First published in the New Statesman, Monday 22nd March 2004

Across much of “liberated Iraq”, you can search in vain for irony. Despite

what conspiracy theorists may say about America’s designs over oil, most US

officials really do want to make a success of a free Iraq. They believe in

it with that kind of deep stare that makes you want to start fidgeting.

On completion of their time in Iraq, senior officials are presented with a

signed certificate from L Paul Bremer III, thanking them for bringing

democracy and freedom to the country. The Brits sometimes giggle at the back

of the room, murmuring “inshallah” (“God willing”). The near-Messianic

commitment extends to the US military. The other day, an Iraqi journalist

asked a military spokesman what should be said to children scared by

low-flying US helicopters. “Tell them it’s the sound of freedom,” he

replied, without batting an eyelid.

More committed still are spokesmen for the Coalition Provisional Authority,

which officially runs Iraq until 30 June. Many are determined to install

democracy, not just in Iraq but across the whole Middle East. Why not topple

the Saudi government while they are at it?

But most are also volunteers directly from the Republican Party – political

appointees on leave from positions inside the Washington administration.

Part of their job is to help George Bush win a second term. They have

instructions to make at least the public face of the CPA into an

“all-American show”. One official said: “We are in election mode now, and

that means the US elections. The orders came from the White House to make

sure no Brit was on the platform for any crucial soundbite.”

Until a couple of months ago, the CPA’s deputy spokesman, a young British

mandarin named Charles Heatley, was often on the podium facing the cameras.

But he is gone and has not been replaced. There is now only one on-camera

spokesman, a Republican named Dan Senor, a former communications director

for Spencer Abraham, an ex-senator who is now US energy secretary. Although

almost half of Iraq is now occupied by non-US troops, Senor responds to

questions about the “coalition” by referring simply to “we Americans”.

The British officials – mostly neutral-minded civil servants, frequently

Arabists by training and instinct, some of them participants in last year’s

Stop the War marches – are more than a little shame-faced to be appendages

to an American military machine.

Until now, to ring them on their mobile phones, you’ve had to dial 914, a US

area code, as though it were a call to Westchester County, New York. You

could reach their landlines only by dialling a 703 area code, the same as

for the Pentagon in Washington and the Central Intelligence Agency in

McLean, Virginia. And their e-mails still end “centcom.mil”.

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