top war reporter, Scott Taylor has long experience covering conflicts
in the Balkans and Iraq. His inside stories from the field have appeared
often on Antiwar.com, as well as in Canadian newspapers and in his own
monthly magazine, Esprit
The award-winning author is best-known for his Inat
(about the Kosovo conflict) and Diary
of an Uncivil War
(on Macedonia's 2001 war). Taylor's latest book, Spinning
on the Axis of Evil: America's War Against Iraq,
is the cumulative result of more than a dozen visits to Iraq.
days before this new release, Scott was back in the thick of things
in Iraq. The following testimony from his 15th trip to the country comes
as a troubling reminder that the situation there remains dangerous and
Deliso: On this latest foray into Iraq, when did you arrive, where
did you go and for how long?
Taylor: I entered Northern Iraq on 22 November, spending seven days
in the country, and managed to cover Zakho, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Tikrit,
Baghdad and Fallujah. I must say that of all my trips into Iraq, this
one was by far the most dangerous. The security situation has been steadily
declining since the US occupation began seven months ago.
To what degree are Iraqis enjoying a normal life? Are schools, public
transport etc. running normally yet?
The US propaganda machine has been trying to make a big deal over the
fact that some Iraqi institutions have been successfully re-opened in
recent weeks. However, the fact remains that the Americans have yet
to provide anything close to a secure environment (even for their own
troops). The basic utilities, such as electricity and phones remain
worse than in pre-war times, and there is now something like eighty
percent unemployment in Iraq, since the new US governing council's decision
to disband the entire Iraqi bureaucracy as well as the army and police
bizarre development is that without the refineries restored to full
production and due to the tremendous fuel consumption of the occupying
coalition forces, Iraq is now almost out of gas. Citizens have to wait
up to four days in line to collect their ration allotment, which they
then sell on the black market at one hundred percent markup to taxis
and bus drivers who cannot afford to wait in queue. This has really
restricted movement within Iraq for the average citizen.
Plausible Exit Strategy' for the Empire
In the past, you have predicted a quagmire for the occupying US troops,
one that would hasten the transfer of power to a UN force so as to lessen
the bodybag syndrome for President Bush before the US presidential elections.
From what you saw, is this happening as quickly as you had anticipated?
At the moment, Bush and his administration 'heavies' (Powell, Rumsfeld
and Wolfowitz) are all making a tremendous effort to 'sell' the international
community on committing more resources to the Iraq quagmire. I think
the slogan could be best summed up as "anybody but Americans"
should be added to the future casualty count.
for Bush and Company, the rest of the world is not so quick to jump
on their bandwagon and with good reason. In Iraq, there is no plausible
exit strategy which does not involve additional violence.
What about the ethnic and religious divides in the country? Have these
been over-hyped, or do you still believe a civil war is possible?
Anyone who can't foresee the potential for a civil war in Iraq is either
willfully blind or a complete moron. Everywhere in the north, there
are still the two private Kurdish peshmerga (militia) armies, as well
as newly formed Turkmen, Arab and Christian militias. In the predominantly
Shiite south, there are a number of armed factions, the most formidable
being the estimated 5000-strong Al Badr Brigade.
for inter-ethnic strife remains a serious concern, and at this point
it would appear to be a matter more of determining "when"
rather than "if" such a struggle will begin.
Ahead, Trouble Behind
The White House has consistently said that worries over the security
situation in Iraq are overblown, because the majority of attacks have
been occurring within a relatively small and contained area of the country.
The fact that the "Sunni Triangle" has been the central point
of the resistance thus far is perhaps misleading Bush and his speechwriters
a little. It is here that the Americans are actually confronting the
resistance, whereas elsewhere they are simply turning a blind eye to
the fact the local Iraqi leaders have no regard for the US appointed
administration in Baghdad. I don't think that Donald Rumsfeld went to
war in Iraq to create either an independent Kurdistan in the north,
or a Shiite fundamentalist state in the south. At some point the US
coalition will have to try to bring the various warlords and clerics
to heel under one central authority, but this will not happen without
A recent report, quoting US military brass, stated that the arena of
resistance is spreading east and west of the so-called 'Sunni Triangle.'
Do you agree?
