Teaching Iraqis cricket and other Black Watch duties

We see pictures of British soldiers giving Iraqi kids piggybacks, but is this accurate?

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By now, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld must be tempted to see what else they could get Tony Blair to agree to, just for a laugh. If they did, by the weekend Blair might announce at a press conference that the Cabinet is considering a proposal that British citizens should be ordered to hand over to US marines all their household pets. "No decision has as yet been taken," he'd say, "but the US military command would not request such an order were it not vital to their operations. We are assured that the terrorists inside Fallujah are especially frightened of kittens, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself is particularly vulnerable to angel fish."

By now, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld must be tempted to see what else they could get Tony Blair to agree to, just for a laugh. If they did, by the weekend Blair might announce at a press conference that the Cabinet is considering a proposal that British citizens should be ordered to hand over to US marines all their household pets. "No decision has as yet been taken," he'd say, "but the US military command would not request such an order were it not vital to their operations. We are assured that the terrorists inside Fallujah are especially frightened of kittens, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself is particularly vulnerable to angel fish."

Perhaps the first we know about a test of loyalty will be when pictures are beamed back of the Black Watch advancing into a village on space hoppers, although a few Labour MPs would say: "We'll support you this time but we warn you not to stretch our loyalty all that much further."

Or Blair will tell us: "For the next week, all British services are to be deployed to Florida to knock on doors persuading people to vote for Bush. But this is entirely in accordance with our military objectives, and to claim it has some political motive is utter nonsense." It could be that the movement of Black Watch troops is part of the Government's new liberal attitude towards gambling. Geoff Hoon has become an addict and said to Blair: "Go on, live a little, take a chance. Stick the lot on, all 850, that's it."

The argument about the Black Watch troops isn't helped by the mythology of calm and diplomatic British forces, as opposed to the trigger-happy American ones. We see plenty of pictures of British soldiers sharing biscuits with Iraqi kids and giving them piggybacks, but is this accurate? Soon, we'll see film of British soldiers laying a gentle arm on an Iraqi and saying: "Here, what's the problem son? Upset are you? Well, we all get like that sometimes, I know I do. Hey, do you see this, it's what we call a cricket ball? I bet a bright lad like you could work wonders with one of these. I tell you what, unstrap those bars of gelignite from your chest and I'll show you how to bowl a bit of off-spin. That's it, ooh careful with that pin. Lovely."

It is outrageous that the soldiers of the Black Watch will be risking their lives, but what hardly seems to be mentioned is that their deployment will help put at risk thousands of Iraqi lives. If the problem in Fallujah is simply a handful of crazy psychopaths, why does it need an army to defeat them? And why has the US military expressed fears that "pacifying" the town could provoke uprisings in several nearby areas? The police in Gloucester managed to arrest Fred West and his family without calling on 130,000 troops, backed by tank divisions and air strikes, and there was never much chance this would lead to uprisings in Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.

Perhaps the problem is that, according to a poll conducted by the Americans, the proportion of Iraqi Arabs who back the US occupation is now 2 per cent. So when Bush and Blair asserted that they'd be welcomed as liberators, they were right. Because they never gave an exact figure and they are welcomed by a whole 2 per cent, except that most polls admit a 3 per cent margin of error, so statistically the real figure could be minus 1 per cent.

Yet a US military commander has stated that his aim "is not to capture Fallujah but to give it back". Who will they be giving it back to then? The 2 per cent, I suppose. In this statement lies the dilemma of the occupation. For example, we're often told the casualties inside Fallujah are not civilians, but how can that be true? Perhaps these American bombs are now so sophisticated that, having whizzed through a roof, they hold a quick trial of all the people inside before deciding which ones to blow up. To be fair, the Americans could claim that whoever they kill, there's a 98 per cent chance that they supported the opposition, which isn't a bad rate for correct convictions.

And throughout all this we're supposed to be proud of our opportunity to tag along. Reports come in every 10 minutes detailing the progress of the Black Watch, in spite of the fact they make up less than 1 per cent of the operation. They should complete this process, by getting the news reports done by the British commentators from the Olympics, who could say: "We're leaving Fallujah to go over to the big event in Latifiyah where there is, of course, British involvement. And there they are, the Black Watch, limbering up for their big moment. Sally Gunnell, what do you make of their preparations so far?"

It's essential they go there, apparently, so the Americans can leave for the more important job. Isn't that a bit humiliating? In effect, the Black Watch are babysitting. Once they've arrived the Americans will say: "Now, we've left instructions for what to do. Nothing should go wrong but, if it does, ring us on this number and we'll be back as soon as we can."

And all so an occupation supported by 2 per cent of the Arab population can impose democracy.

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