My thoughts on Iraq and the Left

August 5, 2011

The French Revolution was a noble cause. Its goal was freedom from absolute tyranny. The shackles of Monarchy were being swept away for the sake of the enlightenment ideals of political and social rights. The cause itself was right. The methods were sometimes disturbing and wrong. The means cannot be justified regardless of the ends. Yet the ends were a noble ideal, as set out in La Fayette’s declaration of rights (though largely influenced by his friendship with Jefferson). This is how I see the Iraq war. I do not oppose the war in principle. Much of the means have been wrong, and thoroughly unnecessary, but the goal remains the right one. Political and social rights for a long oppressed people.

It seems a little odd to me that a majority of my fellow Left Wingers would oppose the Iraq war whilst the Left Wing inside Iraq has been struggling for years to firstly stop being prosecuted and systematically murdered, and secondly to get heard. There was no left wing march on London to protest the wiping out of 100,000 Kurds, or the killing of 90,000 Shi’ites. Iraq under Saddam was not that different to Kosovo under Milosovich, or Rwanda under the Tutsis. Iraq was a multi ethnic society, in which the minority ethnicity held the power, violently. Genocide is a term that can be applied to Iraq. Where were the anti-war protests, the pro-humanitarian righteous calls for Saddam to be tried for war crimes? It is almost shameful to abandon the cause of the international Left – deciding they are in a different Country, so not important – for the sake of a manic anti-Americanism stance. The cause of the international Left, is the cause of all Left wingers.

Expecting a legitimate and entirely free, well run election, in a country that has no real democratic infrastructure, in its first years, is madness. But it is a small step on the right course. I characterise the 2009 Iraqi election as a symbol more than anything. I say it was a symbol, because for a country whose citizens had been oppressed from a crime family for the past thirty years, to suddenly, at the legislative level, have thousands of women contesting electable seats is a massive achievement in itself. 75% of the parties standing candidates for election, were brand new parties. Also, in 2009, the multinational force in Iraq played no part in the security of the election process, which was presided over for the first time (an achievement, surely?) by the Iraqi security service. In 2005 elections there was no public canvassing for votes. In 2009, there was. Another achievement surely? And another symbol of the way things are, and should be going. The 2009 election, whilst it included violence and corruption unquestionably, it was also an improvement on 2005. 8 candidates were killed in 2009. 200 were killed in 2005. Suddenly displaced people and prisoners were given a vote. It is a big symbol for Iraq, and in fact for that region on the whole, given its centrality. Whilst the election took place under occupation, I cannot see it as anything but a step (albeit a small step) in the right direction. People who had been excluded from the political process for decades, suddenly having a say, is not a bad thing. And if anyone (including those of us on the pro-war side) thought the people of Iraq, after 30 years of Saddam oppression and frankly, a century or more of being played with like pawns, by the West, were suddenly going to march to the polls, in the same spirit as the democratic process in the UK, and expecting no violence or attempts to sieze power during a time when the country is essentially, new, they are delusional. The necessary infrastructure was not destroyed during the invasion itself, it was absolutely dismantled under Saddam. Said Aburish’s book “The politics of revenge” speaks of this.

The problem, as I see it, with early elections in deeply unstable countries like Iraq, is whilst continued US presence is not all that helpful, it seems to be true that if there is no real strong UN/US presence, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that the country will fall into the hands of anti-democratic forces again. Shia and Sunni parliamentary groups are slowly figuring out how to work together, which is far more essential than a strong UN/US presence, to prevent the country sliding into civil war, but it isn’t quite there yet. On this point, I am in two minds. I do think a strong UN/US presence is necessary in the early years, to provide support for a fledgling democracy against the plethora of groups that would like to install a new anti-democratic, anti-western, violent regime, which whether we like it or not, will always result in new tensions and aggression from the West again; but at the same time, we see the result of US presence with the democratic process in Afghanistan, and that leaves a lot to be desired, even though to pull Western support entirely from Afghan, would almost certainly lead to a renewed Taliban insurgency and a take over of government again, which is not helpful at all. So I certainly don’t see this as black and white. I simply think it is far too complex a situation, which many on the anti-war left tend to forget.

To have listened to the advice of the anti-war Left for the past twenty years, we would now have had a Milosovich who succeeded in Bosnia/Serbia. Kosovo would have been ethnically cleansed. Saddam would still be in power. The Taliban would be more powerful than ever. Iraq would have been a repeat of Rwanda – a campaign that never happened, I presume to the delight of the anti-war left. The anti-war left therefore, should horribly ashamed of themselves. I would be ashamed to align myself with such thoughts. It is important to note, their objection was not in the way the war was handled, or in the doubtless in-competencies of the rebuilding effort. Their objection was the principle of going to war against a leader whose country had been described as one big concentration camp. How they justify that objection, from a left wing perspective, is beyond my comprehension i’m afraid. They hold up peace signs, whilst people are raped and tortured to death. They say “War is terrorism” whilst they fellow left wingers are brutally murdered. It is the height of ignorance and betrayal.

