searching for the truth

Åsne Seierstad and Rod Barton talked about their experiences of Iraq in a talk titled Searching for the Truth: What Really Happened in Iraq? as part of The UWA Perth International Arts Festival.

Åsne Seiserstad has worked as a war correspondent and journalist, in Russia, China, Kosovo, Afganistan, and Iraq. She has written books about her experiences in Kosovo and Afganistan, and more recently, in A Hundred and One Days (Virago Press, 2004) – Baghdad, Iraq.

Rod Barton, a former director of intelligence responsible for monitoring overseas developments of Weapons of Mass Destruction is the author of The Weapons Detective: The Inside Story of Australia’s Top Weapons Inspector (Black Inc, 2006). His expertise has been sought by the Australian Government, United Nations, and CIA, and as an adviser to Dr Hans Blix in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

I knew very little about the speakers prior to the talk apart from remembering that I had heard part of an interview with Rod Barton on Radio National’s Saturday Breakfast programme when he published his book. The ABC website includes a transcript of the show and a link to the Four Corners TV interview in the previous year.

Sitting in the audience in the ballroom of the Duxton Hotel seemed far removed from the topics that were under discussion.

I expect that much of the meat of the talk is contained in the authors’ books, but I came away with two thoughts.

Rod Barton spoke first after a reference to Ben Elton’s quip that the search for WMD was doomed from the start as men can never find anything. After a bit of a chuckle, the audience settled down to Barton define what we mean by truth. One truth is that the decision to go to war was made before the evidence was received from the CIA. Another, is that there were not enough sources to collaborate this evidence.

Barton then went on to remind the audience that two million people have left Iraq, out of a population of 20 million, and how unsettling this is amongst a more complicated image than the media is portraying of only two groups being at odds with each other.

In closing, Barton said that he felt that the coalition forces needed to remain in Iraq, and explained his reasons for this thinking.

In answering a question from the audience, Barton said that the media does not so much go along with the government of the day, but that they do not have the sources on which to collaborate, and perhaps are not questioning enough.

Åsne Seiserstad shared her experience by example. There were two parts to her story. That is, before the war, and during the war. She explained that it was impossible to get people to talk prior to the war, and that people all said the same thing. During the war, it was difficult to get people to talk, but talk they did.

The story that Seiserstad told of watching the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue with three friends, was poignant. I can’t remember it properly to re-tell here, but it was to demonstrate that what was not talked about before, i.e. differences in their thinking, caused friends to argue and move apart.

Seiserstad finished in saying that 90% of the Iraqi people just want ‘it’ to be over so that they can get on with their lives. Send their children to school, fix the roof that was destroyed with a bomb, get the electricity on, and water on tap.

It was good to hear from two people that were telling their story, i.e. one not distributed by the media. Both speakers’ books were available after the talk, but I just felt that I wanted to get away. I can obtain the books at another time when I’m ready to think about this some more.

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