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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Viewpoint: 'The West does not understand Iraqis'
Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist living in London, tells BBC News Online that politicians, pundits and journalists in Britain are dehumanising Iraqis and have a simplistic view of the conflict. She also predicts long, drawn-out resistance to the US and British presence in her country, even after Saddam Hussein falls.

More than anything else, the media in this country is taking its lead from the British Government's view of the war - not all the time, but 90% of the time

Watching and listening to the news, Iraqi civilian casualties are represented by a figure, by statistics only. We are told that 500 or 600 or whatever civilians have been killed, while the deaths of the British or American soldiers are very different.

Baghdad under intense coalition bombardment
Baghdad under fire: "A more than 1,000-year-old city as cosmopolitan as London"
We are given all kinds of little, human information: the dead soldier's age, the city he came from, how the death has affected his family and colleagues.

Then we get the precise circumstances of the death: how fierce the fighting was, the weather... we get the temperature and weather conditions.

Immediately what happens is that you as a viewer or listener identify with a human being who has just been killed, by Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Iraqis are represented as faceless and nameless dead civilians or by Republican Guard soldiers or militia fighters. This is almost universal in the UK media, except for a very few journalists.

'Hearts and minds'

I personally believe the war itself is the wrong approach. There were and are alternatives to it that were not looked into.

Now that it is happening and looking to the future, I am very worried about relations between the Iraqi people and the British people - the hearts and minds of the Iraqis are not being won.

Funerals at Mohammed Sakran cemetery outside Baghdad
Human cost: "Iraqi deaths are represented by a figure, statistics only"

The Americans are hated across the Middle East, and it seems there can be no redemption whatever they do.

But for the British Government and people it is totally different. There have always been bridges, cultural and economic, between medical associations and schools.

This love-hate relationship goes back to colonial times, so there is the basis for a better relationship.

But this war, the bombardment of Baghdad and the siege of Basra, this is no way to win hearts and minds - not by killing Iraqis.

'Little understanding'

I think the coverage of the war is highly inadequate and shows how little journalists and pundits understand Iraq and the Iraqis.

Look at Baghdad, for example. It is seen as the stronghold of the regime and a Sunni Iraqi power base. But this is a more than 1,000-year-old city that is as cosmopolitan as London.

By bombing Baghdad, you are bombing all kinds of Iraqi people. If you bombed the millions of people in London, from all their different religions and backgrounds, you would be hitting all kinds of people. They cannot be separated in Iraq as much as they could in London.

Hearts and minds: "This is no way to win over the Iraqi people"
Baghdad is a melting pot. A third of the capital's population are Kurds, the rest represent every single religious sect and national group that is in Iraq.

To isolate a city, and say that the majority of people in it are Sunni or Shia and will behave in this way or that way is a terrible misunderstanding and shows ignorance.

Let me tell you a story. My husband and I grew up in Baghdad. His best friend through childhood and university was Suleiman. One night they were out celebrating their graduation from university and my husband asked: "Suleiman, what are you? Are you Sunni or Shia?"

Suleiman was surprised at the question: "I am a Christian."

This shows you how little we are concerned about the divisions that are supposed to define us so clearly.

'Long resistance'

I fear that this war is going to take a long time. It is not even a matter of months.

Saddam Hussein is now irrelevant in this huge catastrophe. He will be out of power and anyway his regime was on the verge of collapse before the war.

This war has painted him as a symbolic leader figure for Arabs in general. Iraqis know the nature of the regime, and will be glad to see him go. Only very small groups of people are ready to sacrifice themselves for him.

In general, the Iraqi people are going to fight the Americans and British. We are told that Fedayeen Saddam or the regime's militias are the only people fighting, or that Iraqis are fighting because the regime somehow has a gun to their head.

I don't believe this. The resistance we are seeing will continue after Saddam Hussein is gone, to try to get rid of the occupation forces, the sanctions, and to ruin the long-term plans the Americans have for Iraq.

Anyone can pick up the history books and see the parallel. During the British occupation, Iraqis gave the occupiers no peace whatsoever, and the British were the first to use poison gas against the Iraqis.

I'm afraid the Americans are going to get the same thing.


Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist, painter and journalist, was born in Baghdad in 1950. She has edited a book entitled Halabja, a collection by Arab writers and artists about the chemical attacks by Saddam Hussein's regime on the Kurds. Several of her novels and books of short stories have been translated into English.



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