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[casi] FW: [no-sanctions] We will not surrender

We will not surrender

John Laughland reports from Iraq on the determination of ordinary
people to fight any attempt by the British and Americans to impose
regime change

The Spectetor, 14 Sept 2002

Mosul, northern Iraq

The ancient city of Mosul straddles the Tigris near the Turkish and
Syrian borders, and just beneath the hills of Kurdistan. Churches and
mosques jostle for space in its tiny biblical alleyways; Kurds,
Arabs, Armenians, Syrians, Turkmen, Jews and Yezidis all call it
home. St Thomas the Apostle stopped here on the way to India; Agatha
Christie lived here and was inspired to write Murder in Mesopotamia
and They Came to Baghdad. And here is the Assyrian city of Nineveh,
where the 6th-century bc King Ashurbanipal reigned in glory 25,000
clay tablets from his great library were carted off to the British
Museum by Sir Henry Layard in 1853  and whose destruction the Old
Testament prophet Nahum gleefully predicted: `There shall the fire
devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off. For upon whom hath not thy
wickedness passed continually?'

It often seems as if Nahum has been reincarnated as a speechwriter in
the US State Department, so succinctly do such sentiments encapsulate
current American and British policy towards Iraq. For Mosul lies just
inside the no-fly zone proclaimed by Washington and London after the
Gulf war, but just outside the territory captured by the two main
Iraqi Kurdish factions after the war. In one of the greatest
unreported small wars in history, more than 40,000 sorties have been
flown over Iraq since 1998. In Mosul itself, as in the southern no-
fly zone, bombing raids are so regular that Iraqis react with
insurmountable ennui when you ask them for some figures. `It's in the
papers every single day,' they reply  which is not much help if you
are a bit behind in your cuttings from the Baghdad Bugle. They claim
that half a dozen people or so are injured every week in these raids,
but the Iraqi state is so obsessively secretive that it is impossible
to interview any military sources to get statistics. This is all in
spite of the fact that the Anglo-American mantra about `protecting
the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south' corresponds to no
ethnic geography whatever.

Tony Blair insists that no decisions have been taken on military
action, but in reality military action over Iraq is a fact of daily
life. Recent weeks have seen some particularly intensive raids, one
of them with more than 100 aircraft. Yet it is precisely because this
has been going on for a decade that people here view the prospect of
a new war with a gritty resignation. Their sentiments range from
whimsical Oriental fatalism to a modern steely nationalism. When I
casually inquired about the identity of a man whose statue stands in
central Baghdad, an Iraqi friend cheerfully replied, `Oh, that is Dr
Sa'adoun, who was prime minister under King Faisal. He committed
suicide rather than continue working for the British.' And when I
asked one of the Chaldean Catholic bishops what he thought about a
new war, he replied, `It will be an affront to justice and human
rights. Never before in history has such a huge country like America
been able to occupy a small one like Iraq so easily. Before, wars
were equal. Now, the strong eat the weak.' As for the Eastern
fatalism, a girl receptionist smiled and said, `We do not know what
will happen. We are used to bombs falling on us. During the Gulf war,
we did not run away. People went on to the roof to watch the bombs
like fireworks. It will be the same next time. We are not afraid. As
we say in Arabic, "It is enough if Allah is merciful."' All of these
conversations were conducted in private.

People in Mosul find the daily sorties very stressful. `Every day the
American planes come,' said a secretary in the town hall mournfully.
`They are noisy. Sometimes the Iraqis shoot back. Two weeks ago, the
Americans bombed the airport. These raids are very disturbing.'
Whereas in the rest of the Iraq a relentless propaganda campaign is
maintained against the sanctions regime which has besieged the
country since it invaded Kuwait  the most draconian embargo the UN
has ever imposed  in Mosul it is the bombing that attracts the
greatest resentment. That resentment fuels anger. `We will fight the
Americans till the end!' said a taxi-driver, grinning. `They just
want our oil.' A minor official in Mosul town hall peddles the
standard government line when he tells me, `It is crazy for Americans
to say they want to change our regime. That is for the Iraqi people
to decide. We had a referendum on the President's mandate in 1995. It
was our choice to re-elect him.' (The result was 99.9 per cent in

