No Thank You, Mr. Bush
If one learns anything from living under a totalitarian system it is how to decipher the news and sift through official propaganda. Iraqis like myself have been doing that for almost three decades. Most of us listen to Arabic-language foreign radio stations like the BBC and Voice Of America, and follow the international news on a daily basis. So the painful experiences of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, two devastating wars, and over a decade of the harshest sanctions in human history have showed us, time and again, the gap between words and deeds among those who proclaim to be our champions and potential liberators.
The U.S had very good relations with our oppressor in the 1980s. As a teenager growing up in Baghdad, I remember watching on the nightly news Saddam receiving a man by the name of Donald Rumsfeld, who was sent by President Reagan to reestablish U.S. diplomatic relations with the Iraqi regime. When Saddam plunged Iraq and its people into an eight-year war from 1980 to 1988 against Iran, it was no secret in Iraq that the U.S was supplying Saddam with military intelligence through Jordan to help him against the Iranians. When Saddam gassed Iraqi Kurds, the Bush I administration gave him a slap on the wrist and made sure Congress did not pass sanctions against his regime. It was only after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait that he was treated by the U.S. as the monstrous dictator that he is.
During the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, the U.S. bombed our country back to the pre-industrial age and decimated the rank-and-file of the Iraqi army. But it left Saddam's elite Republican Guard almost intact. In February 1991 Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds rose up against Saddam, partly in response to Bush I's call for the Iraqi people "to take matters into their own hands." But there was no support from the U.S. then, not even symbolically. Bush I then said that it was "an internal matter."
In fact, the cease-fire agreement signed between the U.S. and Saddam's generals allowed the continued use of helicopters, which he used to crush the uprising and kill tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens. General Schwarzkopf later wrote somewhat disingenuously that he didn't think that Saddam, whose generals claimed they needed the helicopters to transfer wounded soldiers, would use the helicopters against his own people.
Then came the sanctions, supposedly put in place to weaken the regime and prevent it from developing weapons of mass destruction. But they have only made Saddam's regime and his thuggish inner circle stronger, while claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. Americans should know that many Iraqis have heard of the infamous words of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright on 60 Minutes about the price of sanctions -- 5,000 children under ten dying every month -- being "worth it."
Now the U.S. administration tells us that it wants to "liberate" Iraq and deliver its people to a prosperous and democratic future. But recent reports and leaks about what lies in store are alarming at best.
There is the one about General Tommy Franks ruling Iraq a la MacArthur until it can stand on its own feet. Then there are the ex-Saddamist generals who live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and some European countries. The administration has been in contact with these folks about leading a post-war Iraq -- all of whom have impressive credentials in genocide and were blind followers of Saddam before defecting and becoming "professional" opposition figures.
Finally there is Ahmed Chalabi from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) who has important friends in Washington, D.C, but is unpopular, if not detested, among Iraqis in the diaspora and virtually unknown inside Iraq. Chalabi is running around Washington, D.C. promising oil executives that the U.S will control the lion's share of Iraq's massive reserves ... Most distressing of all is how the voices of three million of us in the Iraqi diaspora are not being heard, especially in the mainstream American media. It's clear that one reason for this is that many of our voices contradict the Bush administration's official line to the American people that all Iraqis would support a U.S. war to oust Saddam. In addition to dozens of articles and interviews by exiled Iraqi dissidents opposing a U.S. invasion that appear regularly in Europe, there have been numerous petitions signed by Iraqis of various ethnic and political backgrounds stressing our opposition to both dictatorship and war. But not a word about this in the American press.
While we have all been yearning for Saddam's demise, most of us are aware that our liberty and a democratic future are not at the top of the U.S. wish list in Iraq, if there at all. We have seen and heard too much to fall for this line. If a war is waged, let's be honest and say that it will be for oil and American dominion in the Middle East, and not to liberate us Iraqis.
Sinan Antoon was born in Baghdad and left Iraq in 1991. He is a doctoral candidate in Arabic literature at Harvard University and a Iraq analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus.