May 3rd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Why Crean's departure won't rescue Labor

EDITORIAL: Slash and burn for Australian textile industry

AGRICULTURE: Murray Darling farmers could lose 30% of water allocations

Will Alston repeat Keating's mistakes on media ownership?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The thieves of Baghdad ... and Melbourne / Veritas / Shadow of Khomeini

COMMENT: Allowing nature to take its course is not euthanasia

HEALTH: How 'safe sex' misinformation puts young lives at risk

LETTERS: Nationals policy wrong (letter)

FAMILY: Men and marriage: rising inequality linked to falling fertility

DOCUMENTATION: Ethanol benefits become important public health issue

BIOETHICS: Do No Harm's major role in stem cell debate

Queensland National Party moves to stop sugar deregulation

BOOKS: Power Politics, edited by John Spoehr

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The thieves of Baghdad ... and Melbourne / Veritas / Shadow of Khomeini

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 3, 2003
The thieves of Baghdad ... and Melbourne

There would be readers who were alive when, in 1923, Melbourne had its police strike. My sister was, and my parents told me all about these remarkable events. But strangely, few of the people I came across, as a child born in the '20s, ever talked about it. That strike simply dropped out of public memory. A bit embarrassing?

Yet Melbourne was without police for four days, there was a lot of looting and damage in the inner city, and for a time the only checks were those police who hadn't struck, stopping trams and trains in the suburbs, pulling people out and dispossessing erring passengers of their stolen goods. And at one city jeweller, the owner sat in the window with a shotgun on his knees. His window wasn't broken - the only one in the street.

Eventually, police from the country and specials restored calm. A contingent of sailors from a warship then in port - or was it from HMAS Cerberus? - put on a march through Melbourne.

No one tried looting the Museum - there was no Phar Lap then - nor the Gallery, nor the Library. Of course, art etc, had not reached the dizzy prices of today, so few art thieves, no art crime rings; no drumming up the peasants to go on a rampage, under cover of which you whiz off the best bits.

In fact, it has taken the Beautiful People of the last decade to trash our Museum, our Gallery and - work-in-progress - our libraries.

So we shouldn't single out the Iraqis as the Vandals of the New Age, and anyone with any knowledge of the end of World War II and many other wars and civil wars - and I excuse our journalists from such a cerebral burden - know that this has been a comparatively soft landing but ... the Americans didn't trash the Baghdad Museum, the Iraqis did. But are you listening? Will you remember? And what will our captive students be hearing a few years hence?


I'll just say that most of our media reportage, and the woebegone vapourings of our "experts" - Expert astrologers? Expert networkers? - has, by general consent, been abysmal. By the end, they had blown their cover, well and truly. For example, officers and men of HMS Ark Royal eventually demanded the termination of BBC broadcasts and their replacement by Sky News. Now agents of influence aren't supposed to blow their cover, did I hear that old KGB chap say? But here, all is not lost. The Australian radical motto, to paraphrase Cromwell, "He who lies, then runs away, lives to lie another day".

But more seriously, it was a bit like sending Dad and Dave to report the Cannes Film Festival.

Loony Tunes

The new Iraq faces major stresses and threats, for it has major enemies. There are neighbours - such as Syria - currently the source of thousands of foreign Fedayeen, who, literally invading their neighbour, have been delaying the end of the war and prolonging the general chaos. Iran, possibly moving to suborn the Shi'ites; and Russia, for so long an inside runner, but now on the outer, fuming.

Then there are West European has-beens, who have learnt nothing from the exposure of their moral acrobatics, and ensuing political defeat in the run-up to the War.

Thus, I noticed the French Foreign Minister closeted with the Syrians at the end of which Syria's Foreign Minister announced that America's suggestion that Damascus may have chemical weapons - including Iraqi ones parked for safe keeping - as Iraq has parked her air force in Iran - a repeat of the previous Gulf War; that Syria is a long-time sponsor of terrorism, a present source of Fedayeen, plus a tempting haven for Saddam's cronies, was all just a smokescreen, to cover the American "defeat" in Iraq.

Defeat? Yes - the looting in Baghdad.

The Minister should take care that the Americans don't suffer their next "defeat" in Damascus.

But outside enemies the new Iraq has, and internal divisions: religious, ethnic and regional, which could be exploited by foreigners. Therefore the initial governing body must be under the firm control of the Coalition with no room for predators and surreptitious deal-makers, whether they seek to infiltrate under the cover of the UN, the EC, or that mighty force for confusion, the Arab League.

When the country is up and working and the Iraqis are in charge, then the spivs can try their luck.

Shadow of Khomeini

In the moves to settle down Iraq, I am feeling increasing concern over the Shi'ites and Iran. The Shia leader groomed by the US, as a force for moderation, was assassinated as soon as he returned. Another prominent Shi'ite leader immediately announced that he would have nothing of the conference designed to start work on a new Iraq.

A large, stage-managed demonstration, complete with portraits of Khomeini and anti-American chants, appeared in one of the religious strongholds of the sect.

I see the hand of Iran, or at least its religious leaders, in this.

Those Shi'ite Iraqis had just been rescued from the persecution of Saddam, who was no friend of the Shia. Now that his demise has been accomplished, Iran, who certainly would not help Saddam, may think that this is the time to make her run.

This clerical-fascist regime, Iran, bent on trouble, could count on support from the West Europeans and Russia - from the sidelines, of course - and, very likely, our shrinking, embittered Left. So America and Iraqis wishing for peace, are not out of the woods yet.

Needless to say, we could not hope to influence such complex events, so might be expected to continue winding down.

If it came to pass that Iraq were to emerge as some kind of democracy and some kind of sovereign state, it would pose a considerable ideological and social challenge to the despotisms, pseudo-theocracies, and plutocracies around it, and cut the ground from beneath the fundamentalists' feet. It seems worth a try. And if the ALP were a genuine social democratic party, it would be lending its support. But, alas, we know that it is not social democratic, nor is it really genuine about anything - except anti-Americanism.

But in passing, if the Palestinian issue isn't settled, and Palestinians are still unjustly dealt with, the new Iraq will soon join other Muslim states in condemning Israel and her ally. It is not in the West's interest that this should happen.

Finally, as beating up hopes for an American disaster in Iraq collapsed, the main Western media game became expressing virtually unconcealed hopes that the new Iraq would be ungovernable and the new Iraqis would end up as anti-American, or nearly as anti-American, as our crestfallen agit-scribblers. In fact, we are getting the same formula as they supplied for the Afghanistan intervention - which was supported by the UN, was adjudged a just war, etc, etc.

But to no avail. For the Americans, and our soldiers, were involved, and did very well. And all without grants, subsidies or scholarships! Just character, including courage and fortitude.

No wonder they got a bad press and hopes for body bags. For such events give a chance for the Common Man to play a public role: unintentionally shaming his detractors.

I suggest our Left change tack and direct their attention to radical popstar Fidel Castro, who has just put dozens of his critics into the slammer for prison terms of up to 15-20 years. Will this disturb the College of Radical Iconography or affect the sale of Che Guevara T-shirts and posters? I fear not.

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