Hard News by Russell Brown


So, a week of departures: some mourned, some emphatically not. The death under fire of Uday and Qusay Hussein comes, ironically, as the ogre of another age, Idi Amin, slips away in a Saudi hospital.

All three are Muslims - Muslims who inflicted untold woe on their fellow believers - and are presumably on their way to the Islamic version of Hell. Islam teaches that every man's Hell will have been shaped by his evil deeds, but it appears that there will be many forms of fire awaiting them, including Laza (sweeping flames of fire) and Sa'ir (blasting fire). There is also scalding water and scorching wind, and, should they become insensible to the unending torture, they will be provided with fresh skins so that they can feel constant pain again.

Phew. None of this, of course, is real. Islam's Hell is, like that of Christianity, no more than an unpleasant fantasy developed to govern the behaviour of the living. Saddam's sons are dead, Amin nearly so, and that's all. Their atoms will be absorbed back into the body of the Universe, which you can take as a form of redemption if you like.

But if the Husseins are now officially crossed off the US government's bounty website, it is hardly over in Iraq. Hours after the Husseins died, two American soldiers were killed in separate incidents and Iraqi insurgents were vowing bloody revenge. Ahmed Chalabi has already claimed that Qusay was directing the Iraqi resistance, but believing anything he says is now clearly a stupid thing to do.

Yet, as the Christian Science Monitor says, perhaps things are turning.

The challenge for Iraq's occupying forces is, of course, to avoid becoming the ogres themselves, and the evidence there is less promising. A sharply critical new report from Amnesty International details claims from Iraqis of unlawful and inhumane detention, torture and brutal searches, including the shooting of a 12 year-old boy by US troops. Occupying forces are currently unaccountable to any court in Iraq. Iraqi scientists, including at least one who voluntarily presented himself to the occupying forces for questioning, continue to be held with charge, apparently because they can't provide the right answers on weapons programmes. This has to end. And the US has to surrender its imperial fantasies and involve the United Nations in good faith.

Back home in the West, it appears the British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, a strident Blair loyalist, is to be thrown to the wolves. Somebody authorised the leaking of David Kelly's name to the press, and Tony Blair, in the finest traditions of Shaggy, has declared it wasn't me. The Guardian looks at the element of the dossier affair likely to go septic first.

Meanwhile, the BBC has let it be known that it will provide the judicial inquiry not only with notes of interviews with Kelly by Andrew Gilligan and Susan watts, but with a tape of Kelly apparently expressing serious concern about how Downing Street made the case for war.

On a far more trivial plane, the possibility has been floated of a second-string All Blacks contesting the World Cup in New Zealand's name. There is but a week left until a squad needs to be named, and the NZRFU and its top players can't agree on a win bonus for the World Cup. But it won't happen. The All Blacks will sign, even if they are manifestly victims of the International Rugby Board's onerous and unfair contracts, which will see the IRB derive income from their names and images - PlayStation games, anyone? - long after the tournament is over and, probably, after some of them have quit the game.