US Intelligence officials in Kirkuk actually believe that the American
military crackdown in the Sunni Triangle is forcing the resistance to
seek softer targets further afield. However, the anti-American sentiment
which is now prevalent all across Iraq has assisted the resistance fighters
in finding new support bases. It was revealing to see the crowds on
the streets of Mosul cheering and dragging bodies of American soldiers
after they had been ambushed and killed. Mosul was considered to be
relatively "safe" by US officials prior to last month's attack.
The same report called Basra a "relatively pro-American city." Is this
The people I interviewed before the war in Basra all expressed that
they had no love for Saddam. However, they also had said that if the
Americans came, they could topple Saddam, but then they must leave.
As a predominantly fundamentalist Shiite region, they wish to establish
their own separate state. And they know that this objective runs counter
to the American ideal for a new Iraq.
Given Over to the Resistance
What would you say is now the most dangerous place in Iraq?
Without a doubt, the "hottest" spot in Iraq is the town of
about one hundred kilometres from Baghdad.
no one warned us that the US forces have withdrawn from Fallujah. When
journalists asked to be embedded with the 82nd Airborne there, the official
response was that it was unsafe at the moment. The fact is that the
resistance now completely controls Fallujah. The Americans have literally
put a lock on the front gate of their Forward Operating Base Volturno,
and bugged out. So we were driving around this city, noting the unfriendly
faces as our driver-translator read out all the Arabic graffiti calling
on the residents of Fallujah to "kill Americans" and "restore
Saddam to power." Realizing that they probably wouldn't be able
to discern between Americans and Canadians until it was too late, we
got out quickly ourselves.
So the resistance controls the city? Can you explain exactly who comprises
the resistance? After all, the same government that downplays the attacks
maintains that "Saddam loyalists" are behind them, or perhaps al Qaeda.
What's the story?
There are all sorts of different factions operating in Iraq right now.
You have some sophisticated al Qaeda-type car bombings and assassinations
being carried out, and then you have the low-level people's resistance
such as the group in Fallujah.
scary as Fallujah was, my most dangerous experience was ironically enough
a near-death experience with some terrified Yanks.
Fire Almost Takes Out Taylor
We were heading south on the highway from Tikrit to Baghdad when we
got stuck behind a slow-moving US convoy. Normally the Iraqis travel
about 170 km per hour, but the US troops were doing just 40 km, and
their armored Humvee escort made sure no one could pass on either side.
With nothing else to do, and with my blood pressure boiling over, I
had my driver pull up about 20 meters behind the American Hummer. I
then put my camera out the window, so that the gunner would not mistake
it for an RPG. I snapped a couple of photos, and the gunner dropped
down inside his cupola to pass along the news to his driver.
as it turned out, I assumed that all was well. Ten minutes later the
Hummer braked to a sudden halt and two soldiers came running at our
car screaming, "…where is the camera? Where is the f**king camera?"
The one US soldier jammed the barrel of his pistol against my terrified
driver's head, while an M16 was pointed into my face. All traffic had
stopped, and other US soldiers had moved into position behind our car.
The other Iraqis must have thought that the Yanks had found Saddam!
asked, "…why were you taking our photo?" and replied that I was
a journalist. "Where is your ID?" screamed an obviously terrified sergeant.
When I reached for my briefcase to get it, all I could hear was the
clicking of rifles as they flipped the safety switches, and the gunner
in the Hummer cocked his grenade launcher, which remained aimed at our
windshield. "What the f**k are you doing?" screamed the sergeant again.
I then asked how was I to get my credentials out without moving
and was told to keep my right hand in the air while I searched blindly
with my left… no easy feat.
time, my petrified driver still had the loaded pistol pressed against
his head. Only once my ID was finally found and the US sergeant satisfied
did the Americans let down their guard. My driver slumped over the steering
wheel crying tears of joy and praising Allah.
on Another Downturn in Morale
In the past you have especially noted the poor morale of US soldiers
on the ground. Is morale getting better or worse, in your opinion? And
did Bush's much-hyped Thanksgiving visit raise spirits as much as the
media said it did?
Every American soldier would have known instantly that the Bush visit
was a pile of stage-managed crap. At even the best protected US headquarters,
the troops are required to take their weapons and webbing everywhere.
