Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Friday, October 04, 2002

For anyone who believes the reports from little Nicky Kristof about how Iraqis will react when America comes, based on interviews with people there, read this.

When did you first realize that the Iraqi regime was not just another Middle East dictatorship?

Von der Osten-Sacken: "When I first came to Iraq, I very quickly realized that I could not compare the situation there to other Middle Eastern countries I had been in, like Syria, Jordan or Egypt. This country was hell. We were the only Europeans in a city called Amara in the Shi'ite area of southern Iraq near Basra, and we arrived just a few weeks after the uprising had been crushed. There was a belt of tanks around the city. The majority of buildings were burned out. There was no food in the market. There was also a terrible degree of malnourishment there.

"People in Iraq won't talk freely, because they are terrified that their friends are working for one of Saddam's nine horrible security services. Because of this atmosphere, it took us three or four months to learn some details about the uprising. The Iraqis made people lie down in the streets and then buried them alive under asphalt. They killed everyone who looked a little religious, because this was a Shi'ite area. It was forbidden to take the corpses from the street. All in all, 60,000 or 70,000 people were killed in this area in 1991.

"The first thing that was done after the uprising was crushed was to repaint the pictures of Saddam Hussein. People had riddled them with bullets. Not one had been left. We were shocked at how neglected the south was, with open sewage systems, even though it is rich in oil. Saddam said before smashing the uprising that these Shi'ites were dirty people, not really Iraqis. We left there in October '91 when we felt we could not continue our work without unintentionally helping the government."

What was the atmosphere like in Baghdad then?

"Baghdad was 300 kilometers away, and we went quite often - for a good dinner, to have a meeting with another organization or even to make a phone call to Germany. The fear in Iraq, a BBC reporter said recently, is so palpable you can eat it. It's really indescribable. Syria is a dictatorship, but the fear and control in Iraq reaches into your living room. If there is no picture of Saddam Hussein in your living room, you might be arrested. There is no privacy. The Iraqi government considers everything political. In Syria, as long as you are not a member of the opposition, you can relax. You know you will not be harmed. But in Iraq, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may be arrested, tortured, killed."

"When I was in southern Iraq in '91, we had a lot of conversations with a very nice, very sophisticated doctor. One day, he was watching television and the Iraqi army was being praised for having won the second part of the Gulf War [after the initial U.S. attack aimed at driving Iraq out of Kuwait]. The doctor just said, `Well, it is a strange victory if daily children are dying of hunger.' That was enough. Someone heard him. He was taken, tortured for three weeks and brought back a broken person. Letting one sentence slip is cause enough for a person to vanish into an Iraqi prison or even to be killed."

Is it conceivable that Al Qaeda and Iraq have cooperated?

"Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden share the same enemies, the same conspiracy theories. They share the claim that they are fighting in the name of the Arab masses. Both these men grew up in the same poisoned climate of Arab dictatorships. Their ideologies are quite close, even if Saddam is not an Islamist. And since he has been supporting many terror organizations, I would not be surprised if there are close ties on the ground between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"I think that Osama bin Laden is trying to walk in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. At the same time, Saddam Hussein in the 1990s was trying to strengthen the ties between Iraq and the Islamic movements. He put `Allah Akhbar' [`God is great'] into the flag of Iraq and also financed different Islamic groups in Palestine and other places in the Arab world. There is a terrorist education center in Baghdad called Salmanpak and according to the Iraqi opposition, in the mid-'90s, terrorists from other countries were being trained there in such skills as how to hijack planes and use chemical weapons. They may be cooperating and even if they are not, these are two trees growing in the same soil."

So you would not agree with the idea that the war on Iraq is a distraction from the war against terror that President George Bush has proclaimed.

"American policy in Iraq is a series of huge mistakes. Firstly, it was a mistake to support that horrible regime in the 1980s knowing, for example, about the massacres against the Kurds. Secondly, it was a huge mistake not to let the Iraqi people topple Saddam in '91. The Americans feared democracy in the Middle East, they feared the breakup of Iraq because it would strengthen Iran, so they allowed Saddam to crush the uprising.

"With regimes like the Iraqi one, there will be no peace in the Middle East. You cannot contain a regime like Saddam Hussein's. That was a mistake of the West. So the question is: Is America ready to face up to the mistakes it made in '91 and in the '80s? Are the Americans ready to support democracy? Because people like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden grew out of the Middle East. They are not products of Afghanistan."

He has a major cindition to supporting a US led war on Iraq. I think it is the same condition that many of us have:

Are you in favor of waging war against Iraq?

"Let me say first that I am not in favor of war, especially until we know how the Americans want to conduct the war. But one also has to consider that what the Lebanese intellectual Fouad Ajami has said: that for 30 years, Iraq has been conducting a war against its own society. Saddam Hussein is conducting a war against his own people and it must be stopped. It is hard to think of another people who have suffered in the last 20 years like the Iraqi people have suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and because of international policy aimed at containing him. If Americans are really ready to topple him, it might be very good for the Iraqi people and very good for the region. If the Americans start just another stupid war like the one in 1991, then I am against it, too.

"At this very moment there is a huge Arabization campaign against Kurds living in Karkuk. People are systematically deported because the regime wants to change a Kurdish city into an Arab one. Just now there are tremendous prison cleansing campaigns. Every Wednesday, the security forces come into the largest prison in Baghdad and say: You, you, you and you. Five hundred people are taken out to be killed just because the prisons are overcrowded. The Iraqi National Congress says that there are 600,000 to 700,000 political prisoners in Iraqi detention camps at present.

"So the question is: Are they really ready to support democracy in the Middle East? In that case, I think the war is necessary and good. Or do they just want to put some horrible general in instead of Saddam? Then I oppose this war very much."

And all this from an avowed Marxist.

< email | 10/04/2002 02:42:00 PM | link

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