Examination of Witnesses (Questions 293
TUESDAY 8 JUNE 2004
Chairman: Mr Hughes, on behalf of the
Committee can I welcome you? For those who do not know you, you
work for BBC News. You were in Baghdad in April and May. At that
time there was an alarming deterioration in the security situation.
We will come to any recent change, but I would like Sir John to
begin the batting on that.
Q293 Sir John Stanley: The Chairman
has more or less anticipated my first question, which is that
there has indeed been a serious deterioration in the security
position. I do not think anybody doubts that. It is one that has
been going on possibly continuously over the last six months,
but certainly over the last three months. To what do you attribute
Mr Hughes: It might help the Committee
if it looked at those as three different conflicts that are all
going on at the same time. First, in the Najaf and Karbala area
you have all the problems associated with Muqtada el-Sadr. The
mantra we heard from the Coalition while I was there was that
they wanted an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem in Najaf, Karbala,
and that sort of area. I think perhaps that is what they got with
this deal negotiated between Muqtada el-Sadr and the House of
Shia. Whether the deal holds up remains to be seen, because one
of the problems associated with Muqtada el-Sadr is that he is
said to be very unpredictable. His demands change on a daily basis,
and not many people find him a comfortable bedfellow with whom
to do businessif you will forgive me for mixing my metaphors.
If that deal does hold up, however, that obviously solves one
problem. Also, the recent announcement about the disbanding of
militias, apart from Muqtada's militias, would also help that
sort of problem. The second problem the Coalition encountered,
in particular while I was there, was the Fallujah situation. At
the time we were told by the Coalition that the whole thing was
being driven by foreign fighters. It was very difficult for us
to go to Fallujah at the time and verify that, because of the
security situation but also simply because we were extremely busy,
reporting the numerous events that were going on all over the
country at the time. I have to say that what we were hearing from
Iraqis was that this was not being driven by foreign fighters
at all. It was the people of Fallujah, defending their own city
from what they saw as an invading forcea force of occupation,
the Coalition forcesand they were trying to drive the Americans
out of their town. It is a situation that seems to have arisen
because the Americans could not put a foot right in Fallujah from
the very early days. I think it was three weeks after the war
was over that there was a shooting of a lot of protesters in Fallujah.
That really set the tone in Fallujah and things went downhill
from there on. Once the Americans pulled out of Fallujah, however,
the situation in that town seems to have improved dramatically.
Then, finally, there is also clearly some sort of resistance or
insurgency. During the reporting that we did we struggled to find
the right word, because these words are important. The car bombings,
the drive-by shootings, and the mortar attacks on the Green Zone,
which is this zone in the middle of Baghdad where the Coalition
has set up its headquarters in a former Saddam palacethey
are all evidence that there clearly is some sort of resistance
movement going on. It seems to be an underground movement and
to consist of a number of different elements. It might be former
Saddam Fedayeen, what are described as al-Qaeda elements, or perhaps
some ex-Iraqi army; but I think that the truth is that no one
really knows who is driving it, who is behind it. It is obviously
very difficult for the Coalition to work out what on earth is
going on there. To complicate the situation further, there is
also a crossover between these three elements. There was evidence
that there were Saddam Fedayeen elements in Fallujah, some Mahdi
army, and also some of the Muqtada militia in Fallujahand
all these things mix up and make quite a potent brew. Each of
those situations presents a difficult challenge for the Coalition.
Certainly sometimes the withdrawal of US forces helps, as in the
Fallujah casebecause you felt in Fallujah that the Americans
were in fact part of the problem rather than part of a solution.
Also it is interesting to note the difference in tactics employed
by the British forces and the Americans, and the different results
those have had. In Basra, for example, the British reputation
is that they are out on the streets; they are not in their armoured
vehicles. They are patrolling on foot; they are interacting with
the local population and making contacts; whereas the Americans
are very much in their Humvees. We saw them driving round in Baghdad.
It is minimum interface, maximum force; whereas the British seem
to be operating minimum force and maximum interface with the local
population. Anecdotally, a producer with whom I was working in
Baghdad who had been in Basra a few months ago told me that if
kids throw stones at the British forces in Basra, they grab him,
take him to his mum and dad, and say, "Your son was chucking
stones at us. What have you got to say about it?"; and they
tell the kid off and might give him a slap. In Baghdad, it is
much more likely that the American forces would actually open
fire, rather than try to sort the problem out. The producer said
that, the next time they come across these kids who have been
throwing stones, they are then playing football with them. All
this is anecdotal and I do not have any real evidence to back
it up, but it is an indication of the different tactics. I think
that is a factor as well.
