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Iraq's kidnapping horror 

Andy Newman


Sometimes an individual human tragedy can make an immediate connection that cuts through the big political stories of war and political intrigue. Suddenly Iraq is not so far away when a British engineer, a 62 year old family man and former pub landlord is kidnapped and threatened with brutal and public murder. We can all imagine the horror, fear and disgust felt by Kenneth Bigley's family, and every one of us will feel solidarity with their suffering.

Kidnapping is endemic in Iraq. In their campaign to drive out US-led occupation troops and hamper reconstruction, insurgents have kidnapped more than 135 foreigners over the last few months. On top of these kidnappings resistance forces are estimated to have killed more than 3000 Iraqis by terrorist bombings, only a fraction of whom were attached to the occupation forces or the Quisling regime of Iyad Allawi. This terror campaign is effectively undermining the ability of the Americans to maintain the military or political initiative, but it is at a heavy human cost. A cost of shattered lives, grief and crushed hopes for the Iraqi people themselves.

But even these politically motivated kidnappings are only the tip of an iceberg. Criminal gangs are kidnapping anyone whose family or employer may be prepared to pay a ransom. Iraqi hospitals are suffering a collapse in staffing as doctors are fleeing to Amman or Damascus because of the high rate of kidnapping of skilled medical staff. The kidnapping of children, a crime unknown under Saddam Hussein, has now become a routine dread for every parent. The inability of Iyad Allawi's regime to restore day-to-day security undermines any possibility of the occupation gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the population.

Kenneth Bigley's kidnapping by the Tawhid and Jihad Group, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has caused a political crisis. Not only because the victims are seemingly ordinary British and American workers, but because their demands have revealed the major fault lines in the occupation. Al-Zarqawi has demanded the release of all female prisoners being held in Iraqi gaols. Probably unintentionally this has thrown the spotlight on the continued detention of Dr Rihab Taha, and Dr Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash: two women scientists who had been working on the Iraqi biological weapons programme, discontinued many years ago. Despite the fact that they had done nothing illegal, the Americans have continued to incarcerate them.

However, now that the war and the occupation are both legally over, this should not be a question for the Americans any longer. On Wednesday 22nd September Malik Duhan al-Hasan the Iraqi Justice Minister announced that the two women were already scheduled for release. At this stage George Bush seems to have personally intervened, overruling the "legal" Iraqi government, so then his puppet Allawi announced there would be no release. An intervention that may cost Kenneth Bigley his life.

Now George Bush has personally approved the brutal state murder of 152 Texans, mostly black and poor, so sacrificing a British Engineer to help his re-election prospects will cause him no flicker of conscience. And his ally Tony Blair, to whose compassion Kenneth Bigley has directly appealed? There is no response from his obsidian heart. As former cabinet minister Stephen Byers told the ITN News Channel, Tony Blair "is a very Christian person, a very religious man and he will be wondering just where God is at this time because this is something awful that is taking place. He will deal with it at a personal level and also he's got to deal with it as a leader of our country and those two are often very difficult to reconcile."

Of course there is also a certain racism behind the reporting of the Kenneth Bigley story. British Civil engineers do not belong to the "torturable classes". Part of the horror is that this is happening to a British man, someone who has taken up the "white man's burden". There has been no report in the British press of the 3 Iraqi Kurds beheaded last week for collaborating, or the 18 soldiers from the collaborationist Iraqi army that have been captured by the resistance. The experience of resurgent imperialism in Iraq brings in its train the dark prejudices of Britain's sordid past: We don't need to worry about the suffering of these "lesser breeds", as Kipling put it, the "fluttered folk and wild, ... half devil and half child"

Robert Fisk of the Independent reported how one of the videos circulating in Iraq of a hostage beheading was discovered to be the murder of a Russian soldier in Chechnya, and seems to have been sent to Iraq as a training manual. The Russian slaughter and rape of Chechnya has sown terror and madness; now transplanted to Iraqi's fertile soil. Imperialism from Washington and Moscow is still our enemy.

Responsibility for the kidnappings, the bombings, the collapse of Iraq's internal security, public services and infrastructure all lies with the Americans and their illegal invasion of Iraq. Their military occupation is brutal and seemingly directionless. What is more it is causing a moral and political corruption here at home, as night after night pictures of more horror and devastation are beamed to our TV sets, and the politicians lie and spin about what progress is being made, and how much worse it all was under Saddam.

 

September 2004

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