This article first ran in the 3rd May 2003 issue of The Spectator
We could tell something was up as soon as we approached the petrol station. There was an American tank parked amid a big crowd of jerrycan-toting Iraqis. Unusually, the soldiers were down and walking around, guns at the ready. Then I heard shouting and saw the Americans using their carbines like staves to push back some of the customers, who were evidently trying their luck.
Alice Thomas Ellis, the novelist and former Spectator columnist who died last week, once took part in an earnest feminist questionnaire that asked her to name the most important event in women’s history.
‘The Annunciation,’ she replied.
Alice — known to all her friends by her real name, Anna — bore the physical aspect of a sensitive north London novelist: her huge, panda eyes were pools of compassion, framed by wispy hair and hand-made earrings.
You thought it was difficult to get into an NHS bed? Try getting out when the bureaucrats say no.
In my own case you might have thought they would urge me to be gone, for I was a bad patient. Normally I have a high pain threshold, but that Monday as I came round from the general anaesthetic the pain was sensational and I took it personally. Returned to my ward, the curtains drawn around my bay, I heard the sounds of a nearby patient being prepared to be wheeled to the operating theatre.
For most people, to defend a blood-stained tyrant is perverse and shocking; to defend two seems like recklessness. Yet the causes of both Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic are what occupy Ramsey Clark, 78, as he crowns a political career that started with his appointment to the US government on the first day of the Kennedy administration in 1961. Promoted to the post of US attorney general by Lyndon Johnson in 1967, Clark’s left-liberal political trajectory has taken him so far from the political mainstream that he is now campaigning for the rights of the two most hated men in the world.
As the Puma chugs over Baghdad I look out over the machine gun and I have to admit I am full of a sudden wistfulness. I have been here before, almost two years ago exactly.
It was a week after the end of the war, and in those days my feelings were of nervous hope. I jogged by the twinkling Tigris. I ate out in restaurants — shoarma and chips, served with every sign of friendliness. I wandered around without a flak jacket and shoved my notebook under people’s noses, and said things like, ‘What do you think of George Bush, hmmm?’ And now look at the dear old place.