16 October 2004

What if Britain were Iraq?

By Rupert Read

What would Britain look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? Well, the population of Britain is two and a half times that of Iraq. Violence killed about 1000 Iraqis over the last month, the equivalent of 2,500 Britons. What if 2,500 Britons had died in aerial bombardments, machine-gun spray, and rocket attacks, over the last month? That's nearly as many as died in the 30 years of Northern Ireland's 'Troubles'.

What if 'the Westminster village' were constantly taking mortar fire? And what if almost everyone in Westminster or Whitehall considered it suicidally dangerous to go over to the South Bank or to Camden?

What if reporters for all the major non-English-speaking media were in effect trapped inside 5-star hotels in London and Birmingham, wholly dependent on native 'stringers' to know what was happening in the West Country or in Norfolk? What if the only time they ventured into the Home Counties was if they could be 'embedded' in army patrols?

There are about 30,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 75,000 men, armed with machine guns and mortar launchers, hiding out in urban areas all over Britain? What if they completely controlled Hartlepool, Winchester, Leicester, Manchester, Sheffield, and Peterborough, such that troops and local police could not enter those cities?

What if, during the past year, the Attorney General, the Foreign Secretary, and the Queen herself had all been assassinated?

What if all the cities of Britain were wracked by a crime wave, with hundreds or thousands of murders and kidnappings in each major city every year?

What if the US Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Camden, Soho, Moss Side, and Mile Cross, purporting to target 'safe houses' of 'criminal gangs', but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies? What if from time to time the US Army besieged Camden and Mile Cross and the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, killing hundreds of armed members of the 'Christian Soldiers'? What if entire platoons of the Christian militia were holed up in Highgate Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, this bombing destroying hundreds of famous graves? What if the Archbishop of Canterbury had to call for a popular march of tens of thousands of Christian believers to converge at Canterbury Cathedral to stop the US from damaging it further, through its bombing raids?

What if there were virtually no non-military air or rail travel within Britain? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially the M1 from the North Circular to Watford Gap, and the M6 from Birmingham to Manchester? If you used those motorways, you were gambling with your life, at risk of carjacking, or 'collateral damage' from American troops' guns.

What if no-one outside Westminster had electricity for more than 12 hours a day? What if electricity went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt, and air conditioning to fail in the middle of intense summer heatwaves? What if the North Sea oil rigs were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%, and in inner city areas was nearer to 80%?

What if veterans of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and ex-police officers who had been sacked for their 'shoot to kill' policy against Irish Catholics were brought in by the Americans to run the government and the army, on the theory that we need tough men in charge at times of crisis?

What if only 2% of the electorate supported the (American-appointed) Prime Minister? What if the British people consistently said in opinion polls that they wanted elections now, that they were more scared of the Americans than of the guerrillas, and that they simply wanted the occupying 'coalition' forces to leave now - and yet the 'coalition' leaders kept insisting that the people welcomed them, and that anyway they were only staying at the invitation of the new 'sovereign' British government

What if the PM was promising elections, next year, but was saying openly that maybe voting would 'regrettably' just not be able to take place in most of the 'middle England triangle', stretching from Camden to Oxford to Peterborough, because it was just too dangerous there?

What if the American and Italian leaders maintained that nevertheless freedom, democracy and peace, US-style, are just around the corner?

With thanks for inspiration to Juan Cole, Michigan University, USA. Join him, me and tens of thousands more, at the mass demonstration against the occupation of Iraq at the close of the European Social Forum, tomorrow, in Trafalgar Square.