Nightline: English lessons


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Nightline: English lessons

[broadcast: June 8 2004]

[1]23:35:02 NARRATOR (MALE)

Our armies do not come into your cities and land as conquerors but as liberators.

[1]23:35:09 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

Iraq, long a country in chaos.

[1]23:35:12 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

I don't know the details. But I do know this, the tribes down there are some of the most lawless in Iraq.

[1]23:35:21 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

Iraq, a country untamed and difficult to control.

[1]23:35:25 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

Once the tribes get on the warpath, it takes all the King's horses and all the King's men to bring them to order.


What year am I talking about?

[1]23:35:35 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

That was 80 years ago.

[1]23:35:38 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

Whatever our future policy is to be, we cannot now leave the country in the state of chaos which we have created.

[History Lessons]

[1]23:35:46 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

Tonight, "History Lessons," when another occupation of Iraq should have taught us.

[graphics: ABC NEWS: Nightline]

[1]23:35:54 ANNOUNCER

From ABC News, this is "Nightline.” Reporting from Washington, Chris Bury.

[1]23:36:10 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) They billed themselves as liberators, not conquerors. Tried to share power under an international mandate. And expected gratitude. Instead, they got ambushes, kidnappings, and attacks from Iraqi militias, rebels and bandits. They are the British. And their bloody adventure in Iraq, 80-some years ago, is instructive as the United States searches for a way out. Late today, the American exit plan did get a boost. The UN Security Council voted unanimously for that resolution, outlining the powers of if new Iraqi government. The Iraqis will control their own security forces. They will have no real authority over American troops. But only three weeks before the handover of power, security in so much of Iraq is still a nightmare. Today, car bombs exploded in Mosul and Baqubah, killing at least 15, including an American soldier. Ten US troops were among the 50 or so injured. And in this new videotape, Iraqi gunmen paraded some of their seven Turkish hostages. Elsewhere, Coalition forces freed four other kidnap victims, three Italians and a Pole. As we mentioned, this messy state of affairs has a compelling historical precedent. And Iraq's experience with the British plays a bigger part in its view of the American presence than you might imagine. Correspondent Robert Krulwich explores how those echoes of history resonate to this day.


(VO) We remember and relive 1776, when American patriots fired at Red Coats, battled the British, and created a nation. Well, Iraq had its patriots, too. In 1920, the British controlled Iraq. And Iraqis also fired at Red Coats and began their fight for independence.


The 1920 revolt is the great myth of Iraqi history. It's what every Iraqi school kid is taught. This is when your country was born. This is when your great-grandfather rose up and tried to kick the British out in the first moment of Iraqi nationalism.


(OC) And just as we remember Valley Forge and 1776, they remember Baghdad and 1920.


(VO) At a demonstration this year, here's a crowd chanting, "we will start the revolution of 1920, again.” The 1920s mattered to Iraqis. The Shi'a remember it one way, the Sunnis another way. But how they remember their great revolt may have a lot to do with the fate of this war in 2004. And so, a history. During World War I, the British invaded Iraq, then known by its Biblical name, Mesopotamia, moving pretty much up the route the Americans took 86 years later. At the time, this area was ruled by the Ottomans, the Turks. But the British, fighting on, among other things, bicycles. This is a bicycle brigade, were able to route the Turks and declare Iraq a free country. Said the conquering British General, Stanley Maude, in his first proclamation from Baghdad ...

[1]23:39:28 NARRATOR (MALE)

Our armies do not come in your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. I am commanded to invite you to participate in the management of your own civil affairs.


(VO) The mission, said the General, was to prepare Iraq for statehood and democracy. But once the British took over, there were problems. The locals weren't all that cooperative. The British weren't all that sensitive.


(OC) Whatever the reason, after two years, there had been no new constitution, no new election. And then, when the British proposed a tax, the Iraqis said no. Instead, they fought the British.


The issue was how you liberated us in 1918 and you're still here. The issue was, you promised democracy and we see no evidence of that. The issue was, you know, if you're doing this for our benefit, why are you taking so much money in tax.


