Mark Steel: The wonderful creativity of the British Army

They're turning out these videos on resources that Pinewood couldn't have managed
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The Independent Online

Many people complain about the decline of the British film industry, lamenting how we now make only a handful of films each year. But give credit to the Army, they're turning them out on meagre resources that Pinewood could never have managed.

With humility, the Government and heads of the Army play down this creativity, claiming the latest video is a "one-off". But if you were doing something you felt was uniquely outrageous, would you say, "This could get us in real trouble, so to make sure it never gets out, let's make sure we film the whole thing from start to end."

The footage gives the impression that this sort of incident is part of the culture. There certainly isn't anyone yelling, "Put that camera away, you tosspot." On the contrary, the commentator is enjoying it so much you wonder whether the way it got leaked was he sent it to Kirsty's Home Videos, to be shown with Kirsty chuckling: "This chap looks like he's in 'Shia' agony. Oh well, some plans just go to 'Iraq and ruin'," followed by a clip of a dachsund getting tangled in a deckchair.

Or maybe he sent it off as a showreel in a quest to become a war correspondent. In the hope that one day he could gasp: "Behind me are the hills in which the rebels are based, and I can hear the crackle of anti-insurgency missiles being fired by government agents. Wooor look at that one go, he's on fucking fire, waheeeee, burn you scum. This is Terry Pinkhurst, the Gahobi mountains, BBC News."

Every week something exposes the nature of the occupation, increasing the majority of people in Britain and America wishing it would end. So a number of prominent figures, such as Menzies Campbell, are saying they too think the troops should leave, but we shouldn't set a date for this. Instead we should wait until we've got the institutions in place that can take over.

Which sounds reasonable, until you realise that in effect this is no different from the solution proposed by President Bush. To suggest we should wait until we've sorted everything out before leaving means waiting until everything's sorted on Bush's terms. And you get a sense of those from the details emerging about the Coalition Provisional Authority, set up when the Americans first arrived. For example, Order 39 decreed that 200 state-owned enterprises could be sold to US companies. Not surprisingly, these included oil, so the occupying forces then spent over £11bn of Iraq's oil revenue, £5bn of which has never been accounted for. Much of it went the same way as the million dollars revealed to have been whisked away in a duffle bag by officials as a bonus for awarding a lucrative security contract.

Nonetheless, it would be foolhardy to set a date for leaving until we've finished what we started, and taken out all the country's money in duffle bags.

Maybe Menzies Campbell could suggest speeding the process up, by using binliners - or hiring a skip.

It's also claimed that the occupying armies are essential to the process of bringing the communities together. Maybe this means the British Army shouldn't leave until they've tortured the same number on the other side to even things up.

The politicians insist there's a great deal of rebuilding under way, and towns such as Fallujah certainly need rebuilding. I'm not sure of the exact figures, but maybe each year we rebuild up to a quarter of the things we demolish in the first place, in which case we need to stay a long time yet before we've finished.

Having said that, we're not capable of completing a football stadium on time when there's not an insurgency, so the rebuilding argument seems very flimsy.

The latest poll in Iraq, carried out by Maryland University, suggests that 87 per cent of the population, including 64 per cent of Kurds, want a date set for the troops to withdraw. Which hints that they see the troops not as part of the solution, but part of the problem. Given that they were sent for a reason that turned out to be a lie, killed up to 100,000, and the institutions set up so far have robbed the place, they may have a point.

Or perhaps they don't know what's good for them, and the occupation should only end when the problems caused by the occupation have been solved by the occupation. In which case there should be a change in the law of arson. When an arsonist is convicted, the judge should say, "You have burned down half the street. Well, I may not have thought it wise to start burning down the street, but now you have, it is only common sense you don't stop until you've burned down the rest. After all, we can't just set a date for you to stop, as that would mean leaving the street in the most dreadful mess. Off you go."