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Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Good times

I was going through some old clips as I periodically do, the way people in more civilized cities go the museum on their lunch-hour, when I came across the Times clips from May 2, 2003. That was the day after President Bush’s big Top Gun moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln, when he declared major combat operations in Iraq over, 43 days after launching the invasion. Often enough newspaper clips are like archeological digs. A single shred can reveal a whole thread of history, or irony. These clips do more. They’re like the famous García Márquez novel, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” I’d clipped not just the front-page story that day but all the stories related to Iraq. The front-page carried three articles and a three-column picture showing Bush in his pseudo-military uniform with his arm around someone the Times felt didn’t need to be identified (the guy is black). The lead story plays up the president’s bombastic speech, the whole bit about a victory being won in the war on terror, even though even then al-Qaeda had no more than two armpit hairs and six pimples in Iraq. The U.S. Army, of course, was blazing the trail for al-Qaeda’s infusion. Two other stories had more skeptical headlines: “Between War and Peace,” by Michael Gordon, a Times military correspondent who thinks now, and must have thought then, that if the military was allowed to do its job (read firepower) it could subdue Iraq. But his piece made the more relevant point as it described a scene of bombings and devastation, a day before the president’s speech, that showed how the new war was just emerging. The news analysis next to Gordon’s piece had it in the headline: “Cold Truths Behind Pomp.” The Times had helped beat the drums of war, carrying the administration’s deceptions to the wider world. Now, 43 days too late, it was unholstering the skepticism. The additional stories in the inside pages are more telling for their irony, for what, even then, they presaged: “Gunrunners in Baghdad Take Over Open-Air Food Market.” That one, on page 16 of my national edition, was by Sabrina Tavernise, and it could have been written yesterday: “In the night, there is shooting. Sharp, sudden bursts of gunfire that keep Talib Juad and his family awake and afraid. Sometimes, he said, they find bodies in the morning. This is how it goes in many neighborhoods across Baghdad.” She then goes into the giant gun markets that have brazenly opened up in the city, hawking weaponry from the massive arms caches emptied by looters despite the American invasion: signals of the chaos the Americans brought with them, and enabled. Above that article is one entitled “U.S. Set to Name Civilian to Oversee Iraq.” It’s the piece introducing L. Paul Bremer, who would eventually become the viceroy in Iraq, basically (and tyrannically) ruling the country for a year—and, apparently, overseeing the disappearance of billions of dollars, between $9 billion and $12 billion to be precise, much of it into enemy hands. “Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone? But that is exactly what our government did,” Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said during a hearing on the missing billions on Tuesday. Bremer was there. Defending the fraud. I should find that clip and tack it onto the May 2, 2003 batch. A matter of closing the circle. Only the circle is far from closed.

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