(VO) In London, the government was caught by surprise. They'd imagined the Iraqis would be grateful. They didn't have enough troops on the ground. And worse, the revolt quickly began to spread.


Roads are being attacked. There is sabotage. There are kidnappings, murders.

[1]23:40:34 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

It's a bad business. A very bad business.


(VO) Gertrude Bell, a British archaeologist and sometime intelligence officer, was living at the time in Baghdad. She wrote her father ...

[1]23:40:44 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

I don't know the details. But I do know this, the tribes down there are some of the most lawless in Iraq. Once the tribes get on the warpath, it takes all the King's horses and all the King's men to bring them to order. In fact, I don't know what's going to happen.


(VO) At first, the British added the troops and prepared to meet force with force. But fighting armies are expensive.


Incredibly expensive. Imagine how the British population felt. It was the end of the first World War. And the British economy was at on the verge of bankruptcy at the end of the first World War. And then what happens? There's a revolt in a very far-flung country that no one had ever heard of.


(VO) And when it doesn't go so well, and casualties start to mount, bills get bigger, public opinion changes.

[1]23:41:32 NARRATOR (MALE)

Does anyone suppose that the taxpayers of this country will consent to spend 30 million pounds annually on 2.5 million Arabs who do not want us and to whom we have promised independence. The question answers itself.


Said the "London Daily Mail."

[1]23:41:49 NARRATOR (FEMALE)

My view of the matter is, in a nutshell, this, whatever our future policy is to be, we cannot now leave the country in the state of chaos which we have created.


(VO) Gertrude Bell writing to her father. They can't go, they can't stay. It's getting bloody, it's getting expensive. What do they do? Well, in 1921, Prime Minister Lloyd George appointed Winston Churchill, then 47 years old, to come up with a Mesopotamian strategy. And he did. First, he found an Arab, Prince Faisal, who wasn't even from Iraq.


No, he wasn't, indeed. He was from over the border, quite a long way over the border, in what is today modern Saudi Arabia.


(VO) But he was an Arab prince. So, the British, in effect said ...


You are the King. Here is your government. We are out of here. And they withdrew.


So, there was a quick attempt to bolt on an Arab face, to the British occupation.


(VO) And amazingly, it worked. Once they had an Arab King, the Shi'as in the south and the Sunnis in the middle quieted down. And in the markets, in Baghdad, everywhere, life returned to something like normal. But just in case, Winston Churchill did have a plan B. While he publicly declared victory in Mesopotamia and conspicuously brought many British troops back home to England, quietly he left a small corps of airplanes in Iraq, an advanced weapon that no Arab force could match. And with air power and a compliant King, Winston Churchill was able to negotiate a cozy arrangement. Iraq became a independent nation, but the British kept bases and access to oil in Iraq, for the next 40 years.


Not a bad deal.


(VO) Not bad at all. And if the new managers of Iraq want pretty much what Churchill wanted, a friendly government, access to oil, and military bases, they will have to deal with a new difficulty. The Iraqis remember 1920, very differently.

[1]23:43:55 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) Figuring out an exit strategy. The British did. When we come back.

[graphics: Nightline]

[1]23:44:02 ANNOUNCER

This is ABC News "Nightline.” Brought to you by ...

[commercial break]

[1]23:47:02 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) Winston Churchill came up with a creative way to get British troops out of Iraq. But as Robert Krulwich explains in part two of his report, his plan did not address a fundamental problem, the sharing of power.


(VO) Like the British in 1921, the Americans clearly need an exit strategy. And the key to that strategy would be the creation of a new Iraqi government, friendly to American interests. But on the other side, Shi'a Arabs will be especially wary of foreigners. Because the lesson they learned from the revolution of 1921, what they remember, is that their Shi'a grandparents got tricked by foreigners. And they won't let that happen again. Perfect example, Muqtada al Sadr. He's the Shi'a cleric whose militias have been battling with US troops. 85 years ago, this man's great-grandfather helped lead the revolt against the British. In fact, the elder al Sadr, this is him, and the tribal leaders who started the whole thing, were overwhelmingly Shi'a. And yet, when the British handed power over to Prince Faisal, the Shi'a were cut out. And they remember.


