Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Some days ago I faced an interesting, and somewhat distressing, realisation.

I was looking for media – movies, novels, graphic novels, anything at all – from the Iraqi perspective. And I found nothing. Zero. Nothing at all.

The invasion of Iraq must rank as the single greatest war crime of the entire post-Second World War era. It was an incredibly cynical, evil aggression by the Imperialist States of Amerikastan and its vassals on a totally defenceless and blameless country on the other side of the world. It was worse than Vietnam or Korea, which at least had the excuse of “great power politics”. Iraq was simply Amerikastani bullying, an attempt to prove might was right, and the first step to rolling across all of Asia, which was to become a source of raw materials and labour for, and a captive market for the products of, the Amerikastani Empire.

Only, of course, it did not turn out that way.

It did not turn out that way because of one thing, and that was the ordinary Iraqi human, and his bloody-minded determination not to give up.

If there is one person I could call the Human of the 21st Century, it is the ordinary Iraqi resistance fighter. With his government overthrown, his country occupied and in ruins, barely armed, hardly trained, with little or no leadership, faced with the most overarmed, overhyped, destructive military the world has ever seen, knowing that he faced nothing but torture or death, he fought the Amerikastani Empire to a standstill, and then forced it into defeat. But for him, after Iraq, Iran would have been invaded, and then the triumphant Amerikastani Empire would have marched on Syria. And then North Korea would have been the next country to be attacked, before Pyongyang could acquire the nuclear arsenal that it now has to protect itself. And once those had been colonised, China and Russia would have been boxed in, and Amerikastan would have been in a position to demand they surrender or be annihilated.

Armed with light mortars, RPG 7 rocket launchers, and AK series rifles dating back to the Iran Iraq war, with cheap improvised landmines and booby traps, hunted by planes and drones overhead, threatened by traitors and collaborators in his own cities, faced with the possibility that his wife or sweetheart, mother or children, would be arrested, maimed, raped, or murdered by sadistic occupation troops, he fought on. His blood and courage against their steel and electronics and concrete walls, their money and propaganda services.

The Amerikastani invader had it all planned out. Iraq was to be colonised. It was to be demilitarised, its army reduced to a light border protection force. Its economy was to be handed over to Wall Street. Even its black-white-red-green flag was to be replaced with one in blue and white, deliberately designed to be similar to that of the illegitimate zionazi pseudostate in Occupied Palestine. The invader was to permanently garrison Iraq, its tanks crushing millennia-old temples to dust under their tracks, its occupation troops guaranteed immunity from Iraqi law no matter what crimes they might commit. And all this was to be paid for by the Iraqis themselves.

It seemed hardly an equal match.

It was not an equal match. In one of the most remarkable feats of arms ever, in the teeth of ridicule about being a “dead ender” or a “terrorist”, or, most ironically, an “anti-Iraq force”, he won.

And I wanted his story.

I did not find it.

Oh, I found films. I found reviews of novels. I found graphic novels aplenty. There was only one problem with all of them.

Not one of them was from the Iraqi perspective. All, without exception, existed to hammer home one single, endlessly repeated message:

Iraq was an American Tragedy. The Iraqis, such as there were any, existed only for one single purpose: to serve as the background for the American Hero/ine’s life. If they had any kind of major role (as in the graphic novel Sheriff Of Babylon), they were on the “good” side – collaborators and stooges of the Amerikastani occupation. Any Iraqi who fought that occupation was obviously evil. There was no reason to ask why they were evil – they so obviously were that there was no need to prove it.

Obviously, this was the polar opposite of what I was looking for. This was a cultural as well as a literal imperialism, which denied the victimised the right to their own tragedy.

It was at that point that I was given a link to David Rovic’s song Fallujah. One listen and I was in love with it for life.

Here it is, and before you go further, you should listen to it.

As I said, I fell in love with this song. One listen and I knew immediately that this was what I’d been looking for, and that I had to provide visual images to go with it.

My first idea was to draw cartoons to go with the song, but that was not enough. A few seconds’ more thought and I knew what I had to do.

I would paint scenes from the song. And all at once I knew exactly what I would paint, and how.

Before I post the paintings themselves, let me explain something about my self-imposed rules for painting, which are totally different from my rules for cartooning.

In my cartoons, I draw first in pencil, with reference photos, keeping in mind such things as perspective and a semi-realistic style. I use pencil, rubber, then ink, rulers, and finally software to correct, enhance, colour, and anything else I can think of. In paintings, I do nothing like that.

My rules for painting are as follows:

First: Go for mood, not realism. Mood and emotion are what I’m looking for, not the angle of a building or the relative size of a hand.

Second: Do not use any kind of pencil outline or other aid. Paint directly on whatever you are using (in this case, paper) with whatever medium you choose (in my case these days, acrylics). Your only instrument is the brush. Any corrections you need to make will be achieved by painting over, not by erasure or digital manipulation.

Third: The only kind of software manipulation permissible is to crop out ragged margins of paper. That is all.

Yes, these rules make things a lot more difficult, but they also impose a discipline that prevents me from wandering off into frivolities like irrelevant background buildings or the details of vehicles, foot positions, and so on, which is something I spend a lot of time on in cartoons. I stick to my main point, which is transmitting emotions. Whether I am painting a nude or a war scene makes no difference.

Also, it’s a good excuse, because I am not really a very good painter. I find painting intellectually satisfying, emotionally relaxing, and validating my creative instincts, but I am not going to fool myself: I am a pretty bad painter.

At this point that does not matter at all.

So, before we get to the actual paintings, they are all painted on plain white children’s art paper with acrylic paint. Instruments used: cotton swabs and paintbrushes. Copyright B Purkayastha 2018, naturally.

