Richard Ingrams' Week: Enjoy a good laugh at Blair's expense

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When George Bush was re-elected in 2004, there was a good deal of anger and despair on both sides of the Atlantic. Amid the general gloom I took comfort from the thought that by remaining in office, Bush would be forced sooner or later to carry the can for all the terrible things that he had done.

And this is indeed what is now happening. Bush's popularity rating has sunk to a Nixon-like low; there are several Nixon-like scandals bubbling away in the background and Bush is beginning to have the look of a desperate man who is not waving but drowning. There is every prospect that he will leave the White House to the jeers and sneers even of all the misguided people who voted for him two years ago.

Our own Prime Minister, right, also had to face re-election like his American friend. And, like Bush, he was determined to stay on, to put the Iraq invasion behind him and to bequeath to the nation some kind of legacy which would secure his name in the history books.

To those who like to believe that God is not mocked, it is gratifying to see how Blair's dream has turned into a bit of a nightmare. In particular how, so far from disappearing from the headlines, the Iraq war and its terrible consequences have refused to go away with almost every day throwing up new disclosures, new evidence of deception and lies.

When Blair eventually goes, he too will go to the accompaniment of general mockery. And the longer he stays, the worse the mockery will be. The joke is that Blair, still puffed up with his own importance, is quite unaware of any of this. But the rest of us are surely entitled to a good laugh.

The truth behind the pious pronouncements

It is easy to see through the lies of Blair, Straw and Reid, who tell us that things are now getting much better in Iraq. The reason is that we are not being told about what is actually happening there. And the reason for that is that conditions are now so dangerous that very few journalists, let alone TV crews, are prepared to go there. (The Independent's Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk are commendable exceptions to the rule.)

A careful reading of the press can still give one an occasional little glimpse of the situation, like the report from an anonymous Daily Telegraph correspondent - possibly an Iraqi - in Basra, left, who reported last week that the town is now virtually in the hands of the Shia militias who impose beatings and executions on anyone who defies the Islamic law.

He goes on to say that the governor of Basra last week announced that he would stop all co-operation with the British Army after they intervened and arrested 14 allegedly corrupt policemen.

Following the death last week of the 100th British serviceman in Iraq, army officers, he says, "have privately expressed surprise that the figure had not been reached earlier as their forces face multiple attacks each week".

This is the true picture behind the pious pronouncements from politicians about the great work our soldiers are doing, the sacrifices they make to bring peace and stability to the troubled land of Iraq.

Like the media, the Army has discovered that Iraq is a very nasty and very dangerous place to be. The difference is that unlike the media they have to stay there and be shot at and blown up.

* Intolerant people do not mind invective or abuse as much as they mind being made fun of. So it is nearly always the satirist - this week the cartoonist - who is liable to put himself in danger.

The Bulgarian satirist Georgi Markov, who made some jokes at the expense of the dictator and friend of Robert Maxwell, Todor Zhivkov, was murdered in broad daylight in a London street with a poisoned umbrella. No one was ever prosecuted.

My friend Auberon Waugh, then a columnist on The Times, once made a joke about the baggy trousers worn by some Muslims and referred to by British soldiers as "Allah catchers". Furious letters were received from half the embassies of Arab states, there were demonstrations in Printing House Square and the British Council Library in Rawalpindi was burned to the ground. Not long afterwards, Waugh was sacked.

In recent days the papers have been trumpeting their undying belief in the freedom of the press. But the readers may have noticed that the Danish cartoons which have caused all the trouble have not always been reproduced, thus making it difficult for them to form a judgement.

It may well be that there is a genuine reluctance in some quarters to give offence to Muslims. But then again the public could be forgiven if it concluded that newspapers want to avoid mass demonstrations outside their offices or even the possibility of a bomb chucked through the window.

The message is that all religions must be respected but some should be respected more than others.

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