Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, whose new book The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East has just been published by 4th Estate, painted a picture of deepening chaos and misery in Iraq more than two years after Saddam Hussein was toppled.
He said that the "constant, intensive involvement" in the Middle East by the West was a recurring pattern over centuries and was the reason why "so many Muslims in the Middle East hate us". He added: " We can close doors on history. They can't."
Fisk doubted the sincerity of Western leaders' commitment to bringing democracy to Iraq and said a lasting settlement in the country was impossible while foreign troops remained. "In the Middle East, they would like some of our democracy, they would like a couple of boxes off the supermarket shelves of human rights as well. But I think they would also like freedom from us."
Recalling the sight of an immense US convoy rolling into the country's capital, he said: "A superpower has a visceral need to project military power. We can go to Baghdad, so we will go to Baghdad."
He told the debate in London: "The Americans must leave Iraq and they will leave Iraq, but they can't leave Iraq and that is the equation that turns sand to blood. At some point, they will have to talk to the insurgents.
"But I don't know how, because those people who might be negotiators the United Nations, the Red Cross their headquarters have been blown up. The reality now in Iraq is the project is finished. Most of Iraq, except Kurdistan, is in a state of anarchy."
He said that the portrayal of Iraq by Western leaders of efforts to introduce democracy, including Saturday's national vote on the country's proposed constitution was "unreal" to most of its citizens. In Baghdad, children and women were kept at home to prevent them from being kidnapped for money or sold into slavery. They faced a desperate struggle to find the money to keep generators running to provide themselves with electricity. "They aren't sitting in their front rooms discussing the referendum on the constitution."
With insurgents half a mile from Baghdad's Green Zone, Fisk said the danger to reporters from a brutal insurgency that did not respect journalists was increasing. "Every time I go to Baghdad it's worse, every time I ask myself how we can keep going. Because the real question is is the story worth the risk?"
He attacked television reporters for flinching from depicting the everyday bloodshed on the streets of Iraq. "You can go and see Saving Private Ryan or Kingdom of Heaven people have their heads cut off. When it comes to real heads being cut off, you can't. I think television connives with governments at war." He added: "Newspapers can tell you as closely as they can what these horrors are like."
Asked if the "anger and passion" he felt over the events he witnessed had affected his objectivity, he said: "When you are at the scene of a massacre, you are entitled to feel immense anger and I do."
He rejected suggestions that graphic pictures of the dead in newspapers took away their dignity. He said: "My view is the people who are dead would want us to record what happened to them."Reuse content