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Mar 24 2003

BRIAN READE on why these pictures will lead to more horrors closer to home

THE men in suits assured us it would be swift, precise and decent. Those in khaki, such as General Tommy Franks, boasted the military machine was so efficient it would be “a campaign like no other in history”.

But, as we have seen in the images thrown up by the most televisual war ever, it’s the same old dirty, nasty game.

SUFFERING: An Iraqi man wounded during attacks on Basra

The elderly riddled with shrapnel and drenched in blood, babies with half their faces burned and mutilated soldiers lying in the trenches, expose how Baghdad and Basra today are simply modern equivalents of Dresden and Coventry.

No matter how smart your bombs are, war is about laying waste to cities and people. It is about pain and suffering and the kind of blind panic that has you firing into a river to kill what you think is a stricken pilot.

And this time the world is seeing it played out 24 hours a day on a dozen TV channels. Which might be not only the undoing of Bush and Blair but also the fuse which sets the anger of the Arab world alight.

SHOCKING AND AWFUL: Allied forces blitz Baghdad on Friday night

Because this highly-addictive TV coverage has exploded the myth of the precise and blood-free war. It has reminded us that war should always be a last resort – and in this case it is nowhere near it.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The propagandists at Allied command gave unprecedented access to journalists and camera crews in the hope of showing how merciful their mission was.

But the many sickening sights we have seen have only strengthened the belief held by the majority of the world, that this is a futile and immoral attack on people who currently threaten no outsiders. Where are the chemical attacks? Where are Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

Where are the links to international terrorists? Where are the millions of oppressed Iraqis defecting en masse to their liberators? Where are all the Iraqi lies?

INNOCENT: A child burned during the bombing of Baghdad screams in pain

BAGHDAD has been as honest or dishonest as Washington. Following Friday’s cataclysmic attack you might have expected them to claim hundreds of dead civilians.

Instead they said there were three.

What of our side? The Americans claimed to have taken Umm Qasr two days ago, with their sickeningly triumphal raising of the Stars and Stripes. Yesterday they were still fighting. We were told the people of the south, Shi’ite Muslims who despise Saddam, would surrender without resistance. Some have. But many others are trying to repel the invaders.

SLAUGHTER: Bodies of Iraqi soldiers huddled dead in a trench in Southern Iraq – their white flag couldn’t save them

We are not being given the full truth. We see screaming babies in ramshackle hospitals, stripped bare of supplies by a dozen years of medicine sanctions, and we despair at the lie that this war is a humanitarian mission to help a stricken people.

We see innocent civilians killed and maimed in their dilapidated homes, and we just don’t know why it is happening in our name.

All we can conclude, especially after the astonishing blitz of Baghdad, is that Iraq is the testing ground for a devastating show of American might, aimed at warning enemies that if they step out of line they will be next. You cannot understate how dangerous this situation is for the leader of a Labour government. If Tony Blair loses the propaganda war it will destroy his credibility and possibly his career. The British will be tough on his war crimes and tough on the causes of them.

TRIUMPH?: the Stars and Stripes go up over Umm Qasr

But that is the least of our worries. You see, we are not the only ones following this war through a close-up lens. So too are the Arabs.

And they saw something the other day that our propagandists do not yet admit to. The carnage in Basra’s Jumhuriya hospital following coalition bombing which Iraq claims killed 77 civilians.

Al Jazeera TV beamed images across the Arab world of the dead and wounded, including a child with the back of its skull blown off. “It was a massacre,” wailed one woman.

Imagine what effect that had on an already raging Arab world. Then imagine what future images of shock and awe we might soon see on our own doorstep.