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The recolonisation of Iraq cannot be sold as liberation
Of course most Iraqis don't want their country invaded and occupied
Seumas Milne Thursday January 30, 2003 The Guardian
Tony Blair's government is running scared of the British people and their stubborn opposition to war on Iraq. The latest panic measure is to try to ban what has been trailed as the biggest demonstration in British political history from Hyde Park, where a giant anti-war rally is planned for February 15. As the US administration accelerates its drive to war, its most faithful cheerleader is having to run ever faster to keep up.
Never mind that every single alleged chemical or biological weapons storage site mentioned in Blair's dossier last year has been inspected and found to have been clean; or that the weapons inspectors reported this week that Iraq had cooperated "rather well"; or that most UN member states regard Hans Blix's unanswered questions as a reason to keep inspecting, rather than launch an unprovoked attack. Jack Straw nevertheless rushed to declare Iraq in material breach of its UN obligations and fair game for the 82nd airborne.
Most people have by now grasped that regime change, rather than disarmament, is the real aim of this exercise and that whatever residual "weapons of mass destruction" Iraq retains are evidently not sufficient to deter an attack - as they appear to be in North Korea. Since both the US and Britain have said they will use force with or without United Nations backing, the greatest impact of any new resolution blackmailed out of the security council is likely to be damage to the UN's own credibility.
To harden up public support, the US has now promised "intelligence" to demonstrate the supposed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, along with evidence that the Iraqis have been secretly moving weapons to outwit the inspectors. Since this will depend entirely on US sources and prisoners - including those we now know have been tortured at the US internment camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - it may not prove quite the breakthrough "Adlai Stevenson moment" the US is hoping for either.
But if none of this seems likely to make a decisive difference to public attitudes to an invasion of Iraq, there is one argument which is bound to resonate more widely in the weeks to come. This is the case made by President Bush in his state of the union speech on Tuesday that war against Iraq would mean the country's "day of liberation" from a tyrannical regime. A similar point was made by a British soldier heading for the Gulf, when asked whether he wasn't concerned about the lack of public support for war.
"Once people know what Saddam has done to his own people," Lance Corporal Daniel Buist replied, "they will be fully behind us." It is a theme taken up most forcefully by liberal war supporters in Britain and the US - the celebrated laptop bombardiers - who developed a taste for "humanitarian intervention" during the Yugoslav maelstrom. The Iraqi people want a US invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, they claim, while the anti-war movement is indifferent to their fate. Where was the "left movement against Saddam" 20 years ago? one critic demanded recently.
In fact, leftwingers were pretty well the only people in the west campaigning against the Iraqi regime two decades ago - left activists were being imprisoned and executed in their hundreds by Saddam Hussein at the time - while the US and British political establishments were busy arming Iraq in its war against Iran and turning a blind eye to his worst human rights abuses, including the gas attacks on the Kurds in the late 1980s.
What changed after 1991 was that the greatest suffering endured by Iraqis was no longer at the hands of the regime, but the result of western-enforced sanctions which, according to Unicef estimates, have killed at least 500,000 children over the past decade.
Nor is there any evidence that most Iraqis, either inside or outside the country, want their country attacked and occupied by the US and Britain, however much they would like to see the back of the Iraqi dictator. Assessing the real state of opinion among Iraqis in exile is difficult enough, let alone in Iraq itself. But there are telling pointers that the licensed intellectuals and club-class politicians routinely quoted in the western media enthusing about US plans for their country are utterly unrepresentative of the Iraqi people as a whole.
Even the main US-sponsored organisations such as the Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord, which are being groomed to be part of a puppet administration, find it impossible directly to voice support for a US invasion, suggesting little enthusiasm among their potential constituency. Laith Hayali - an Iraqi opposition activist who helped found the British-based solidarity group Cardri in the late 1970s and later fought against Saddam Hussein's forces in Kurdistan - is one of many independent voices who insist that a large majority of Iraqi exiles are opposed to war. Anecdotal evidence from those coming in and out of Iraq itself tell a similar story, which is perhaps hardly surprising given the expected scale of casualties and destruction.
The Iraqi regime's human rights record has been grim - though not uniquely so - over more than 30 years. If and when US and British occupation forces march down Baghdad's Rashid Street, we will doubtless be treated to footage of spontaneous celebrations and GIs being embraced as they hand out sweets. There will be no shortage of people keen to collaborate with the new power; relief among many Iraqis, not least because occupation will mean an end to the misery of sanctions; there will be revelations of atrocities and war crimes trials.
All this will be used to justify what is about to take place. But a foreign invasion which is endorsed by only a small minority of Iraqis and which seems certain to lead to long-term occupation, loss of independence and effective foreign control of the country's oil can scarcely be regarded as national liberation. It is also difficult to imagine the US accepting anything but the most "managed" democracy, given the kind of government genuine elections might well throw up.
The danger of military interventions in the name of human rights is that they are inevitably selective and used to promote the interests of those intervening - just as when they were made in the name of "civilisation" and Christianity. If war goes ahead, the prospect for Iraq must be of a kind of return to the semi-colonial era before 1958, when the country was the pivot of western power in the region, Britain maintained military bases and an "adviser" in every ministry and landowning families like Ahmad Chalabi of the INC's were a law unto themselves. There were also 10,000 political prisoners, parties were banned, the press censored and torture commonplace. As President Bush would say, it looks like the re-run of a bad movie.
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