Anti-War Movement Ignores Saddam's Crimes
Peter Tatchell says regime change is vital for democracy and human rights.
Am I alone in feeling alienated from the anti-war movement? While I share its opposition to an invasion of Iraq, it is discomforting to witness the one-sided condemnation of Bush and Blair. Where are the denunciations of Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses?
I agree with my fellow protesters. A war on Iraq smacks of neo-imperialism. It has little to do with fighting terrorism or destroying weapons of mass destruction. The US wants to grab access to Saddam's huge oil reserves, and create a pro-western client state in the Middle East.
It is, nevertheless, deeply disturbing the way the Stop The War campaign is ignoring the Iraqi government's monstrous human rights violations, and offering no counter-plan for overthrowing the murderous regime in Baghdad.
The leaflets and posters of the Stop The War Coalition do not mention Saddam's repression of his own people. There is not a word about the brutalities of detention without trial, torture, execution and the ethnic cleansing of Kurds and Shiites.
Iraqi jails are full of journalists, students, lawyers, socialists, clerics, trade unionists and human rights advocates. The anti-war campaign ignores their plight and has no proposals to help free them.
Saddam's repression is, if anything, getting worse. In November 2001, the death penalty was extended to include the offences of prostitution, homosexuality, incest and rape.
The organisers of the 'Don't Attack Iraq' protests have, regrettably, failed to publicly support regime change. They demand 'Freedom for Palestine' but not 'Freedom for the Iraqi people'. This omission is an appalling betrayal of Iraqis struggling for democracy and social justice.
I have no doubt that most of the organisers and supporters of the anti-war demonstrations are opposed to Saddam's rule and would like to see him overthrown. Why don't they say so? Where is the peace movement's public backing for a change of government in Iraq?
The bottom line is this: there can be no toleration of any regime that violates human rights.
To end the decades of repression and abuse, Saddam (and all other dictators) must be removed from power. Those who refuse to support the overthrow of the Butcher of Baghdad are, in effect, colluding with his tyranny.
The issue is not whether there should be regime change, but how. There is a credible alternative to a western-engineered invasion. It is an uprising by the Iraqi people: a Vietnamese-style guerrilla war in tandem with a 'people power' campaign of civilian resistance, like they had in Czechoslovakia and the Philippines in the 1980s. This is what the anti-war movement should be supporting loud and clear.
We must press Britain, the US and the rest of the international community to aid Iraq's democratic opposition, in particular the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Kurdish nationalist parties and others.
This aid should include simple, effective things like funding pirate TV and radio stations to break Saddam's censorship of the media and give the Iraqi opposition a means to mobilise resistance inside the country. A campaign of civilian resistance could include tactics like workplace go-slows, mass sick leaves, industrial and military sabotage, and rent and tax refusals.
In parallel, the UK and other nations should help train and arm a Free Iraq army inside the northern and southern no-fly zones (like we supported the Free French forces and the French resistance during WW2). From these safe-havens, the Iraqi opposition could launch military operations against Saddam; creating liberated areas around the major towns, leading to an eventual assault on Baghdad.
Internally-based civilian and military resistance may take longer than a US-led war to effect regime change, but it is likely to ensure a more stable and enduring post-Saddam democracy. It would, moreover, lessen the likelihood of Arab states feeling obliged to rush to Saddam's defence, and avoid the danger that an attack on Iraq might lead to a wider conflict, drawing in Israel and its Arab neighbours.
In contrast, a western invasion might strengthen Saddam's standing among the Arab people and provoke Arab governments to rally to his aid. It could also play straight into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. They would undoubtedly respond by seeking to mobilise the whole of the Muslim world in a Holy War against the West's armies of occupation. And they might succeed. That would be totally counter-productive, and could create far more serious long-term threats than Saddam Hussein.
Regime change must come from within. It cannot be imposed. A change of regime must lead to a democratic state, and not to a new form of autocratic rule - by a US military governor. Democracy is the key to human rights and to regional peace and stability. It could also be infectious.
A democratic Iraq would be a beacon for human rights throughout the Middle East; giving the Arab people their first taste of freedom in a region that is dominated by semi-feudal Islamic fundamentalist dictatorships, notorious for their brutality, nepotism and corruption. Perhaps, in time, it might even encourage similar, long overdue regime change in neighbouring tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.
Published in a slightly edited format on The Guardian Unlimited website, 30 September 2002.
Copyright Peter Tatchell 2002. All rights reserved.
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