As Iraq burns, Paul Bremer’s men remain inventive. Faced with the problem of getting their positive message out from behind the blast walls and barbed wire which surround the Coalition headquarters in Baghdad, they have resorted to technology. A television studio has been built inside Saddam Hussein’s former palace, and broadcasting companies such as ours are expected to link its outpourings to London so that reassuring messages from American officials and their Iraqi allies can be pumped directly on to British television screens. It could be called ‘Good news from the bunker’.
In truth, after the most disastrous month since the invasion, good news is hard to come by. Though Bremer’s headquarters, and our own fortified compound directly across the river, remain impregnable, the Americans have, astonishingly, lost control of many of the country’s major highways, with checkpoints of the previously ballyhooed Iraqi police simply melting away. Reconstruction work, the manna of billions of dollars which was supposed to reconcile Iraqis to the occupation, has virtually come to a halt, with one major American contractor, Kellogg, Brown and Root, the sticky-fingered subsidiary of Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, said to have lost 34 of its employees dead in the last 40 days. Roughly half of all foreign workers have left Iraq either temporarily or for good, and those who remain appear to be mainly security men who ride up and down in the lifts of our hotel clad in flak jackets and nursing submachine-guns. Ominously, work to improve Baghdad’s power supply before the punishing heat of the Iraqi summer sets in has, apparently, stalled.
American military casualties have risen sharply. The Pentagon refuses to disclose the number of wounded, but the best estimate (based on the announced figure of 137 dead) is that in the month of April some 850 soldiers were killed or injured, the equivalent of an entire battalion being put out of action.