Socialist Worker

A bloody road that leads from Derry in 1972 to Basra today

Eamonn McCann writes on the links between Northern Ireland and Iraq

Issue No. 1847

OFFICIALS AT the Bloody Sunday inquiry in London weren't certain until the last minute that General Michael Jackson would give evidence as scheduled on 7 April. He's the man in overall command of British forces in Iraq, and so had other compelling commitments.

Jackson, now Chief of the General Staff, was second in command of the First Paras in January 1972 when they shot dead 14 unarmed people after a civil rights march in Derry in Northern Ireland. As he took the stand at Central Hall, Westminster, television carried pictures of 1 Para marching towards Basra.

Jackson had been on the ground in Derry on Bloody Sunday. But, he told the Tribunal under Lord Saville, he had seen no untoward behaviour by his men. He still had no reason to believe they'd done wrong. Meanwhile, the Telegraph was reporting (a) that it was an outrage that Jackson should be dragged away from the war and (b) that British soldiers were more subtle and effective than the Yanks when it came to dealing with occupied peoples.

Jackson's appearance interrupted the evidence of the commander of the Bloody Sunday Paras Lt Col Derek Wilford, who was on the witness stand for eight days. He must have wished at times it had been Iraqis he'd helped slaughter. It was put to Wilford by Tony Gifford QC, for the family of James Wray, 22, killed in Glenfada Park, that his men had 'shot at anything that moved'. Wilford's denial was heated.

Meanwhile, Mark Franchetti of the Sunday Times wrote of seeing 12 bodies of civilians scattered across the road or tumbled into ditches near Nassiriya. A dead girl of about five lay alongside the body of a man, maybe her father.

'Their mistake had been to flee over a bridge that is crucial to the coalition's supply lines and to run into a group of shell-shocked young American marines with orders to shoot anything that moved,' wrote Franchetti. Day after day, the evidence from Bloody Sunday finds echoes in Iraq.

The Paras had always gotten on well with law-abiding locals, Wilford insisted. Right on cue, a Lt Mike Taylor tells Alex Thomson on Channel 4 News as his soldiers emerge from the home of a Mr Fouad which they've just searched: 'They welcomed us in. They know it's for their protection as well.' Quite.

It's regularly said at the inquiry that what's important is to learn lessons from Bloody Sunday. The main lesson apparently learnt by those making war on Iraq is that you can be even more casual about killing Iraqis than killing white, English-speaking Europeans.


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