Oh, this is expressed in Iraqi newspapers today, in speeches. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential religious figure in Iraq, as a Shi'a, said "we fought in 1921. We tried to keep the British out. And what did they do in return? They cut us out of power. They too the state away from us and gave it to other people. Let's not make the same mistake again."


(VO) Those other people who got the top jobs, sitting here alongside King Faisal, were Sunnis. And for the next 70 years, after the revolution, until Saddam was overthrown, Sunnis ran Iraq. And ever since, the Shi'a have angrily wondered what happened. They tell themselves, "here we are, the overwhelming majority in this country. How could we start a revolution, win the revolution, and then lose power?" What the what is the lesson here? Well, one lesson they've decided is "don't trust the foreigner."


(OC) The British, after all, came to Iraq promising a modern state, a democracy. But once they decided to leave, the easy thing to do was to hand over power to the one group that knew how to run things, the Sunnis. The Sunnis were educated. They had run the Turkish army, they had run the Turkish government. So, the Sunnis were ready.


The Sunni officer class knew that if they held their nerve, that ultimately they would inherit the state, and they would end up running Iraq. Which is exactly what happened.


(VO) Giving Sunnis power was the quick way out. Just as today, should the Americans want to leave, they may be tempted to turn power back to Saddam's managers, Saddam's officers, Saddam's police, mostly Sunnis. Because that would be the quick way out. And that is why, the leader of the Shiites, this scholarly cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has insisted on elections.


What Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential Shi'a in Iraq, is saying, let's negotiate. Let's hold the Coalition Provisional Authority to their promises. Hey, you promised this democracy. Give us democracy as soon as possible.


(VO) As this Shi'a crowd was told in January, "we Shi'a have a majority. With an election, we have a chance to win. Without an election, what happened in 1921, could happen again. And we must not be cheated. Not a second time.” Sistani, so far, has urged patience. He has not broken with the Americans. He expects elections. But if the elections don't come, this may be the legacy of 1921. The Shi'a may say, "last time we lost power. This time, it's either democracy or civil war.” I'm Robert Krulwich, for "Nightline," in New York.

[1]23:51:15 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) And is the first small step to democracy a brand-new flag? Not when no one will salute it. That story when we come back.

[commercial break]

[1]23:54:19 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) The Iraqis have a new flag. But it's too unpopular to last very long. In fact, "Nightline" correspondent John Donvan reports, the very creation of this flag has fueled a familiar complaint about how American planners got some things so wrong.

[1]23:54:35 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) For about one week this, was the new flag of Iraq. And now, it is not. Iraqis took one look at the version published in the newspaper, and lots of them hated it on-sight. Some of them made copies so they could set flame to it. In a hurry, the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council announced this is not after all the new Iraqi flag, just an interim version, until a real new flag could be designed and approved in a way that everyone would agree to.

[1]23:55:03 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(OC) How did this manage to go wrong? That's been asked about a lot of things in Iraq, that seem more important than just a flag, which after all, is a piece of cloth with some colors on it. And yet, flags do matter.

[1]23:55:19 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) Flags are what armies march under. What Olympic athletes compete under. They describe the history, the self-image of whole peoples. Japan's rising sun. Saudi Arabia's Koranic verses. The old hammer and sickle of the Soviets. Flags also give shape to upheaval. This was Romania, where they cut out the Communist symbol in the first days of that regime's overthrow. Flags can focus grief and resolve. And help us mark how far we've come and how far we can go. And yes, it's easy to pick fights where flags are concerned. The President’s father picked one in 1988, when running for President he campaigned in a flag factory to prove he was more patriotic than his opponent. And for a while, before the Civil War, some northern states flew flags that blacked out some stars which they argued represented Southern states they wanted nothing to do with.


You had people who were saying, you know, those stars for Southern states don't deserve to be there because they're not living up to American ideals.

