and what we are not suppose to know

Tuesday 18 March 2003, by Sami Ramadani


The invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot give my people their freedom. That's why MPs should vote against war.

A couple of weeks ago I went with my partner and our little boy to see our Labour MP, Bridget Prentice, in the House of Commons. We waited for two-and-a-half hours but she neither showed up nor sent a note. I wrote her a brief letter but she hasn't acknowledged it yet.

We are British citizens of Iraqi origin. My wife, who is Kurdish from Sulaimaniyah, fled Iraqi Kurdistan in the mid-1980s, risking her life in the process. I am also an exile and cannot go back to Iraq because of my resistance to Saddam's tyranny. Our son is four, and was born here.

As a family, we wanted to tell our MP how we feel now, with war against Iraq imminent. So far, she has supported the government; we went to see her in the hope that, even at this late hour, she will change her mind and vote against war.

My wife sees Iraqi victims of torture every day where she works, at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture; we wanted to tell Bridget Prentice that Iraq is in desperate need of regime change and the establishment of a democratic order. The Iraqi people need it much more than Bush and Blair could ever understand. But democracy for Iraq will not be achieved by bombing and invading the country. It cannot be trusted to George Bush. The US will not accept a democratic verdict which is not to its liking in a strategically important country, possessing the world's second largest oil reserves. They strangled just such a verdict in Congo in the 1960s and in Chile in the 1970s, and they are working hard to reverse it in Venezuela today.

In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam's party, the Ba'ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats of all shades; it backed the Ba'ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979, the year he elevated himself to president, helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait when the Arabic-speaking US ambassador in Baghdad, April Glaspie, told him on July 25 1990 that the US had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts" when she knew that Saddam's forces were only one week away from invading; it backed him in 1991 when Bush suddenly stopped the war, exactly 24 hours after the start of the great March uprising that engulfed the south and Iraqi Kurdistan (US aircraft were flying over the scenes of mass killing as Iraqi helicopter gunships were aiding Saddam's forces crush the uprising); and it backed him as the "lesser evil" from March 1991 to September 11 2001 under the umbrella of murderous sanctions and the policy of "containment".

Then, having caused the death of about half a million Iraqis, mostly children, through sanctions, Bush and Blair declare that containment and sanctions are not working after all. Blair must reconcile his strongly and suddenly found conviction that war is better than containment with the fact that the US hawks, now prominent in the Bush administration, have been advocating a war on Iraq for the past 12 years - not to liberate the Iraqi people, or to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, but to impose US hegemony on a strategically important country. September 11 gave them their opportunity. Blair's "sincerity", and his sympathy for the Iraqi people are, alas, nothing but grist to Rumsfeld's mills of war.

Indeed, one of the strongest arguments against war, that should prompt all its supporters to re-examine their consciences, is the fact that if Saddam does still possess weapons of mass destruction then it is probable that this amoral tyrant will use them if his removal from power becomes imminent.

Our MPs must raise these questions in the Commons and oppose the US war plans, even at this late hour. The US desperately needs Britain as a political and moral prop, a fig leaf for claiming the existence of an international alliance for war. It is our MPs' duty to expose this and side with the Iraqi people's own struggle to remove Saddam's regime and establish democracy in Iraq. In this, they will also be acting in the British people's best interests.

If allowed to run its course, the Blix programme of inspections would have emboldened the Iraqi people to challenge Saddam's regime in the knowledge that Saddam would not be using chemical weapons to crush future uprisings. This would have been particularly likely if the inspections and monitoring regime had been combined with strict military and diplomatic sanctions, while lifting the economic sanctions, which have not only caused so much death and pain for the people but also strengthened Saddam's hand against them. If all this had been coupled with an international campaign to aid the Iraqi people to remove Saddam and establish democracy, we are confident that they would have succeeded; their past heroic struggles were always hampered by US, wider western and Soviet backing for Saddam's regime.

The acceleration of war plans coincided with Blix's announcement of active Iraqi cooperation and his demands for a few months to complete his work. The US administration was clearly panicked by the prospect of a peaceful disarmament of Saddam. They are fearful of the prospect of seeing the Iraqi people taking on the tyrant and his dictatorial state.

Much is made of Tony Blair's courage. We are told that he is being brave in his deafness to majority opinion in Britain and the world. The truth is that he is mesmerised by US power, convinced he will be on the side of the victors and bask in the glory of their might once they raise the US flag in Baghdad, that beloved city of my childhood. But Blair's glory, even if it comes to pass, will be short-lived.

ยท Sami Ramadani mail to: is an Iraqi political exile and a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.