The wishes of the people of Basra are buried under the myth-making of others.
When is an uprising not an uprising? When it’s in Basra….
‘Uprising’ said the Daily Express. British intelligence sources told the Sunday Telegraph‘s Martin Bentham that ‘a large crowd, seeking to overthrow the paramilitary authorities in Basra, was seen on the streets by British intelligence sources’ (1). Even the UK prime minister Tony Blair trumpeted the long-awaited uprising against Saddam Hussein in Basra.
The Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) scotched the rumours on Wednesday morning, spokesman Abu Islam saying definitively ‘no, there is no uprising’ (2). Apparently there were protests over the disconnection of the water supply, and against the bombardment of the town by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Tank Commanders from the Black Watch Battle Group and other British forces currently at the outskirts.
The rebelliousness or acquiescence of the largely Shia people of Basra to Baghdad has long been buried under the myth-making of others – by the regime itself, the rival regional power Iran, the US-led alliance of 1991, its critics, and in 2003 the ‘Coalition of the Willing’. As co-religionists of the Shia of Iran, Basra was suspected by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as it was wooed by the Iranians when those two countries were at war between 1980 and 1988. Then at the close of the US-Iraqi conflict of 1991, then president George Bush Senior hinted at support for local uprisings. But when Basra did revolt, the people faced Iraqi airpower that had been returned to the military by US commanders.
Iraq’s suppression of the 1991 Basra uprising went down in history as evidence of the failure of the elder Bush administration to ‘finish the job’. But assisting a pro-Iranian breakaway in southern Iraq was never a war aim of America’s. Baghdad’s actions against Basra, though, did have advantages for the USA.
First, it distracted attention from the extraordinary allied assaults on the city, which were, as the Los Angeles Times reported, ‘levelling some entire city blocks’ and leaving ‘bomb craters the size of football fields’ (3). Second, it justified the allies’ subsequent ‘no fly zone’ over southern Iraq, an 11-year military operation that led to scores of deaths without noticeably defending anyone.
In 2003 the coalition’s dogmatic belief that the people of Iraq are waiting to be liberated by American and British firepower has been frustrated. The public garlanding of coalition forces that the spin-doctors promised has failed to materialise. Instead, Iraqi reaction has been mixed – angry at the bombings, sometimes jubilant at token Iraqi victories, and queuing up for handouts. The British press leapt upon the rumours of the Basra uprising in particular as evidence to support the thesis of ‘liberation’.
Unfortunately for the British troops, the Basra opposition exiles are sponsored by Iran, which, having been itself nominated as part of the ‘axis of evil’, has no wish to help the coalition’s propaganda.
The wishes of the people of Basra are so far impossible to discern under the many attempts to speak for them. What is clear is that in the name of their liberation, they have once more been made the targets of extensive bombardment.
James Heartfield is the author of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, Perpetuity Press, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)); and Great Expectations: The Creative Industries in the New Economy, Design Agenda, 2000 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)). He is also coauthor of Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website
spiked-issue: War on Iraq
(1) Reporters witness battle for Basra, BBC News, 26 March 2003
(2) Iraqi Shi’ite Opposition Says No Uprising in Basra, Reuters, 26 March 2003
(3) Los Angeles Times, 5 February 1991
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