Q294 Sir John Stanley: At the time
you were there, there has been quite a lot of reporting, including
from serving members of our armed forcesand so one takes
that seriouslythat those engaged in attacks on members
of the Coalition forces are gradually but steadily upping the
sophistication in the way in which they are operating, and therefore
tending to tilt the balance their way. Did that come home to you
Mr Hughes: While I was there,
the main method of attacking Coalition forces seemed to be roadside
bombs. That accounted for a large number of, in particular, the
American soldiers who died while I was there. April had the worst
death toll amongst American soldiers since the whole operation
began over a year ago. Roadside bombswhat they call IEDs,
and I cannot remember what IED stands for . . .
Q295 Sir John Stanley: Improvised
Mr Hughes: Yes, improvised explosive
device. I think that the IEDs are not that difficult to make.
There were indications that a lot of heavy weaponry was being
used, but I think that there is a lot of weaponry still out there
in Iraq, either left over from the army or people are finding
arms cachés, and it was proving quite hard to guard some
of these huge arms dumps apparently. So, yes, I think there was
an element of that. Another anecdoteI do not know whether
this is usefulis that they were learning tricks like, for
example, leaving a mortar in position with a block of ice in the
tube and a mortar round in the top. In the heat, the ice would
melt and the round drop down so that, when it fires off, no one
is in the area.
Q296 Chairman: Turning to the political
situation, we may already have had the UN Security Council resolution,
but can you help the Committee by saying what the general attitude
to the UN is of the population to whom you spoke?
Mr Hughes: I think that it is
worth pointing out that the UN is not universally loved. We only
have to look at the bombing of the UN headquarters in August of
last year as evidence of that.
Q297 Chairman: May that not have
been by some small elements related to outside forces? I am talking
about the Iraqi population.
Mr Hughes: I take your point absolutely,
but I think also that many Iraqissome Iraqis, and it is
very hard to put a figure on it as to whether it is some or manycertainly
some Iraqis remember the UN as the people who put in place the
embargo and a whole raft of sanctions against them. The cost in
terms of children's lives was very definitely driven home to the
Iraqis, and we all know the arguments around the embargo and what
happened with the food-for-oil programme and the medicines. It
is a very complex question, but for the Iraqis I think that it
is very simple: a lot of their children died; people were not
getting medicines; their country, which had been very prosperous,
was driven to an altogether parlous state. Also, some Iraqis do
feel that the UN are stooges of the United States. There is a
perception and, whether that is right or wrong, I think that is
what people feel.
Q298 Chairman: The new UN Security
Council resolution, assuming that it is passed today, will give
international legitimacy to the political process.
Mr Hughes: Yes.
Q299 Chairman: In your judgment,
will it have that same legitimacy internally?
Mr Hughes: It is all about credibility.
What happens internationally is, to some degree, irrelevant to
the people of Iraq. The most animated conversation I had with
an Iraqi was when he was telling me about the power failures.
He could not understand why the Americans, with their much-vaunted
know-how, were unable to get the power on in Baghdad. This was
the most animated and the angriest I saw in terms of any Iraqi
talking to me about any issue. He said, "At least under Saddam
it was on for three hours and off for two hours, and we knew what
it was doing. But now it is on for two hours, for six, for three,
or for four hours, and we don't know whether we are coming or
going"when the forecast in Baghdad today is 42ºC.
You can imagine how cross people get when that sort of thing happens
and the air-conditioning, refrigerator and freezer go off. Those
are the sorts of issues that really get to Iraqis. What happens
with the governmentinternational recognition for the governmentis,
to a large degree, irrelevant. What is important though is that
they now at least have an administration that they can feel some
sort of ownership of; whereas they just did not have that at all
with the CPA, and they certainly did not have it with the Iraqi
Governing Councilwhich I think no one really identified
with, because there were all sorts of credibility problems with
the members of the Council and with the way the Council was set
up and appointed by the Americans. So I think that it helps. I
have gone rather a long way round to getting to the point that
I was going to make, which is that it all helps to make Iraqis
feel they have some sort of ownership of the government. What
will be crucial to that, however, will be the elections at the
end of January.