Bush Sneaks in and Out of Baghdad
W. must have envisaged his triumphal first trip to Baghdad very differently. Last spring, before the war, he was told by Ahmad Chalabi via Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, that the Iraqi people would welcome him this November with garlands and dancing in the street. They would regard him as the great liberator, a second Roosevelt or Truman. The US military, having easily defeated the Baath army and wiped up its remnants, would have departed. Only a US division, about 20,000 men, would remain, at a former Baath army base and out of sight of most Iraqis. Engineers and decontamination units, Feith told him, would be busy destroying chemical and biological stockpiles, and dismantling the advanced nuclear weapons program, carefully securing the stockpiles of Niger yellowcake uranium. Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would be ensconced, running the country and dictating policy to the Baath military (minus its senior officers) and the Baath ministries (minus their ministers and deputy ministers). The educated, secular Iraqi Shiites would be busy stamping out priest-ridden superstition and covertly helping to undermine both the Iranian hardline ayatollahs and the radical Hizbullah militia in South Lebanon. The captured Baath generals would have given up Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, identifying the caves they were hiding in with Iraqi help, in Waziristan. Chalabi would already have recognized Israel and bullied the Palestinians into acquiescing in the loss of the rest of their land, so that Arafat’s followers had been reduced to shuffling with their eyes fixed on the ground before their White betters. Air Force One would land in full daylight at Baghdad International Airport. W. would emerge from the plane, waving and smiling, his cowboy boots glinting in the desert sun. He would pass in review of the Iraqi military with its new generals, which might do some goose stepping for him just for show, the now reformed lads smiling warmly under their freshly waxed moustaches. A grateful and obedient country, pacified and acquiescent in Chalabi’s presidency for life (“a clear move toward democracy after the brutal dicatatorship of Saddam”), would shout out “Bi’r-ruh, bi’l-dunya, nufdika ya Dubya” (With our spirits and our world, we sacrifice ourselves for you, O W.!).*
Instead, the President had to sneak in and out of Iraq for a quick and dirty photo op, clearly in fear of his life if the news of his visit had leaked. He did not even get time to eat a meal with the troops. He was there for two hours. He did not dare meet with ordinary Iraqis, with the people he had conquered (liberated).
Offstage, the real Iraq carried on. Guerrillas attacked a military convoy on the main highway to the west of Baghdad, near Abu Ghraib. The wire services said, that an AP cameraman filmed “two abandoned military trucks with their cabs burning fiercely as dozens of townspeople looted tires and other vehicle parts.” Guerrillas in Mosul shot an Iraqi police sergeant to death.