They tend to complain that America supports dictators around the World (which America certainly has unjustly done), but then they lose my support when they complain when America takes the opposing view and tries to rid a Nation of a dictator. I absolutely welcome the change of policy from tacit support to regime change of notoriously criminal regimes.

I am not sure where the anger lies? In the war itself; which to me seems like a military operation to rid the World of one of the last and most vicious dictators of the 20th Century, create a Federalised democratic process to try to address the many cultural differences, which surely cannot be morally unjustified, given that the old ways certainly didn’t work. Or in the way the reconstruction was handled and the failure to plan for the influx of extremists aided by Iran and dedicating their efforts to destroying any form of infrastructure. The former, as i’ve pointed out, was hardly an act of unprovoked aggression when – when you glance back over the past thirty years, you see an Iraq that had been torn apart, its people savaged, tortured, raped and murdered, and endless UN resolutions disobeyed and just plain pissed on, Saddam’s funding of Palestinian suicide bombings against Israel and the awful consequences that the Kurds had to face for wanting independence. The reconstruction, was surely execute poorly and our continued forceful and at times disturbing presence (Abu Ghraib comes to mind) simply acted to provoke sectarian violence, but if we expected a long oppressed people to suddenly become the beacon of freedom, and weak infrastructure not to be the target of those who wish to assert another dictatorship over Iraq; we are hopelessly naive. Though surely we’d agree to the following points:

  • Saddam was evil. On the level of evil as Milosovich and other 20th Century dictators.
  • Iraq is better off without Saddam.
  • Building a new Nation on the grounds of a failed State will take time, but is worth it.
  • Taking a State out of the hands of Islamic extremists is in the interests of all of us.
  • Leaving Saddam in place, would only have required intervention at some point in the future, given that he’d spent ten years disobeying all UN resolutions.

    There are also profound questions we need to ask:

  • Were we right to have left Saddam in power after he left Kuwait?
  • Were we right to put sanctions on the Country which no doubt contributed to the suffering of the people?
  • And if we were right in both of those questions, should we have left him in power in 2003 and just kept up the sanctions?
    If you answer yes to all of those, then I am afraid you and I deeply disagree.

    There is a will among anti-war Left, to make sure nothing of any positivity be mentioned in regard to the Iraq war. If there is a rational argument presented for the Iraq war, it is ignored, because it might contradict a deeply held anti-American, anti-Blair view. If any of us dare to mention that we supported the War, support the democratic aftermath, and think it a war, much like Kosovo, to be proud of, we are vilified, especially if we are on the Left. If we were on the Right, our support for the War could be attributed to a dumb, Fox News Watching populace who cannot help but see America as a great Nation dedicated to the pursuit of freedom. As it happens, I am very critical of American foreign policy. There reluctance to involve themselves in Rwanda disgusts me. Reagan’s support for Right Winged terrorists and manic dictators throughout Latin America, disgusts me. But Afghanistan and Iraq have always been issues of contention for me. I never knew where I stood. Now I do. I absolutely, unequivocally support both wars. As a left winger, I support both wars for humanitarian reasons; because Iraq is far better off without the Saddam regime, and Afghanistan is far better off without the Taliban regime. Stability and security is a matter that has been rife with incompetence from coalition, but it will take time. I am of the belief that a democratic Iraq is achievable, and far more preferable to the population (look at the last election results) than a Sunni or Shia sectarian dictatorship; a dictatorship that was absolutely Fascist in its governing, and no less evil than Milosovich’s Kosovo.

    The anti-war marches always seemed a little ignorant and Nationalist in sentiment, to me. There is a whole host of hypocrisy involved too. One wonders where those Western Muslims who insist on supporting their “brothers” and “sisters” in Iraq against “Western Imperialism” were when Saddam was allowing mass executions, genocide and rape to take place. They seem to have only discovered this sense of brotherhood, after 2003. Shameful.

