'My sweet war, come fast'
21 februari 2003
(translated from Dutch)
Warlords in pinstripe suits keep Kurdish youths imprisoned in their own country. The youths long for a war that is to bring a new beginning.
SULEYMANIYA/ARBIL 21 FEBR. Through the glass panes that separate the computers in the internetcafe, one can see the pink colour of nude bodies. In Kurdish North-Iraq regained press freedom is mostly used to discover the female body. [..]
Between all this porn violence is Sarwar Amin (22). He is the school example of a modern, young Kurd; he speaks English, works as a local assistant for the UN and translates Nietzsche books into his native language as a hobby.
In his internetcorner Sarwar types an empassioned plea about the "anti-war demonstrators in Europe who do not realise that the Iraqi's have to live with an old, open wound." Only when the wound is closed, can the Iraqis go on with their existence. "As long as they remove Saddam. I am sending this mail to all my penpals in Europe to make sure they won't demonstrate with the rest."
Had Sarwar been born in the west, a shining future had awaited him, but Sarwar is a Kurd from the provincial town of Suleymaniya and has never been able to leave that 'prison'. A university education, the dozens of books he has read and his modern ideas do not get him beyond the reception of one of the UN-buildings, where he answers telephone calls. "My only chance for a better future is an illegal flight into the West."
Every year more students register at the universities of the capitols Suleymaniya and Arbil. Almost half the newcomers are female. English is boundlessly popular as discipline. Still depression rules. For there are no jobs after the studies, and without income there's no chance of marriage. "We look glad, but inside we're destroyed", says Twana Jemil (22). [..]
It's no fun to be young and modern in the autonomous Kurdish zone in North-Iraq. Inside satellite stations show European commercials, music and films, but he who steps outside, sees unemployed men, dilapitated buildings and all 37 variations of the Kalashnikov gun. The two parties who rule the area are led by warlords in pinstripes; old men who think that the youth should be imitating them, instead of listening to a new sound. If you are not interested in a party existence or -job, and you don't want to herd sheep in the mountains, your would do better to seek your fortunes abroad.
But [..] whoever hasn't got both an Iraqi passport and a Kurdish exit visum, is not allowed through at the border control posts. [..] Which is all the harsher as the Kurds would need to get their passport in hostile Bagdad, where you pay 600 dollar for a document. And after that you have to pay the same amount in Kurdistan for the exit visum. "Our country is a prison", Sarwar says decisively. [..]
"If I go to the cinema, I see 97 moustaches and 3 butterflies", says Ferhad Pirbal (42), proprietor of the biggest (private) library in Arbil. [..] The isolation of their country and the separation of the sexes are the biggest problems for the Kurdish youth. Pirbal fights both: the first with his foreign books and films, the second by bringing girls and boys together in his library. [..] If the literature teacher considers certain books important for the youth he buys them abroad. The latest purchase: a book by Montesquieu. "His ideas have inspired the French revolution, perhaps they can help our country too."
Pirbal may be tackling Kurdish society with his cultural crowbar, he knows it's not sufficient. He shares the opinion of most youths that a war is the only opportunity for a better future.
"They are no longer Iraqis, but are no people in an independent country either. Our leaders live with the memory of Saddam's dictatorship, but the youngsters want to get ahead in the world." "It's time for a new start", he thinks. Pirbal made a short poem about it: "My sweet war, come fast, destroy everything and liberate us."
translated from Dutch
Do leftwing people in Europe really understand how bad the Saddam Hussein regime is, and how severe the repression? Why does Europe do so little, and leave so much up to the US? The Iraqis that the Green Left magazine spoke to arrived at different conclusions regarding the war, but on many points their stories coincide.
Mariwan Kanie, Iraqi Kurd, freelance journalist [..]: "Saddam Hussein is not the product of Iraqi society but of foreign powers: in the first place of the US, but also of the eastern bloc, France, Germany. They have all supported Saddam when it suited them, all delivered technology and weapons to them when they could earn money with it. So you cant say now that it is up to the Iraqis themselves to deal with him", he seethes.
