Speaking in a thick southern accent, the 38 year-old told stories about life in Iraq and the changes his country underwent over the decades — not excluding the happier or darker times.
Since he arrived to Britain ten years ago, Hashim was struck -- in his words -- by “unevenly told accounts of Iraq’s past”.
“Our history has been consistently twisted and refashioned” he said, “but as individuals that have benefitted from the business of war, our stories are not heard.”
On few occasions, mainstream press has shown interest in the accusations about the reformulation of Iraq’s history. Comments delivered by George W. Bush 3 months into his invasion, was one such story.
What caught the eye of the media was Bush’s attempt to deflect blame for reauthoring history - labelling historians that refused to nod in agreement with lies propagated by his administration, ‘revisionist’ scholars. AT this point, what Iraqis believed, knew, or had to say, was irrelevant.
What mattered was public support, and the impression America’s government had cultivated about the necessity of waging war. Brain-scrubbing propaganda in the months before, bolstered the lie that Bush was moved into action by the peace-threatening behaviour of one man; Saddam Hussein.
Not many years before Bush ordered Saddam and his sons to flee their country, Iraq’s former president was in fact a certified US ally. A common denominator he shared with Ronald Reagan was the need to contain Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s newly formed Islamic Republic of Iraq.
The 1979 hostage crisis left America humiliated. Unable to trust Iran, it tilted towards the power they hoped would succeed in challenging the suzerainty of Iran’s post 1979 clerical elite. Media outlets in these years were free of terms such as “The butcher of Baghdad” or “A bully as well as a Houdini”.
After it was discovered that America had been pitting both sides against each other during their bloody 8-year war, their friendship was cut short. News of America’s double dealing spread after the Iran-Contra scandal broke headlines. Not only had America provided military intelligence to Iraq, it been simultaneously supplying Iran with arms and F4 phantom parts to replenish its air force. The alliance had crumbled, and in a 360 degree turn, Saddam was demoted from American friend to foe.
To soften the blow of the sudden fallout, the breakup needed to be spun to safeguard America’s global image. For its version of events to be convincing, an enemy was born. Firstly, America needed to replace its policy of “containment” for “rollback” in search of a deferential ally to step in as Hussein’s replacement, once the conditions were ripe.
While many members of the US-backed opposition were former members of the party that they now competed against, their former Ba’ath connections were never made public. They narrated stories about the horrors they were subjected to -- stories that were never put up for public scrutiny.
De-contextualised news content and academic literature grew increasingly aligned to the objective of demonising the Iraqi government, to pave the way for regime change, as long as Iraq refused to dance to America’s tune.
The mission was made easier after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, tipping the scales in favour of America’s future vision, but uniting Iraq’s fragmented opposition would not be the cakewalk America assumed.
Little explanation other than the US version of events was plastered across the front pages of papers in late 1990 as Iraqi troops infiltrated Kuwait. The conflict was reinvented under the simplistic Hollywood script of “good guys fighting the bad guys”, brought into conflict, as would be explained, because of the perversions of one man; his quest for hegemony and loathing of Kuwait.
No mention was made in English language press about the colonial roots of the border dispute between the neighbours, whose borders were drawn using British ink, or Kuwait’s theft of oil from Iraq’s Rumaila oil field. We now also now that the state of Kuwait whom America “liberated”, funded as many as 20 PR, law and lobby firms to galvanise public opinion against Iraq, as former congressman, Jimmy Hayes, revealed in years after the invasion, not to mention the curious tale of the “baby incubators”.
It was almost game over.
The media no longer needed to recruit believers. Saddam’s actions offered pundits the evidence they needed to turn public opinion against Iraq. Despite reassurances a month prior to the Gulf war from US Ambassador, April Gillespie, that America would not involve itself in an inter-Arab border dispute, America did, on the side of Kuwait.
“The cost of its involvement will not be forgotten, or Saddam’s decision to hop from one war into another” Hashim told FRB. “Days and nights were awash with the sound of shelling and wailing groans of women” he remembered grimacing.
Sanctions and carpet-bombing were strategies deployed to allegedly strike high-profile Iraqi targets. Precision weaponry cost thousands of lives, contrary to America’s promises. No rockets struck down any Baathist commanders loyal to the Iraqi state, as the massacre at al-Amiriyah shelter, lives to tell. United Nations imposed sanctions were used to a similar effect. They allowed Saddam to solidify his hold, but not without exposing the flaws in America’s rollback strategy. Thousands of civilians were slain, and their death was justified through tall tales and amplified threats which the world was told later were not true.
“The years of sanctions we lived” Hashim said “are still a widely cited point of reference used in the west to criticise America’s crimes. The suffering millions experienced is no longer horrifying though, because of what the state America left Iraq in. Suffering has become the post-2003 norm, desensitising us to the horrors of today and yesteryear”, Hashim said.
Rollback continued up until 2003, but in the years building up to the invasion, the wheels of America’s ideological machinery were sent into overdrive, desperate to manufacture consent. The guise of ‘liberation’ was slipping and global audiences were rising up to challenge Bush’s Iraq fantasies.
British papers and tabloids, became suddenly obsessed with the “Iraqi opposition” -- opponents of Saddam -- which congress pledged $97 million in military aid. This happened under the Iraq Liberation Act, signed by Bill Clinton,declaring ‘regime change’ in Iraq an official US policy. Stirring mutiny and chaos was the prefered policy option, although in the years after, the so-called opposition functioned only with the help of logistical and militaristic support from America and Iran. In exchange, they peddled and exported lies about weapons of mass destruction worldwide, as Hashim said.
“Today America’s intentions are no secret, nor is the war imperial ambitions being fought out between a variety of regional actors”.
As Hashim says: “today we see new chapters being added to this falsely manufactured history. The victors are the ones who get to speak, while those living the reality must listen.”