Review of 'The Freedom', Christian Parenti, New Press £12.99
After you've read this excellent short book by Christian Parenti you will be in little doubt that Britain and the US are doomed to fail in their latest military adventure in Iraq. In part this is because Parenti describes how the everyday life of ordinary Iraqis continues to deteriorate for as long as the occupying forces remain in control. But he also clearly shows how the anger and disaffection this causes are leading to a rapid rise in the power, influence and audacity of the Iraqi resistance.
Parenti travels to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 not, as he admits in the introduction, 'to provide a sweeping analysis of the war in Iraq', but to 'offer a slice of political feeling and flavour, a snapshot of a time and place: Iraq during the first year of US occupation.' Here in the west we are familiar with the press reports of the latest car bombing, military offensive or assassination, all too often reported through the eyes of those sympathetic to the occupation. But what is often ignored or underreported is the constant daily struggle most Iraqis have simply to feed themselves, to get some sort of odd job to get through the week, or the constant daily harassment they face at the hands of the military authorities.
For most of his time in Iraq Parenti stays at one of the few hotels in Baghdad occupied by western journalists. He describes how when they hear a bomb go off all the journalists and their interpreters rush to the roof of the hotel to see where the smoke is coming from so they are able to judge how big the blast is, and where to go to witness the carnage, death and destruction. He gives a vivid and moving account of the scenes he finds - the blood and body parts strewn over the area where the blast takes place, and the grief and despair of the survivors. He also describes the appalling conditions in which most Iraqis live - the lack of fresh water, and sewerage, rubbish-strewn streets, the wild dogs that feed off the dirt and decay that seem to be everywhere. It reminds you of a scene from a Mad Max film.
On top of these descriptions of the destructive repercussions of the war, Parenti reports the constant fight many people have simply to find missing relatives or to try to get some sort of justice for those who are killed by the US. These are harrowing and moving tales, made all the more frustrating because the occupying forces have clearly established a bureaucracy not designed to cope with the many grievances that people face. So people face days queuing to see if a relative is being detained or to find a lost body, a lack of interpreters, and the constant filling in of forms that always seem to get lost. The intention is to frustrate, humiliate and break people's resolve, but instead what Parenti finds is a hardening of attitudes, and a determination by more and more people to drive the US out of Iraq.
By far the most impressive section of this book is when he meets the Iraqi resistance. What we find is not the hotpotch of terrorists and fanatics that the west or mainstream press would have us believe are behind the attacks on US troops. Rather this is a highly organised and coordinated force that has at its disposal large amounts of military hardware. It has also infiltrated the occupying forces extracting information, which makes the attacks even more effective and deadly. And this is a force clearly supported and backed by the vast majority of local people. Parenti finds that those involved in resisting the occupation are not motivated by simple bloodthirsty revenge - instead they want the future of their country and the fate of its people to be decided by those who live there.
There is much else to recommend in this book - in particular the despair and despondency felt by the US troops which lead them to question the aims of the war and despair about its consequences. Back in the US Parenti meets up with Camilo Mejia who was with the Florida national guard, 1st Batallion. His views on the war are clear: 'This an immoral, unjust and illegal war,' he says, 'The whole thing is based on lies. There are no weapons of mass destruction and there was no link with terrorism. It's about oil reconstruction contracts and the controlling of the Middle East.' Camilo was due to go back to Iraq to carry on his service, but as he explains here, such was the horror he witnessed that he would rather do five to ten years in prison for desertion than kill a child by mistake. 'Prison ends,' he says, 'but you never get over killing a kid.'
By the end you are left in little doubt there is only going to be one winner here, and it will do little to please those who occupy the White House or 10 Downing Street.