The Iraqi dictatorship: a unique case needs an exceptional
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
In the passionate
debate over whether to wage war on Iraq, the position of
those opposed to military action has come to rest on the
grounds that such action is not morally justifiable and
would result in the deaths of many innocent Iraqis. Yet
a crucial element of this argument is often neglected, namely
what is the opinion and attitude of the Iraqi people themselves
to the prospect of war?
Iraq is a unique
issue, unlike any other in the world in almost every proportion.
Yes, it has a dictator, and an oppressed people, as in many
other countries. However, what is fundamentally different
is the way this dictator oppresses his people. The suffering
of the Iraqi people is profound and extraordinary in scale.
What makes it even more painful is its concealment by the
Iraqi government and the ignorance about it of the rest
of the world.
It is impossible
for anyone who has not lived in Iraq to comprehend the continuous
psychological oppression of the people by the regime. Saddam
Hussein has such a complex intelligence apparatus that people
are afraid of expressing any opinion, anywhere, to anyone
that may be deemed negative of the government. Families
are afraid of each other; friends do not dare to test the
genuineness of their friendship; people are even cautious
of their eyes in case a certain way of looking at a picture
of Saddam or a government building is deemed 'disapproving'.
These are not
mere words - this is the daily, lived experience of millions
of Iraqi people. The result is that every Iraqi is trapped
and isolated in an individual cocoon, on constant alert
from what their eyes may do or their tongue may let slip.
The consequence of any such 'mistake' or 'slip' has almost
always been the execution of the 'guilty' and some or all
of their immediate family, preceded by unimaginable torture
and interrogation. And in case the fear is not great enough,
the Iraqi government has been known to carry out random
arrests of thousands of citizens, subjecting them to inhuman
treatment according to the logic that this helps to flush
out opponents of Saddam. No wonder that every knock on the
door makes the hearts of Iraqis stop.
If this is
the way the 'innocent' are dealt with, what of those who
actively oppose the regime? The violence against anyone
even suspected of opposition (and their family and friends)
is of course no less ferocious. Whole towns, such as Dujel,
have been wiped out in hours because a couple of townsmen
were found to be actively opposed to Saddam Hussein.
Iraq floats not just on a pool of oil, but on an ocean of
blood. According to the lowest estimates, over ten per cent
of the Iraqi population has been killed by Saddam Hussein
and his regime over the three decades of its rule.
To choose between
good and evil requires only the common sense of ordinary
humanity, but to choose the lesser of two evils requires
wisdom. This wisdom is now desperately needed. The Iraqi
people now find themselves at a junction where either path
is full of danger. In the absence of an ideal solution,
they must choose whether to back or oppose a U.S. 'war on
To oppose such
a war would be to maintain the status quo. That is for another
million Iraqis to be slaughtered, hundreds of thousands
to be tortured, and an entire nation subjected to fear and
individually encapsulated in their own oppression.
such a war would mean that several thousand Iraqis would
be killed during bombing and fighting. It would also mean
that the U.S., not the Iraqi people, would decide the make-up
of the post-Saddam government. Yet, almost all fellow Iraqis
I have spoken to - from the United Kingdom and North America
to those who have recently escaped to Syria, Iran or Jordan
- express their support for the U.S.'s call for a war to
overthrow Saddam Hussein. The reason for this near-unanimous
support is the reality in which Iraqis live. No war, no
government can ever be as bad as Saddam Hussein's regime.
Iraqis are so desperate that even a Latin America-style
or Shah of Iran-type ruler would be preferable to them.
Those who oppose
the war say "It should be left to the Iraqi people
to overthrow Saddam Hussein, if that is what they want."
But this argument ignores the fact that over half a million
Iraqis have given up their lives attempting to overthrow
Saddam and his regime. More than 200,000 Iraqis were slaughtered
in the 1991 uprising trying to do just that. At least 100,000
Iraqis have been executed or tortured to death in Iraqi
prisons attempting to do just that. No less than 200,000
Iraqi Kurds have been killed, in the infamous Anfal operation
and other operations in northern Iraq, trying to do just
that. The Iraqi people cannot overthrow the regime on their
own, so to oppose regime change in Iraq is only to lock
the Iraqi people in Saddam's box.
casualties are tragic, but those resulting from regime change
would be minimal in comparison to the numbers that would
die if Saddam were to remain. From the hundreds of Iraqis
that I have spoken to, many go as far as to say they would
be willing to be killed as 'collateral damage' in such a
war, just so Iraq can be freed of Saddam Hussein and his
change - to democracy
The core realities
of the Iraqi regime mean that there is no moral justification
in opposing the only method of ending the suffering of the
Iraqi people. Yes, forced regime change is wrong in principle;
but in this unique situation, where normal rules do not
apply, it is the only morally justified solution.
There can only
be one reason for opposing regime change, and it is neither
moral nor ethical: lack of care for the suffering Iraqi
Yet to support
a war to remove Saddam Hussein does not mean to side with
the U.S. There are two parts to the so-called 'war on Iraq'.
The first is the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his regime,
and the second is the installation of a puppet, pro-U.S.
government. In the light of the uniqueness of Iraq, the
suffering of its people, and their mass support of change,
the role of the international community and the people of
the world should not be to argue over the desirability of
regime change, but to advance the argument for democracy
to replace Saddam's regime.
To linger in
discussions about regime change would be to grant the U.S.
the freedom to decide what replaces this regime. Instead,
pressure should be applied to ensure that what replaces
Saddam is a truly proportional, democratically-elected Iraqi
government. This would rescue a suffering, abandoned people
from endless torment and oppression. It is the true humanitarian
stance to take.
regime change - a change to democracy. The moral and ethical
grounds for this are undisputable, and such a course would
save hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.