awe at being fired. There is enormous sensitivity
within the US government to reports coming out from Baghdad. They don't want
credible news organisations reporting from here because it presents them
with enormous problems.
I reported on the original bombing for NBC and we were half a mile away from
those massive explosions. Now I am really shocked that I am no longer
reporting this story for the US and awed by the fact that it actually
happened. That overnight my successful NBC reporting career was turned to
ashes. And why?
Because I stated the obvious to Iraqi television; that the US war timetable
has fallen by the wayside. I have made those comments to television stations
around the world and now I'm making them again in the Daily Mirror. I'm not
angry. I'm not crying. But I'm also awed by this media phenomenon.
The right-wing media and politicians are looking for any opportunity to be
critical of the reporters who are here, whatever their nationality. I made
the misjudgment which gave them the opportunity to do so. I gave an
impromptu interview to Iraqi television feeling that after four months of
interviewing hundreds of them it was only professional courtesy to give them
a few comments.
That was my Waterloo - bang!
I have not yet decided what to do, whether to pack my bags and leave Baghdad
or stay on. I'll decide what to do today, right now I'm chewing on what has
happened to me.
But whatever happens I will never stop reporting on the truth of this war
whether I am in Baghdad or somewhere else in the Middle East - or even back
in Washington. I was here in 1991 and the bombing is very similar to that
conflict but the reality is very different.
The US and British want to come here, take over the city, upturn the
government and take us through to a new era. The troops are in the country
and fighting there way up here. It creates a very different atmosphere.
The Ba'ath party, currently led by Saddam Hussein, has been in power for 34
years. Tariq Aziz told me the US will have to brainwash 25 million Iraqis
because these people think exactly the same as Saddam does. Maybe he is
wrong, maybe not.
For months, Iraqis have said officially and privately: "We will fight the
Americans, we will use guerrilla tactics, we will surprise them." But the
Iraqi opposition has said: "This will be a pushover, everyone wants to rebel
against Saddam." Now the reality is being played out on the battlefield.
We have to watch the reality now and some Iraqis are fighting and the
government does seem very determined. For me to see that and to be
criticised for saying the obvious is unfair. But it has made me a target
for my critics in the States who accuse me of giving aid and comfort to the
enemy. I don't want to give aid and comfort to the enemy - I just want to be
able to tell the truth. I came to Baghdad with my crew because the Iraqi
side needs to be heard too.
It is clear the original timetable that America would be in Baghdad by the
end of March has fallen by the wayside. There is clearly debate in the US
about this, reinforcements are being sent in and there are delays. This
doesn't mean it is going badly. Every casualty is a loss but they have been
in limited numbers so far.
Every night and every day I hear the B-52s and the missiles hammering the
defences Baghdad. Just like in Afghanistan and Vietnam, the US is bringing
enormous firepower to bear which it believes will grind the Iraqis down. I
have seen it before and it has been enormously effective. The US optimism is
On the other hand, at what cost to civilians ?
During the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, I entered a US-held town which had been
totally destroyed. The Viet Cong had taken over and were threatening the
commander's building so he called down an artillery strike which killed many
of his own men.
The Major with us asked: "How could this happen?" A soldier replied: "Sir,
we had to destroy the town to save it."
The Bush and Blair administration does not want that label stuck on this
war, it is a liberation for them. But the problem is US Marines at
checkpoints are suspicious of every man, woman and child because of the
Already there is suspicion growing. And in the south, there have not been
popular rebellions and uprisings. As the battle for Baghdad grows, the
potential for civilian casualties grows. Optimists in the Pentagon talk
about an internal coup. BNut who would have had believed Umm Qasr would hold
out for six days?
This is the spectre rising as this war continues. The US and Britain have to
figure this out. I don't think you can tell how it will end, there are many
scenarios. A siege of Baghdad... a special operations strike on Saddam.
Optimists in the Pentagon talk about an internal coup.
Who would have had believed Umm Qasr would hold out for six days or US
Marines directing traffic would be killed by a suicide bomber? This is more
like the West Bank and Gaza and it could become like that in some areas.
The US and Britain must avoid that scenario.
Forces come in, communities resist, then suicide bombing and resistance from
guerrillas. Except the Iraqis will be putting up a stiffer fight than the
Palestinians because they are better armed. We know the world, including
many Americans, is ambivalent about this war and I think it is essential to
I'm not here to be a superstar. I have been there in 1991 and could never be
bigger than that.
Some reporters make judgements but that is not my style. I present both
sides and report what I see with my own eyes. I don't blame NBC for their
decision because they came under great commercial pressure from the outside.
And I certainly don't believe the White House was responsible for my
But I want to tell the story as best as I can, which makes it so
disappointing to be fired.