The Iraqi political scientist Isam Al Khafaji, who resides in Holland, is annoyed about what he sees as the impersonal attitude of the left. "You can't maintain the position that it is not 'our' task to liberate Iraq. You have to look at what happened in the past period of time and who is responsible for it. In 1991 the Iraqi population rose up in insurrection from north to south. That insurrection was bloodily beaten down by Saddam, with sixtythousand deaths. That happened practically under the nose of the Western troops. But the West did nothing, when they could have easily intervened. The Americans at the time thought that it was not in their interest to topple Saddam Hussein because it would lead to instability in Iraq."
"Leftwing people always keep on talking of the danger of instability in the region, when they should be concerned in first instance with the humanitarian drama taking place in Iraq" [..].
Kanie and Al Khafaji draw opposite conclusions from that. Kanie: "In Iraq it is impossible for anything to become better as long as Saddam is there. This regime is not just any dictatorship. It is not comparable to other non-democratic regimes in the region. 24 million Iraqis are being held hostage by Saddam. Only when this regiime is gone can something be built up again. If you ask me very simply whether I am for or against the war I say: I am for the elimination of Saddam, and it is not possible to rid ourselves from him through any other means than war. Now there is a crisis and I dont want saddam to survive this crisis. Because if that would happen Iraq would be left with him and his sons for another 50 years.
Khafaji disagrees with this: "Of course I am against a war. The Iraqi people has nothing to gain from it, and I think the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people is against a war." But he adds that just taking position against war is not enough, especially for the left. Khafaji: "[..] They also have to say in a positive sense what they do suggest."
The third partner in this conversation, Ala Hussai of the Organisation for Human Rights in Iraq OMRI, is unreservedly against the war. "We have to fight against the regime with all possible means, by armed resistance as well, and this does take place in Iraq. But the people in Iraq do not trust the US. The US have their own intentions with the region and are out to strengthen their hegemony, and the Iraqi people has little good to expect from that."
For [..] Kawie the dominant American position is a given. [..] "Of course the US are out to establish dominance in the Middle East and of course they want a pro-American government in Iraq. The US strategy is to make Iraq into an alternative for the present role of Saudi-Arabia, and that provides us with a chance to get rid of Saddam Hussein."
He totally agrees that the US in the Gulf War very deliberately neglected to topple Saddam's regime. But, is his positioon: 'any change in Iraq is a change for the better', 'and', he adds, 'The Middle East will be under the dominance of the US in any case. Europe does much too little. What it does do, it does too late. It's better to acquire some influence on the Americans by supporting their struiggle agaisnt Saddam, than to stay on the sidelines." [..]
All agree that the economic sanctions have worked contraproductively. The population has been hurt and the position of the rgeime has been strengthened rather than weakened. But what should alternative 'smart' sanctions look like [..]?
Ala Hussai pleads for military and political sanctions. Support to the oppposiution, both financially and politically. "The US have promised support to the opposition already three years ago, but in reality they only support one of the opposition groups. There is one group also that is supported by Iran. That's all. In South-Iraq villages and cities are regularly destroyed by the regime because oppositional activities are undertaken there. There has been a UN resolution for ages in which it says that inspectors should go to these areas, but that has never happened. There are a lot of other things like this that can be done to strengthen opposition".
Green Left parliamentarian Farah Karimi [of Iranian origin] adds as suggestions blocking the bank credits of members of the regime, imposing visa restrictions, indicting and persecuting these members for the crimes they committed and supporting the development of a democratic Kurdistan in North-Iraq. That can have an important exemplary function.
Isam Al Khafaji thinks its important to politically isolate the regime. He too pleads for judicial steps against members of the regime. [..] One problem with supporting the opposition is that it is hard to determine, in a country with such murderous repression, what the opposition looks like and what the role of the different groups is.
Ala Hussai: "The Iraqi opposition is a mosaic, just like the Iraqi population is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups." Still, according to Hussai, there was a large measure of agreement about fundamental issues at a conference of opposition groups in London mid-December. To name but two: the necessity of a democratic and federalist Iraq, and a transitional phase under international oversight.
