An Iraqi leader speaks to the Anti War Movement
It is morally repugnant that people walk in marches across Western cities calling, essentially, for the Iraqi people to be kept in their collective jail with their tormentors.
AMID all the talk about war with Iraq and the opposition to it, one voice has gone conspicuously unheard -- that of the Iraqi people. It is bewildering to most Iraqis how so many can claim to speak for them, both protagonists and opponents of the war. As an Iraqi-American and one who has remained in touch with the Iraqi people, I feel it is time to say a few words.
Firstly, let me address the anti-war group. Before 1990, the Iraqi people had one of the highest standards of living of any Third World country. They also had the highest number of college graduates of any country in the Middle East and enjoyed one of the best health-care systems in the Third World. This was because of an educational program with state subsidies initiated during the monarchy, which ended in 1958. Then, with two devastating external wars, countless internal purges, policies of genocide in the north and ethnic cleansing in the south, use of food as a political weapon and multiple other abuses by a regime that cared little for them, they became what they are now.
They feel indignant that a university professor has to supplement his income driving a taxi at night. When a father requires his own daughter to help feed her siblings through prostitution, they are all humiliated. When food rations are cut for the sake of weapons of mass destruction, building palaces and monuments, and exorbitant spending by the party elite, the Iraqi people are further devastated.
In a country where more than 200,000 persons annually disappear because of institutionalized killings, liquidations, weapons of mass destruction experiments on political prisoners, and out and out community demolitions, a war that could bring hope for a better life is but a small price to suffer. To many Iraqis, the calls against the war are nothing but another collective letting down by the Arab, regional and international community -- especially those enjoying democracy and freedom of speech in the West. It is bigoted to assert that Iraqis deserve no more than what they have, Saddam and his regime.
It is morally repugnant that people walk in marches across Western cities calling, essentially, for the Iraqi people to be kept in their collective jail with their tormentors. They remember how Saddam refused to accept the oil-for-food program for almost six years after the end of the Persian Gulf War. Those who have marched are either ignorant of the facts and need to educate themselves, or sinister creatures no different from Saddam and his institutionalized murderers, torturers and rapists. They will be remembered as people who called for maintaining the status quo for more than 15 million Iraqis under Saddam's rule.
To those who favor war, I observe: Iraqis see this war, if it occurs, as a war of liberation. They can look a short distance into northern Iraq and see how 13 percent of the oil-for-food money has converted 25 percent of Iraq's population into a well-fed, democratic and prosperous people. They see the infant mortality rates lower than they had ever been in the country, in its entire history, only a few miles to the north. Most importantly, they hope and dream of a democratic society where individual and group rights are sacred. They look for peace and prosperity inside their borders [so that] they can rebuild their country with the water, mineral, agricultural and professional wealth already present.
If there is a plan for regime change in Iraq, it must be for democracy. It must be for reconciliation. It must be for acknowledging the rights of all religions, faiths, sects and ethnic groups. It must be for the creation of a civil society. It must be for a unique federalism that will accommodate all of Iraq's peoples.
If the plan falls short of these essential goals, then war will not be of benefit to Iraqis. To be rid of WMDs, Iraqis must be freed from despotism, fear and dictatorship. Solutions advocating letting Saddam and his gang go into exile would further devastate the Iraqi people and prevent them from achieving their goals. This in turn would generate more trouble in the future, just as cutting half the cancer will not cure the patient. In short it would be another betrayal by the international community. It would also amount to a betrayal of the people footing the bill for such a war, the American people.
It has become self-evident that the world and the Iraqi people cannot live with Saddam and his regime. Nor can the world live with an [appointed] replacement.
The democratization of Iraq will show the Middle East that the West cares for it. The liberation of Iraq will have untold beneficial effects that will dwarf the stated objective of removing weapons of mass destruction. This is the only formula that will work for Iraq, the region and the world.
Al-Bassam, a medical doctor, is an Iraqi-American who lives and works in Houston. He is a member of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and a founding member of the Iraqi National Congress.
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