SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan () - March 28, 2003 - 12:00am
Even with Iraqi television taken off the air by Tomahawk missiles, and even if what we get on cable TV is coverage by the Western press (mainly American and British), the war in Iraq is starting to look more like an invasion than liberation.

This is due not so much to what we see but to what we have so far failed to find in the round-the-clock coverage of the war.

So far we have seen no weapons of mass destruction in the coalition forces’ march from southern Iraq to Baghdad. US officials have warned that chemical and biological weapons could be unleashed by a desperate Saddam Hussein once coalition forces enter the Iraqi capital. Governments that have gone along (some very reluctantly) with the coalition forces now nurture a perverse wish that those weapons will indeed be revealed once the Americans and Brits reach Baghdad.

So far we have not seen the whoops of joy that you expect from liberated people. The Iraqis do look happy receiving food and water rations from GIs and British troops. But the "shock and awe" campaign was not launched to liberate Iraqis from hunger and thirst. Much of the current hunger and thirst may even be an offshoot of the war.

And so far we have seen no strong Iraqi opposition group emerging anywhere in the world, helping the coalition and ready to take over a brutalized nation. Is there a new government waiting in the wings? Once this war is over, the last thing the coalition should want is to be seen as an occupying force. Will Saddam simply be replaced by another despot, one friendlier to America, Uncle Sam’s own S.O.B.?
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What we’ve seen so far are dejected Iraqi prisoners of war, and civilians raging against missile attacks, which they say were launched by coalition forces. The other day British troops reported that a civilian uprising appeared to be underway in the city of Basra. But people power it wasn’t, and people power appears unlikely to happen in Iraq.

But why should we expect people power in that land? Filipinos, fired up by memories of freedoms that had been taken away by martial law, had fought Ferdinand Marcos to restore what had been lost.

In contrast, even before Saddam became president in 1979, Iraqis had no experience with the Western-style democracy that Filipinos have come to cherish. Iraqis found their land either occupied by foreigners or ruled by local despots.

We must also not forget that Iraq is an Islamic country in a region where governments are anything but democratic. One prominent Arab expatriate here likes to point out that Westerners believe the Islamic world will follow Christian societies on the path to secularization and democracy. It’s not going to happen, he insists, and the sooner the West learns to live with that, the better for the world.
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Saddam opened his reign by waging war on Iran – an undertaking in which he was helped along by the Soviets, French and Americans. Shortly after the start of that war he launched a brutal purge of his own Ba’ath Party, laying the groundwork for the personality cult that survives to this day. After signing a peace agreement with Iran in August 1990, he promptly ordered the invasion of Kuwait. The next year he was at war with US-led forces of the United Nations. Now that war was clearly about liberation. Today Kuwaitis, in their gratitude for being rid of those vile Iraqi invaders, have allowed their country to be the main launching pad of coalition forces aiming to oust Saddam.

Opponents of Saddam’s regime have been gassed to death, tortured, executed, hounded into exile or scared into silence. Many others have opted for the best way to survive in a repressed society: by supporting the regime. This has gone on for 24 years; a generation has grown up in Iraq believing that America is evil personified. By this time every Iraqi must have a relative or friend working for the state, in passive complicity with the regime. You don’t dismantle that system in two weeks or even two months – President Arroyo’s fearless forecast of the duration of this war – and expect Iraq to embrace the ways of the West like a lost child.

Now Saddam’s Fedayeen militia is said to be executing Iraqi officers who are showing signs of disloyalty amid the war, and forcing parents to send out their sons for suicide attacks against the coalition. The report, from an Iraqi opposition group, is unconfirmed, but such atrocities can be expected of Saddam and his ruthless loyalist forces.

Amid such terror, how do you expect the Iraqi people to rise against Saddam? The world will be a better place without people like Saddam Hussein. But coalition forces will have to do all the work themselves, and they should be prepared for resentment and ingratitude from many of the people they are supposed to be liberating.

And if the Americans and Brits are victorious and Iraq is liberated, the so-called coalition of the willing should be prepared for resentment and the absence of gratitude from much of the world.
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ONLY AT THE NAIA: What was that moro-moro yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport? After getting a public dressing down from the taray queen, NAIA general manager Edgar Manda should have made sure there would be no security snafus in his turf. Instead it was announced yesterday that NAIA security had safely detonated an explosive device found in a postal bag that was about to be loaded on an Osaka-bound Thai International Airways flight.

Now if only those naughty guys at the NAIA could stop snickering that the "discovery" of the bomb deserved not just a presidential pat on the back for Manda but a FAMAS award. Also, some people hoped that the taray queen would not blow her top once again and scream, "So how did a bomb manage to reach the airport tarmac?"

Someone must have considered that; hours after the bomb was supposedly detonated, it was announced that it was just a lighter shaped like a grenade.
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Oops … One line in my previous column should have read: "…as soon as Saddam heard the first cruise missile explode in his backyard."

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