Before each image, I will write the portion of the lyrics of David Rovics’ Fallujah they represent (the images are not necessarily from Fallujah; the first two are of Baghdad).

All I wanted were good things
Land and liberty
And all the sorts of things we learned
At the university

I'm not a fan of dictatorships
I'd rather say live and let live
But for those who would threaten my family
There's nothing I won't give

When you break down the doors of my neighbours
When you say that might makes right
When you say you're looking for terrorists
In their bedroom late at night

When you torture my brother at gunpoint
On his head a canvas sack
All I can say to you, soldier
Is you'd best watch your back

When you come with your tanks on our city streets
And you say these streets are yours
When you say you'll rebuild us with bombers
And oil tankers on our shores

When you have gunned down my child in Fallujah
You needn't wonder why
I look at you through the blades of your 'copter and say...

... It's a good day to die.

I will fight for my country
I'll defend this land
I will stare at the whites of your soldiers' eyes

With this Kalashnikov in my hand
With this Kalashnikov in my hand.

All thanks are, of course, owed to David Rovics, not me.

This is what I wrote elsewhere:

“We’ll kill you if you raise your head,” these foreign ‘liberators’ said
“We’ll raise a firestorm if you dare strike a spark.
The smoke that’s carried on the breeze from the Tigris to the Euphrates

Will signal the final destruction of the cities of Iraq.”

And resistance was their answer.

It's as simple as that.


  1. Beautiful and inspiring song, and your paintings do capture the feeling, I think. (Paula)

  2. Great song (by a New Yorker). Perfect paintings for the song.

    Analysis? Not sure.

    1) Clinton convinced Iraq to get rid of all its WMD (with inspections). Bush, jr had no trouble wrecking the country. Bush, jr's oil was worth less than the cost of the electricity to pump it out of the ground in 2002. By 2007, it was almost $150, and Bush, jr was obscenely richer. Plus the war helped him win an election (without the Supreme Court and his brother), and give massive, no-bid contracts to all his Friends, so a win-win-win.

    2) After Bush, jr convinced Libya to get rid of its WMD (with inspections), Obama had no trouble with regime removal, providing lots of profit opportunities amidst the chaos. As many have written, the US press prohibited any criticism of Obama. So nothing by Seymour Hersh about Libya, only praise for transforming Libya from an impoverished, brutal dictatorship and state sponsor of terror into a peaceful and prosperous democracy. And most Americans believe the people who write those lies.

    3) And Obama got Iran to get rid of all its WMD (with inspections) and Trump has planned regime removal since 2015 (that we know of).

    Did Trump lie about all the good things he was going to do (bringing all the boys and girls home from the military conflicts, make peace with Syria and Russia), or did he take office and was told, 'You're just a figurehead. Things will run just as they did under Bush, sr, Clinton, Bush, jr, and Obama.' I have no idea. Just the terrible things Trump said he'd do were all the truth, and the good things were all lies.

    If the idiots in Washington try to force regime change in the DPRK, they have MAD, but the major US newspapers say they don't (because they're living in 1995). So those idiots might get us all MAD. But Scott Adams says Trump and Kim are both sane, so they're having a Twitter war for their respective bases, and no one will get hurt.

    Iran looks like it's doomed. We're already seeing Libya redux, 'Every Persian is protesting the evil regime, and we must protect them,' even though the protests are a tiny fraction of the pro-government rallies (which cannot appear in Western news).


  3. Beautiful and very touching song! Your writing and your art is very powerful!!! Thank you for sharing all of this!

  4. Thank you :-)


  5. Let me start by saying that I know David Rovics, so this was a surprise. In about 2004, he was dating someone in my political circle (they had a kid together - I don't know how long their relationship went on), so he ended up in Houston and hanging out with us quite a bit. The only song I remember by him was one called "George Bush is a Moron."

    This illustration of the song turned out to be a great idea! I don't always comment on your political stuff, but as you said you aim for, you capture the feeling you're after well here.

    1. I'm now doing a series of paintings for Rovics' Jenin. As well as writing a novel, so I am not much here anymore.

  6. You said you looked for Iraqis, but only found a New Yorker (who moved to Houston). Here's a long list of Iraqis:

    I read Baghdad Girl 10 years ago, when she was still in Baghdad and had good info. She left after a year or two, but now she's back.

    There was an article pro-colonialism that got published and deleted. The editor and author got lots of death threats (and well deserved). Most of the board of governors of the journal resigned in disgust (as well they should have). Some of us had to read Kipling in school, about the White Man's Burden (it wasn't just the right of the Europeans to colonise the rest of the world, it was their duty). Then, after school, after 'Apocalypse Now', we read Conrad (British colonialism brought law, order, and civilisation to the savages, but the other European imperialists only brought 'the horror, the horror'.) And then we remembered Orwell (all the mercantile colonists were bad, but the American and Soviet neo-colonists were worse). And then Greene (the French and Spanish weren't so bad: they made every colonial learn to read and kept their colonies well managed and clean, but the British were much worse, and the American neo-colonialists were even worse than the British).

    That's the trouble with reading too much. Life is much simpler for those who don't.



    Baghdad girl (on the above) was quite good back in '03, '04. Her family got out of Iraq, but she described the terror of the American invasion. Then she stopped, and then she restarted.

  8. One more, Baghdad Burning. Ended in '13, covers 10 years by a 24 year old woman who started when she was 14.

  9. Bill,
    Personally,your paintings work well with the song. As a veteran of that nasty Vietnam war, I really feel the song and your paintings capture the mood very well.
    I was not a hippy in the late 1960's, I was a US Marine. However, I still believe in much of the old posters from back then. As an example, draft beer, not people; make love not war; war is unhealthy for children another living things, etc., etc., etc…….
    Thank you for this post my friend.


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