You won't see them head to the toilet without a rifle. But at Bush's
turkey slicing, there wasn't a weapon in sight. Obviously it would have
sent a different message to the US public to see their soldiers hunkered
down in fear as they are in reality. If Bush indeed was even really
at the Baghdad airport, his plane must have departed a long time before
they released the "live" footage of Bush's speech. (My Iraqi
driver lives very near the airport).
average Iraqi citizen, the content of Bush's speech was very symbolic.
"This means the US is now claiming to be still winning the war that
it claimed to have won back in May" was how Lela Al Saadi (my driver's
wife) summed it up.
Did any soldiers comment specifically on Bush's visit?
One comment that I got from a US soldier about Bush was in regards to
the 21 November peace rally in London, England. "If I could have been
there I would have helped pull down that (mock) statue myself," said
Sergeant Nystrom, a 24 year-old serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade
in Kirkuk. It is interesting to note that every one of the dozens of
US personnel I spoke with claimed they were going to get out of the
Army as soon as possible. One female Military Policewoman even asked
if Canada would accept AWOL US troops as "refugees" from the
the Homegrown Police Hope to Survive until their Next $54
Now that Spanish, Italian, Japanese and other coalition countries are
being targeted, are these troops starting to have misgivings about having
joined up for America's war?
I think that the targeting of the Spanish Intelligence operatives is
probably the best example of the international coalition's collective
resolve in this affair. At the outset, it was the Spanish, along with
the US and UK that took the strongest stance for an armed intervention
in Iraq. Although the Spanish did not contribute any combat troops for
the actual fighting, they do now have a significant number of soldiers
in the occupation force. However, even as their ten intelligence operatives
were being mourned at a state funeral, the Spanish parliament was re-opening
the debate on maintaining a continued presence in Iraq. In virtually
all of the so-called "coalition" countries, there is tremendous
public resentment towards the war, and each fresh casualty only intensifies
the domestic political pressure.
Did you get a chance to talk to any of the newly-trained Iraqi police
or army staff? Do they have any confidence at all in the future of Paul
Bremer's new Iraq?
Those few Iraqi police that we managed to talk to were basically scared
shitless, and any attempt to initiate a discussion on broad scale politics
was pointless. They did not see themselves serving any greater purpose
at the moment than surviving long enough to collect their next $54 monthly
The last month or so has seen increasingly high numbers of Iraqi civilian
and police deaths as a result of terrorist attacks. Is this making the
average Iraqi less sympathetic to the resistance fighters' cause?
Actually, given the level of discontent among the average Iraqi, the
resistance is taking on almost mythical qualities. They have certainly
captured the imagination of most Iraqis, whereas those who have joined
the US sponsored police are viewed as traitors.
Your new book, Spinning
on the Axis of Evil: America's War Against Iraq, has just come
out. Briefly, what is your main thesis, and what do you feel the average
reader would find most interesting?
I think the most informative thing about the book is that it provides
a lot of background information and a continuous timeline. Most of the
western media became interested in the Iraqi situation only when it
became evident that war was unavoidable. Few of the major media outlets
bothered to uncover the ravages of 12 years of economic sanctions and
the deadly effects of long range exposure to depleted uranium. If more
Americans were aware of the scale of genocide which US foreign policy
had inflicted upon the people of Iraq, it would not have come as such
a surprise that their soldiers have not been greeted as liberators.
the book is certainly not a promotion of Saddam Hussein's regime. Hell,
his Mukhabarat (secret service) accused me of being a Mossad spy,
and kicked me out of Baghdad on the eve of the war. However, it is important
to know that the US also had a lot of blood on their hands in this whole
affair. While Bush, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld all predicted a virtually
bloodless intervention and a hasty withdrawal of coalition forces, the
Iraqi people themselves were not so naive. They had accurately predicted,
and feared, the post-war violence and anti-US resistance.
As a selling
point, I should point out that this book is also written in the first
person. There are a lot of little adventure stories to keep a reader's
interest: Trekking about Saddam's Iraq with an alcoholic driver and
no official permission, running afoul of trigger-happy American soldiers,
being detailed by nervous Iraqi conscripts with guns cocked and loaded,
and an attempt to cross a border minefield at night. It's all in there.