BBC Two: “The Iraq War: After the Fall” Review

Iraq War: After the Fall, Brook Lapping/BBC

The Radio Times summarises this Brook Lapping Production for the BBC (in collaboration with several international media corporations) well enough in this sentence: “Senior decision-makers explain the logic of their choices in the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein, with former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell describing the clashes they had about who should seize control of Iraq and the actions that led to yet more violence.”

As I pointed out with regards episode one, ‘Regime Change,’ there is very little effort in the programme to verify or critically analyse most of the assertions made by these decision-makers. By way of example, Dick Cheney is shown in the programme claiming to have been an advocate for “establishing a democratically elected government as soon as possible.” The producers chose not to critique such a statement, even though Cheney’s commitment to democratic principles was proven totally suspect as one of the fiercest advocates for invading Iraq regardless of legal principle or international consensus.

All the senior US decision-makers enjoy this non-adversarial approach to their claims and actions, including George Bush, and are thus effectively exonerated by the producers from real responsibility for the crimes, errors and mismanagement described to have lead Iraq into disaster. If any US culpability is hinted at in the programme it is with the “men on the ground” such as Paul Bremer, the chief US administrator from May 11, 2003, to June 28, 2004. Bremer is, for example, depicted as acting without orders in deciding to disband Saddam Hussein’s army and, as a result, creating a new deadly enemy for the US forces.

Good faith mismanagment and error are the most serious accusations put at the US door by this programme. The producers made no attempt to investigate and analyse internal documents to establish US and British intentions. There is absolutely no consideration of the contracts secured in Iraq, after the invasion, by major Western corporations, such as Dick Cheney’s Halliburton oil corporation.

Aside from a brief mention of US torture of Iraqi detainees, no consideration is given to the full extent of potential crimes committed by US and British forces. There is a depiction of the first US onslaught on Fallujah after the killing of four US contractors; an attack that is said to have increased the insurgency against the occupation. However, no mention is made of the more brutal second onslaught of November/December 2004, in which US forces used the chemical weapon white phosphorus. 800 civilians are thought to have been killed and the heavy urban bombardment has left a devastating legacy of child cancers and congenital birth defects – a rate of toxic contamination reportedly worse than that caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The fundamental presumption at the heart of this Brook Lapping/BBC series is that the Iraq invasion and occupation was a good faith mistake – with the occupation mistakes largely made by maverick administrators, not the senior politicians and military decision-makers. The credibility of this presumption depends on a critical look at the internal documentary evidence of the governments. The producers of this series choose not to critique but, largely, take the deciders on face value. This is not real journalism.

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