If this war really does take place, it will save many more lives than it will cost, and millions of Iraqis (if no-one else) will show their gratitude for that. I’m not an Iraqi, but I shall rejoice with them as if I were.
As someone who has been warning the world about the ultimate ambitions of Saddam Hussein since 1973 - when I sneaked into northern Iraq to report on his preparations for his first war, on the Kurds - I am convinced that only the removal of this psychopath will prevent more conflicts in the future. When he waged his second war, on Iran in 1980, the world rightly felt reluctant to act to stop him, for that would have helped the only slightly less repugnant regime of the ayatollahs. But when the full extent of the gassing of over 280 Kurdish villages and small towns became clear in the summer of 1988, after the end of the war with Iran, surely there was then no excuse to tolerate the vile regime any longer.
To my disgust, and after my pleadings in BBC programmes and press articles, Mrs Thatcher’s government doubled Saddam’s Export Credit Guarantee to £320m a year, and the leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, refused even to add his name to a dozen other prestigious figures in a statement in The Times to condemn the gassings.
If resort had been made then to the 1948 Geneva Protocol on Genocide to overthrow Saddam, perhaps more than a million people would not subsequently have lost their lives: in the deportations and disappearances of some 180,000 Kurds, the eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, the massacres of the Shia in the south of Iraq, the destruction of the Marsh Arabs, all those dead Iraqis who were deliberately deprived of food and medicines supplied by the UN in order to blame their deaths on sanctions.
Just before the war of 1991, the foreign minister of India asked me to advise him what position to take at the UN. When I failed to persuade him that backing Saddam would be a complete betrayal of Gandhi, under whose portrait we had just had lunch, he felt ashamed. "I can’t oppose Saddam", he said. "If I do and he still ends up in possession of Kuwait, India will pay an extra £2bn a year in oil imports". Now the pleadings of those two big sleazebags, Chirac and Putin, to bind America and Britain to their vetoes in the Security Council reminds me of that Indian minister and how politicians determine their moralities. Russia and France have been offered massive contracts to work for the survival of Saddam.
Twice recently, I have questioned Tony Blair in Downing Street. I do not know about George Bush, but I have the firm impression that Britain’s leader hates war and hates having to spend £4-5bn on overthrowing Saddam just as much. I’d rather be on his side than on the side of men like Chirac.
Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.