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The Blair-witch project

By Terry Joseph
March 29, 2003

It is more than merely uncanny how Operation Iraqi Freedom so eerily resembles Hollywood's 1999 amalgam of fact and fiction-The Blair Witch Project.

For openers, there is phonetic exactitude in the last name of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose zealous support of war proposed by American President George W Bush has stirred massive protests on both sides of the Atlantic.

Then, for the occult element, there was last year's virtual witch-hunt for the yet elusive quarry, the evil Osama bin Laden, a project for which Bush and Blair also teamed.

And the haunting similarity goes further. Apparently desperate to match the Blair Witch scenario precisely, coalition troops currently in Iraq are searching for the evil one, replaying on a macro scale the 1994 misadventure that snuffed out the lives of a group of film-makers in Burkittville, Maryland, who were searching for evidence of evil and-from all disappearances-found it.

The witch, a Burkittville folk-legend since the 18th Century, developed a reputation for snatching young lives, although in numbers significantly below this week's body-count in Iraq.

As is also the case in the current war, propaganda mingled freely with fact. In February 1785, authorities formally accused Elly Kedward of evil and set out to banish the bully from her native village.

If that sounds familiar, consider this: With Burkittville continuing to see itself under threat, a coalition of townsfolk and police was formed in 1940 to ferret out and permanently dispose of the evil. Villagers who warned of dangers inherent in any posse-style witch-hunt were publicly denigrated.

Now, fast-forward to 2002. On August 12, you may remember, controversial pop star George Michael released a music video-cartoon, showing PM Blair first as President Bush's pet-poodle, then in flowing dress dancing a tango with his American counterpart and finally as captain of a ship sailing toward the US, oblivious to its stout European moorings.

It was all for a song ironically titled "Shoot the Dog". Of course, Michael who, on April 17, 1998, was arrested in a Los Angeles public washroom on charges of lewd behaviour, was quickly discredited and in essence, banished from his American home; friendly fire not being tolerated at that time.

Like in any witch-hunt, before the evil one is actually confronted, several casualties are sustained and innocent persons detained and harassed. As at Thursday, more than 5,000 Iraqis living in the US had been held for questioning and thousands more are being sought. In history, there has hardly been a reckless episode that could not later reveal a justifiable thread, but in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, all such attempts were terminally shot down; although US tv networks are yet to give up the fight. The same stations that nightly paraded captured Taliban operatives, now denounce Iraqis for following that example.

President Bush who, along with sidekick Tony Blair torpedoed the integrity of the United Nations, last week called upon that very body in demanding assurances from Iraq that it will treat prisoners of war according to procedures laid out in the Geneva Convention.

But it is a battle born of brass-faced behaviour. To fortify the case for pursuing evil, all forms of spurious evidence surfaced. American Secretary of State Colin Powell's 90-minute rationale to the United Nations Security Council, finished devoid of any proof of Saddam Hussein's intent to unleash weapons of mass destruction on us all.

Not to be outdone, Blair went to the British Parliament with a fabricated dossier, a theme essay written by a university student ten years earlier, the Prime Minister unwittingly presenting the fiction as "damning evidence" collected by the British Secret Service.

Nor did Powell and Blair have a monopoly on intelligence-gathering faux pas.

In late December, the FBI flashed pictures of five "dangerous terrorists" who allegedly sneaked across the border from Canada to disrupt predictably crowded New Year's Eve celebrations in New York's Times Square; a file that confidently named Mohammed Ashgar ringleader, even as the two-bit jeweller was quietly at the counter of his little shop in faraway Pakistan.

But identifying evil does not always require as atrocious a human-rights record as Saddam Hussein's. There are those who see anything but good in The Blair-Bush Project, it already having taken prisoner the fledgling European Union and all respect for the United Nations.

Indeed, if the conflict escalates, the coalition may find itself responsible for making the biggest dent in potential for world peace.

But already, Blair is moving to mend the cracks, flying to Washington DC to meet with Bush to plead the case of his Euro partners and no doubt, remark upon the recipient of the first major contract awarded for the rebuilding of Iraq, a multi-billion dollar plum that went to Halliburton, the firm of which US vice-president Dick Cheney was ever-so-recently CEO; squeezing out all European tenders.

The legacy of The Blair-Witch Project took three years before discovery and still, no one is certain what evil really looks like.

Hopefully, determination of the current campaign's results require less time and our subsequent findings justify the insistence of Bush and Blair sending 300,000 overwhelmingly armed troops to find three men.

And it must do more, like unquestionably establishing Saddam Hussein as a source of evil, a man not only hoarding devastating weapons but planning to use them, lest like a couple of "smart-bombs" recently in the news, the entire mission backfires; inflicting damage on a far greater and global scale than that of which the evil one is currently being accused.

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