[1]23:56:31 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) Whitney Smith, in the United States, leaves the field of -the study of flags. And he's helped other countries design flags of their own. He has watched this Iraqi story with interest.


The dramatic statement being made by this flag is certainly 100 percent in accord with the statements that President Bush has made, in terms of creating a totally new Iraq.

[1]23:56:58 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) Here was the idea, Saddam, he was finished. And what he stood for. A kind of brutal, megalomania so far gone that on the old Iraqi flag, the one dating to the '60s when Iraq was taken over by the Baath party that Saddam came to rule, green Arabic lettering was added in 1991. It read "God is great.” And it said the handwriting was that of Saddam himself. A new flag was seen as a way to make a break from all of this. A call went out from a member of the Iraqi Governing Council to his brother in London, a 77-year-old architect who spent time in Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam, but then became an exile.


I tried to represent Islamic culture as a culture which was created by Muslims, Christians, Jews.

[1]23:57:50 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) The crescent moon, he explains, represents the culture that gave birth to Islam. The two blue stripes are for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. And the yellow stripe is a tribute to Iraq's Kurds. So, why the terrible reviews in the Iraqi street?


What happened was that the designing process didn't really have its finger on the pulse of the Iraqi people. The symbolism in it, in very specific ways, did not correspond to Iraqi history or to Iraqi contemporary politics.

[1]23:58:25 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) The rest of the Arab world didn't like it any better. This is a columnist in Lebanon.


I was surprised. I was shocked. Why under occupation, to have a new flag for Iraq, under American occupation?

[1]23:58:37 REPORTER (FEMALE)

So, in your view, they should have waited?


Yes, of course.

[1]23:58:41 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) The old flag, it seems, still has a certain resonance in the Arab world. Compare it to Syria's and Egypt's. Almost the same flag. Which is because they hail from a period when Arab states claimed to be essentially one Arab nation. And not everyone is ready to let go of that. But he, however, says that was exactly the point.


The red and the black, they represent old cultures very despotic, dictatarian (ph). And thousands of people died because of these despotic regimes. I want to forget these regimes, to start a new page of reconciliation and peace.

[1]23:59:25 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(OC) Another complaint heard was that this was really an American-made flag, because the US had a veto power on virtually everything the Iraqi Governing Council did. Then, there was the charge, and this is really one of the things you have to be in the Middle East to believe, that the new flag had something Israeli about it.

[1]23:59:44 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) It was a pretty widely-heard complaint, however, that those two blue stripes conjure up this. Apparently, as first published in the Iraqi press, the stripes were a relatively light blue as in Israel's flag. The Council quickly called this a typographical error and announced that the stripes were meant to be darker.

[1]00:00:04 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(OC) It was at that point that the Council also declared this flag a temporary one. A place-holder in history until a new government can choose a permanent one. One last thing. Iraq may not yet be a democracy. It is also not a sports power. But something surprising happened a few weeks ago.

[1]00:00:24 JOHN DONVAN (ABC NEWS)

(VO) While Iraqis watched in Baghdad, their national soccer team stunned the Middle East by defeating Saudi Arabia and qualifying for a spot in the Olympic games. One of the few, good news stories to come out of Iraq lately. But when the team posed for a picture, they didn't use the new flag. Still unclear even to the International Olympic Committee, is what flag the Iraqis will carry into the stadium this summer. I'm John Donvan, for "Nightline," in Washington.

[1]00:00:51 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) The symbolic power of a nation's flag was on vivid display in California, today. The one that draped the coffin of President Ronald Reagan. An update when we come back.

[commercial break]

[1]00:03:57 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) This evening, at the Reagan Library, in Simi Valley, California, tens of thousands came to pay their respects to Ronald Reagan. The hours were extended to accommodate the large numbers. The body of President Reagan will be flown to Washington tomorrow, where it will lie in state in the Capitol for two days. On Friday, a state funeral will be held. Stay tuned to ABC News for continuing coverage.

[1]00:04:22 CHRIS BURY (ABC NEWS)

(OC) And that's our report for tonight. I'm Chris Bury in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.


[end of tape]

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