    The calls for Blair to be sent to the Hague – questions arose in my mind…. why? Why should he be tried? What evidence do you have that the Prime Minister, like Milosovich, wished to wipe out Iraqi civilians, and send thousands of servicemen and women to their deaths? Oil? Really? Couldn’t we have saved the trouble and struck a deal with the Saddam regime, in return for aid or the lifting of sanctions? Because he hasn’t said sorry for dead soldiers? Neither did Churchill…. and I challenge you to tell an Iraqi who was held at a Baathist underground torture prison, as seen here, having his eyes gorged out, that Saddam wasn’t as bad as Hitler. What use is a left wing if it turns its head to social injustice on the basis of an abstraction like Nationality and distance from the injustice? It is as if the protesters were not too bothered by the horrific crimes against humanity administered by the Saddam regime. As if they were not too fussed that before Saddam, Iraq had an economy that surpassed Portugal and Malaysia, and after Saddam, it was one of the poorest nations on Earth. They didn’t seem to care much that in 2002, the UN issued a warning against Saddam, accusing the regime of:

    systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

    … it is as if the international Left would rather have stayed out of the conflict, and the obvious humanitarian crises and years of genocide, for reasons simply to do with Nationality. It wasn’t “our” problem. As if humanity is not one species. It is like saying “The red headed man is punching his red headed wife….. I wont help, because i’m not red headed, so it doesn’t concern me.” The continuation of the Baathist regime cannot be justified by those of us on the Left. It was an abomination. It represented an imperialism imposed by religious extremism, resulting in poverty, oppression, institutionalised rape and genocide. We also cannot ignore the ten years worth of warning the UN had given to Iraq.
    The UN demanded that Iraq put a complete halt on:

    summary and arbitrary executions… the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and involuntary disappearances

    I cannot bring myself to say that a war that toppled a man who used rape as a political tool, was using widespread and “extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law“, was wrong or illegal.

    Under Saddam thousands of Communist Party members were tortured and killed. Husain al-Radi, the leader of the Communist Party and exceptional painter/poet was tortured and killed after the 1963 Baathist coup.

    Under Saddam, the worst chemical attack in history took place. 1988, against the Kurds, the Halabja massacre, in which 5000 people died, 10000 more injured, and thousands more suffering birth defects every day. I implore you to imagine walking down a street in Halabja that day, and watching as thousands of people going about their every day lives choked to death; children’s skin burning and blistering, screaming in pain, before they dropped dead. One thing is for certain, most of the anti-war Left would be calling for Saddam’s head to be bought to London and stuck on a pole in the Tower of London, had he done the same thing in London. For a powerful Western Nation to sit back, and allow it to happen, is immoral. To support inaction, in my opinion, is a war crime.

    Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times was stationed 14km outside of Halabja, and recalled entering the town after the attack:

    It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.

    - Knowing that the President of a country is capable of such an atrocity, to demand Blair’s head on a plate simply for a “45 minute claim” that may or may not have been exaggerated, seems beyond petty.

    Under Saddam vast environmental damage was caused in Kuwait, when Iraqi forces retreated from their invasion of Kuwait, and set land minds in the oil fields after setting the oil fields on fire. The fires raged for ten months, creating an environmental disaster, deep respiratory problems for Kuwaitis ensued. The land and the wildlife of the surrounding region was destroyed. Where were the protesters in London? I guess they were at petrol stations, wondering why their petrol cost was increasing, on their way to a shopping mall, whilst 6 million barrels of oil a day were burning in Iraq and causing a humanitarian and environmental crises. The international Left should have been acting to oust Saddam then and there.

    Yanar Mohammed, the Iraqi Feminist and head of “Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq” moved back to Iraq after self imposed exile for fear of her life, after the invasion by coalition troops. Her group now fights against sexual slavery and forced prostitution. It provides safe houses for victims of domestic abuse and those threatened with honour killings. She claims to have saved 30 women from honour killings. Under Saddam, those 30 killings would have taken place, and there would be nowhere for victims of domestic abuse or sexual slavery inside Iraq to turn to. At Saddam’s trial, a woman who didn’t wish to be identified testified against the Dictator, stating:

    “I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks, I begged them, but they hit with their pistols. They made me put my legs up. There were five or more, and they treated me like a banquet.

    The woman was 16 at the time.
    Yanar Mohammed is pushing for the de-baathistisation of the Country’s attitudes to women. Another step in the right direction, and a signal that Iraq is far better off without Saddam or the Baath Party. The international Left should be recognising people like Yanar Mohammed and helping her cause, rather than focusing on endless criticism of America.

