Jewish World Review June 26, 2003 / 26 Sivan 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Shock and awe on Fleet Street | The war over the war in Iraq continues to reverberate on Britain's newspaper row, and now some of the fallout has crossed the pond, striking the poor Christian Science Monitor.

That strait-laced journal now confesses that it was misled by some genuine, authentic forged documents alleging that Saddam Hussein's regime had paid a British MP some $10 million to puff its image abroad. My word. It's a little like having your pastor admit he was taken in by a lady of the evening.

The MP involved is the colorful (to say the least) George Galloway, aka Gorgeous George in tribute to his flashy tastes. He's long cried in his champagne over the plight of Third World dictators.

By now Mr. Galloway has enough skeletons in his closet to stock a good-sized anatomy lab. For example, he's had to reimburse a charity he once headed for his excessive expenses. Money that was supposed to go to needy children in Iraq went to pay for travel and hotel suites instead.

Gorgeous George's flattery of Saddam Hussein was equally extravagant. ("Sir, I salute your strength, your courage and your indefatigability.") During one parliamentary question period, Tony Blair was asked who would formally surrender on behalf of Iraq, and some backbencher piped up: "George Galloway!" It brought the House (of Commons) down.

Back in May, feeling nostalgic for Baghdad Bob after his act was cut short, I nominated George Galloway as his successor. Successor, not replacement. No one can ever replace Baghdad Bob in my heart. He was the one reliably comic spot in that war.

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In that same column, I'd noted that Mr. Galloway had vehemently denied receiving millions from Saddam. And why, when you think of all the gullible American celebrities, journalists, academics and bishops who were willing to oppose the war for free, would Saddam Hussein pay for George Galloway's services?

Were these forgeries for export only, designed to titillate the Western press? It's enough to bring back memories of a rug merchant who once visited Arkansas selling genuine, authentic rugs from King Tut's tomb, sort of.

The Monitor wasn't the only paper to base stories on documents purporting to detail a Saddam-Galloway connection. So did London's Daily Telegraph, which has its own, different set and is sticking with them. Indeed, the Monitor went out of its way to note that its "documents were different in many details from those of the Daily Telegraph, and came from a different source."

The Telegraph had printed a memo attributed to a senior aide to Saddam -- in which the aide complained that the Iraqi regime could no longer afford George Galloway's expensive services.

Mr. Galloway responded to the alleged memo in tabloid style: A Tissue of Lies! A Pile of Black Propaganda! Intelligence Hocus-Pocus! The Libel Trial of the Century!

All of which was enough to convince me . that British politicians and newspapers are starting to sound much alike.

There's been no retraction from the still game Telegraph. On the contrary. Last week it carried a story headlined: "I was in Iraq on day alleged in memos, admits Galloway." To quote its breathless prose:

"The suspended Labour MP also admitted that he was 'not yet' in a position to disprove the documents, which he claimed were forgeries and which were discovered in the looted foreign ministry in Baghdad."

The Telegraph emphasized that its memos weren't the fakes the Monitor got stuck with. To quote its editor, Charles Moore:

"Our documents, by contrast, were found in a government office in the pale blue folders in which they remain, bound in both physically and contextually with hundreds of pages of routine papers whose authenticity has not been questioned. We were able to verify some of these other documents -- notably letters from Sir Edward Heath and Canon Andrew White of Coventry Cathedral -- with their authors. There was even a letter from Mr. Galloway himself."

Editor Moore concluded: "We have complete confidence in our story, in the authenticity of the documents and in (our correspondent) David Blair."

And so the war after the war drags on, full of sound and fury, claims and counter-claims, forgeries and gaffes, rumors and searches, documents and forgeries. The show must go on.

Something tells me that even now separate but equally convincing documents are being produced/discovered in Iraq for every taste in intrigue. ("Would you like something dust-covered in a genuine diplomatic folder, or a cheap imitation? We've got a special today on state secrets, just for you, sahib.")

The black market in Baghdad must be a marvelous place, with 170,000 artifacts that weren't stolen from the archaeological museum vying for attention with documents forged or maybe not, and maybe an occasional Weapon of Mass Destruction if you can find it. Ah, the mysterious East and the Gullible West. The twain always meet.

Note to readers: This column is not a forgery. To the best of my knowledge.

Paul Greenberg
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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