Where is the truth amid all this subterfuge?
by Robert Fisk in Baghdad
It was a most peculiar day. Overnight, the Americans had pulverised a neo-Classical office block next to what was – before a previous pulverisation – the Iraqi government's Department of Air Armaments.
Then, just before 10am yesterday, an aircraft could be heard diving high over Baghdad and a clap of sound from the other side of the Tigris, with the usual grey-black column of smoke, signalled the end of another annexe belonging to the sons of Saddam. Then came the bus trip.
The Iraqis wanted to take the press to see another example of US and British "imperialist-racist violence" and so we were trucked off to the outskirts of the city, to the campus of what was described as a ladies education college. Campus it was, with agricultural blocks and plant testing fields and a perimeter of palm groves. And the crime against humanity to which we were taken? A large crater in the lawn beside a women's dormitory, a hundred smashed windows and some broken power lines. A hundred metres away, I found four black and white cows tethered in the grass and, perhaps 30 feet from the crater, a slit trench with sand-bags; surely, we told ourselves, an ordinary part of any college campus.
Now let's be fair. College staff have every right to take their own protection against America's notoriously inaccurate "smart" bombs. But did they dig the slit trench? Did they park the civilian trucks and buses, scattered around the empty campus, 30 metres from each other and always under the foliage of trees? And if college personnel normally worked the gates, why was the campus guarded by armed and green-uniformed militiamen? The crater was 20ft deep – the classic cruise missile's gouge in the ground – and its blast was enormous. Internal doors were torn from their hinges, desks overturned, beds thrown across rooms. But no one was hurt; indeed, the college had been abandoned long before the attacks.
Now fast-forward to a press conference a couple of hours later by the ubiquitous, bespectacled and uniformed minister of information, Mohamed Saeed al-Sahaf, who announced casualties in Baghdad for the previous 36 hours of air raids as 125 wounded and 24 dead.
His figures for other governorates were, of course, somewhat less: 18 wounded in Qadasiyeh and three dead, in Babylon more than 100 wounded and 18 dead, including nine children in the Hilla district (from which, by chance, Mr Sahaf himself comes). But this provoked an obvious question.