That there is no such agreement about a war he doesnt consider a fundamental problem. Hussai: "There are really only two groups within the opposition who do not reject the war, but they too have signed the final statement in London".
Karimi: "On a visit to Syria and Jordania in december I have extensively spoken to representatives of Iraqi opposition groups. They are very concerned about the plans of the US and fear a factual American occupation of their country. They are absolutely against that. They also point to how they are almost fully ignored by the US. The Americans pick out a few people whom they want to function as walk-ons. [..]"
Simply put, the Iraqis want out from under Saddam. Even a war is better than more Saddam. The irony of the "peace" demonstrations is that the Left is exercising all its freedoms to deny freedom to the Iraqis.
Tantor wrote:Simply put, the Iraqis want out from under Saddam. Even a war is better than more Saddam. The irony of the "peace" demonstrations is that the Left is exercising all its freedoms to deny freedom to the Iraqis.
Thanks Tantor, for the materials you contributed. Appreciated very much <nods>.
Your conclusion is a bit rash, though, I think, or at least suggests you haven't read up in this thread much. From what I've read (and what you can read here) there seem to be about or almost as many Iraqi exiles against the war as there are for it.
An additional comment pertains to another observation that struck me. I don't know exactly how to formulate it ...
... Some of the sources I saw were written by Iraqi exiles/refugees themselves, or were registrations of interviews in which they got to speak out at length. They were often focused on outlining and arguing political positions or perspectives concerning the war. Compare for example the interviews in the Guardian in the first link I posted.
... Other sources were more the "field report" kind, articles by American/etc (war) reporters, who, sketching the scene, would quote the Iraqi "man in the street" (whether in Arbil or Auckland) or tell a person's or family's tragic story. They were mostly personal-emotive and highly narrative, with the journalist recounting the story to us in a usually gripping way. Compare for example the NRC piece from Kurdish Iraq that I posted above.
Though both kind of sources suggest that, as timberland proposes, "it is possible the Iraqis themselves object less strenuously to this war than do some Europeans", the latter kind does seem to paint a much starker picture in this, more neatly fitting the Iraqi perspectives in a template, of victims yearning for liberation by America. While the former kind more often than not shows a pretty mixed reaction, in which the US intervention is at best defended as the lesser of two evils.
Maybe you need to read more. You might ask yourself if the Iraqi exiles approve of the way things are back home in Iraq, why are they in exile? There are four million exiles out of a population of 20+ million. That's a pretty big chunk of the population to flee.
nimh, interviews with Iraqis in the street in Auckland are not equivalent to those in Iraq. You can not speak freely in Iraq. [..] If you are relying on interviews with everyday Iraqis in Iraq to give you an accurate feeling for their position, you are barking up the wrong tree.
nimh, I doubt anyone would opt for an American shock and awe attack on their hometown, just as nobody would opt for chemotherapy if they could avoid it. However, when you have no future without it, you might just well accept it. A couple weeks of hell might be just be worth it if it means your children would grow up with a future, would be able to speak freely, own property without it being stolen by Saddam's mafia, walk the street without being picked up by Saddam's henchmen arbitrarily to be tortured, imprisoned, or killed. Every family in Iraq has a story of Saddam's cruelty. Really, how hard is it to believe that the Iraqis would be willing to do anything to be rid of him?
I am not saying there aren't a lot of refugees and exiles who do favour war. I'm just saying there are many others - almost as many others, in fact, from what I have seen, who are deeply opposed to Hussein, yet oppose the war.
The consensus is that there is no consensus. The issue has become so deeply divisive that perhaps Iraq is but a sideshow, and the main event is the restructuring of alliances and postures throughout The Community of Nations.
[Former minister of Development Affairs] Pronk defended "the system" of the UN [..]. He fears a world surrendered to the caprice of one country [..]
To [Iraqi journalist] Mariwan Kanie, such arguments only benefit dictators like Saddam Hussein. "That system of yours", he says to Pronl, "has created someone like Saddam".
To him, the demonstrations against the war are a horror. "I read all the Iraqi newspapers and I know how the anti-war demonstrations are used by them. I come from a left-wing Iraqi family myself, and I feel very lonely within the left here."