Thursday, 6 February 2003

You wanted to believe him - but it was like something out of Beckett

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website Sources, foreign intelligence sources, "our sources," defectors, sources, sources, sources. Colin Powell's terror talk to the United Nations Security Council yesterday sounded like one of those government-inspired reports on the front page of The New York Times – where it will most certainly be treated with due reverence in this morning's edition. It was a bit like heating up old soup. Haven't we heard most of this stuff before? Should one trust the man? General Powell, I mean, not Saddam.

Certainly we don't trust Saddam but Secretary of State Powell's presentation was a mixture of awesomely funny recordings of Iraqi Republican Guard telephone intercepts à la Samuel Beckett that just might have been some terrifying little proof that Saddam really is conning the UN inspectors again, and some ancient material on the Monster of Baghdad's all too well known record of beastliness. I am still waiting to hear the Arabic for the State Department's translation of "Okay Buddy" – "Consider it done, Sir" – this from the Republican Guard's "Captain Ibrahim", for heaven's sake – and some dinky illustrations of mobile bio-labs whose lorries and railway trucks were in such perfect condition that they suggested the Pentagon didn't have much idea of the dilapidated state of Saddam's army.

It was when we went back to Halabja and human rights abuses and all Saddam's old sins, as recorded by the discredited Unscom team, that we started eating the old soup again. Jack Straw may have thought all this "the most powerful and authoritative case" but when we were forced to listen to Iraq's officer corps communicating by phone – "yeah", "yeah", "yeah?", "yeah..." – it was impossible not to ask oneself if Colin Powell had really considered the effect this would have on the outside world.

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