    Azzam Alwash is the director of “Nature Iraq“, the Country’s first and only Environmental organisation. He is working to restore the marshes of Southern Iraq. The beautiful region, full of wildlife and natural wonder, considered by some to be the “cradle of civilisation” and the Garden of Eden, was destroyed by Saddam. The Marsh Arabs had supported a Shiite uprising against Saddam in the early 1990s. The marsh Arabs had lived in floating huts on a plethora of canals that were divided between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Saddam had thousands of the marsh Arabs tortured and killed, and their livestock slaughtered. The huts were burned, and the water was poisoned. As many as 500,000 fled the attack. Land mines were placed in and around the marshes to make sure no one would go back. For centuries the marshes of Southern Iraq were teeming with wildlife and aquatic life. After 1990, it was baron, drained, poisoned, and covered in land mines. The UN in 2001 named it as one of the greatest environmental disasters of all time. Alwash intends to re-flood the marshes and restore the wildlife. This would not have been possible under Saddam. Alwash would most likely have been tortured and killed for even suggesting it. The south was one of the places that the Iraqi people were delighted to welcome coalition troops in 2003.

    America has always influenced Iraqi affairs. They helped empower Saddam. They trained and armed Iraqi soldiers against Iran during the conflict in the 1980s, by making it easier to transport weapons by arbitrarily removing Iraq from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. The US miserably abandoned their Kurdish allies in 1975 leading to genocide (the abandonment of the Kurds is the moral indignation that should lead to US Officials – in particular, Kissinger – tried for war crimes, not 2003). There were, as far as I can tell, only one way the Americans could put right their continued involvement in Iraqi affairs; topple the dictator, install a democratic process, leave. And whilst the process was at times incompetent and at other times absolutely abhorrent, the goal is the right one.

    Interestingly, a poll of 2737 Iraqis interviewed by ABC News with the necessary field work conducted Oxford Research International of Oxford, found that 78 percent of Iraqis reject violence against coalition forces, although 17 percent — a sixth of the population — call such attacks “acceptable.” One percent, for comparison, call it acceptable to attack members of the new Iraqi police. This to me suggests that whilst people in Iraq may have tired of coalition forces during the war, they respected the new Iraqi police force and the rule of law set by the new Iraqi State. Also, forty percent of Arabs (who make up 79% of the population) supported the presence of coalition forces in 2005, compared with 82 percent of Kurds. Of the entire population, 48% said the invasion was right, whilst only 39% said it was wrong. And whilst the media and the anti-war Left like to imagine that life is impossible now for Iraqis, the poll found that 70% are happy with their lives now, 71% expect their lives to improve in the coming years, and only 19% say they are worse off after the war than before. Only 15% said that coalition forces should “leave now” (this was 2005). 36%, the majority, said coalition forces should leave once a stable Iraqi government is in place. Now, short of providing their own evidence to the contrary, I would expect the anti-war left to insist that the research is coalition propaganda, at that point, I cease to listen to them.

    To conclude, I tend to question popular sentiment as much as possible. Call it a need to argue. So when my own political allies on the Left come to a conclusion that seems a little drastic (Send Blair to the hague for war crimes, for example), I tend to want to look into the arguments further. On Iraq, I disagree profoundly with the vast majority of the Left. I also think they have betrayed their desire for superior investigative journalism, by attaching their reasoning to the claims of Gilligan, which I shall discuss in more depth tomorrow. The Left should have mobilised against Saddam and called for his overthrow years ago. They should have stood shoulder to shoulder with groups fighting for freedom in Iraq. This, they failed to do. They abandoned the international cause of the Left, for the sake of rabid anti-Americanism and a desire to see Blair in prison. Their objections on the whole, came down to national allegiance. And most will start their argument with “Yeah, I know Saddam was an evil dictator but…“. To me, that is where their argument has fallen. It is a hopelessly flippant statement that deserves absolutely no respect. From the comfort of a Western perspective, in which we can think what we wish without worrying our neighbours may be spying on us, and that we may be tortured or murdered at any second; to say Saddam was evil, is just words. Meaningless words. From a privileged and relatively free Western perspective, where we are not forced to demonstrate our loyalty to our leader on fear of torture, or made to watch and applaud the execution of our family members, we know nothing, we cannot imagine the horror of living day by day under such an oppressive regime, we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of the Kurds, the Shia and the Marsh Arabs. In Iraq, the biggest threat was not American imperialism, it was a regime that was absolutely beyond evil. Evil is a word that cannot be applied easily, but the Saddam regime was evil. To suggest we understand at all, and to still oppose the war, represents a deep betrayal of the principles of social justice on which the left is built. What good is a left that has resigned itself to arbitrary National borders? To speak of “we” as a collective nation, rather than “we” as a movement for social justice, represents an appalling betrayal of our principles. The anti-war Left (many of whom struggle to place Basra on a map) should be ashamed.

    It is true that Iraq now is a hotbed of sectarian violence and terrorism, but it is improving. It cannot be expected to become a peaceful democratic state so quickly, after suffering so many years of oppression. I assert that the war was the right course to take, the rebuilding effort is going to be long and dangerous but it sets the correct course for the future of Iraq, and tomorrow I will expand on this further.


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