Because all journalists must be escorted by a minder from the
Ministry of Information, reports of what people say must be
accompanied by a health warning. But there are ways of telling when
people are speaking truthfully and when they are not. At lunch in
Mosul, I found myself sitting next to two Kurds. (The food in Iraq,
by the way, is fabulous. In this, the `land of plenty', local produce
is unaffected by the sanctions regime. The restaurants are cheap and
full of people. In even the simplest canteen, as soon as you sit
down, your table is covered with platefuls of tabbouleh, hummus,
olives, salad and yogurt  and that is just for starters. The souks
are filled with brightly lit shops groaning with piles of spices,
dates, nuts, magnificent local vegetables; street vendors sell
glasses of sour milk, iced fig-juice and freshly squeezed
pomegranates; the patisseries make spectacular baklava, Turkish
delight and other sweets.) The Kurds were from Accra in Iraqi
Kurdistan: they travel back and forth into Iraq proper because there
is no work in their autonomous region. `The Americans do not care
about the Kurds,' they said. `They are acting only out of their own
interest.' They added that it was better to be a Kurd in Iraq than in
neighbouring Turkey, where they have relatives. But when one of them
started to say that the Kurds did not feel strongly about the fact
that Saddam had bombed them in 1988, the other surreptitiously pulled
his eye down with his forefinger and glared at me meaningfully to
indicate that his friend was not free to say what he really believed.
They hurriedly made their excuses and left.

Equally, there are times when people clearly do mean what they say.
Asked what her students thought about England and America, the head
of the English department at Baghdad University, Professor Raya Al-
Nakhshabandi, replied gravely, `I do not think you would like to
hear. We have suffered for more than ten years now. My students have
spent their entire childhood under the embargo. But the Americans
cannot destroy us. We are not going to run away. We have faith in God
and we have faith in our President. The Americans have no right to
interfere in our internal affairs. We are a sovereign state and we
are a mature people. Perhaps in the 1920s such colonialism was
acceptable. But we said goodbye to British soldiers then, and we do
not intend to say hello to American soldiers now. We hope the next
generation will remember how we stood and fought bravely.' Such
sentiments may be the stock-in-trade of the peculiarly intense
nationalism of the Iraqi Ba'athists; but when we changed the subject
to English literature  the students love Wuthering Heights but they
find John Osborne and Samuel Beckett a bit perplexing  the
professor's demeanour and tone of voice remained identical. She had
obviously meant what she said about their willingness to fight. My
spine froze when she fixed me with her dark eyes and said very slowly
and very firmly, `I have three sons. They are aged between 18 and 26.
Do you think I am going to hide them in the house if there is a war?'

Like all the Iraqis I have met, including asylum seekers in London,
the professor expressed disgust at British poodling to the Americans.
`Do you not think it is disgraceful for the United Kingdom to follow
the United States? Whatever happened to "Great" Britain, the greatest
country in the world?' I was asked this question, on average, about
three times a day. Abdul Razaq Al-Hashimi was Iraqi ambassador to
Paris during the Gulf war: he may be a senior party cadre but he is
also a highly intelligent man. `The Iraqi people are very well-
informed,' he told me. `They know that this is a strategy to destroy
the whole of the Middle East. They know that our leadership is right
to resist America and Israel. Why should we, with thousands of years
of civilisation, be told what to do by the Americans? We will not
humiliate ourselves like the Serbs. Iraq will not be turned into
Afghanistan. We have been living on very little for many years. We
have made plenty of sacrifices. We are a surviving nation. But,' he
added, `our contempt for the British government greatly exceeds our
hatred of the Americans.'

It is also part of Ba'athist lore to believe that both the Iraqi army
and civilians fought the Americans heroically around Basra during the
Gulf war. `Why do you think George Bush called for a unilateral and
unconditional ceasefire on 27 February 1991?' Al-Hashimi asked.
`Because the US 7th corps and two British armoured divisions were
caught in a killing ground. Thousands of body-bags would have been
sent back to America. Brent Scowcroft knows that. George Bush Senior
knows that. Colin Powell knows that.' Such myths evidently steel the
resolve to fight again. Indeed, it is important to understand that
many Iraqis regard what happened to them in the Gulf war as a gross
injustice: even if they do not defend the invasion of Kuwait, they
regard the dropping of the equivalent of six or seven Hiroshimas-
worth of ordnance as brutal and excessive.

So would Iraqis dance in the streets if there were `regime change'?
Not according to the bishop: `People say the President is doing his
best for the country.' Saddam's support is especially strong among
the poor. But that it is a dictatorship, there is no doubt: a sort of
magnetic field of fear seems to surround the very use of Saddam's
name, and on the rare occasions when people refer to him, they use
euphemisms like `the leadership'. Any dissent can be expressed only
in private and only to people one trusts. It goes without saying that
the press is totally controlled, although the same is true of most
Middle Eastern countries. Many Iraqis  who are, by the way, among
the kindest and most charming people I have ever met  resent the
oppression they suffer at the hands of foreign states more than that
practised by their own. One professional explained it like this: `If
you mind your own business, you are fine. This regime may be bad, but
all over the Third World people are afraid of the state. Iran and
Saudi Arabia are far worse than here. There is only one real Iraqi
opposition figure, the exiled Ayatollah Sader. He can speak to
millions. But I could never live under the mullahs. If Saddam were
deposed and the Islamists came to power here, I would seek political
asylum in Britain.' And like all Iraqis, he smiled winningly.

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