The Iraqi dictatorship: a unique case needs an exceptional solution

Yasser Alaskary
24 September 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.

A choice of evils

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 Iraq’.

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.

To support 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.

Any civilian 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 regime.

A regime 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 people.

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.

Iraqis need 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.

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