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A few inconvenient facts about Saddam David Aaronovitch Wednesday January 8, 2003 The Guardian Matt Barr is 21, the same age that I was the year the Vietnam war ended, and the last disgraced vestiges of American intervention were airlifted over the rooftops of Saigon. In the next few months, if the war against Iraq looks like going ahead, Matt plans to be part of a human shield protecting potential civilian targets. He is braver than I was at his age. I never offered to stand outside the central station in Hanoi as the B52s approached. The idea is to "show solidarity" with the Iraqi people, who he visited in December 2001. "The people of Iraq are as human as we are," said Matt, "and yet many would die" if there were a war. I saw Matt the other night on telly, and he's a lovely looking bloke from Sussex, with long plaited hair, who plays the electric guitar. But he has a problem that the Vietnam generation of protesters never had. Most of us were happy to see the National Liberation Front win out in Vietnam, and - whether we were right or wrong - thought Vietnam would be a better place if they did. We had wispy-bearded Uncle Ho. Matt, on the other hand, has Saddam Hussein. He tries not to have him. Last spring, in the Winstanley lecture theatre in Trinity College Cambridge, Matt gave an illustrated talk about how the Iraqi people had suffered under UN sanctions. He used slides showing how downward infant mortality trends had been interrupted since the Gulf war. Then he talked about ordinary Iraqis and showed a slide of Baghdad at dawn. "Baghdad," he said, "is probably the most peaceful, mellow place I've ever been in my life. Everybody is so laid-back it's unbelievable." He was right. It was unbelievable. According to Amnesty the regime was busily torturing and executing various enemies, real and imagined. Eyes were being gouged, genitals zapped, tongues ripped out and heads cut off. The torture of political detainees, said Amnesty "generally takes place in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad or in its branches in Baghdad. Torture also takes place in the headquarters of the General Intelligence (al- Mukhabarat al-'Amma) in al-Hakimiya in Baghdad." Also in mellow Baghdad, shortly before Matt's visit, the assassination (almost certainly by the regime) of a Shia leader and his two sons had led to riots in the Saddam City suburb, in which 100 people were killed. In October 2000 a woman obstetrician was beheaded in the capital on charges of prostitution, though Amnesty notes that the real reason may have been her criticism of corruption within the Iraqi health services. This was followed by the decapitation of dozens of women - suspected prostitutes - without any judicial process. Amnesty reports that members of Feda'iyye Saddam, the Saddam militia, "used swords to execute the victims in front of their homes", mostly in laid-back Baghdad. Incidentally, this militia was recently invoked by the Labour MP, George Galloway. "You know," he told IraqJournal.org somewhat jauntily, "the Iraqi youth are not less than the Palestinian youth, who are facing the Israeli occupation forces every day. And ultimately they'll have their bodies as weapons, just like in Palestine. The Saddam militia, which is several million strong, are the suicide bombers of tomorrow against the occupation forces." Perhaps. But it is one thing to behead unarmed women in front of their appalled neighbours, and quite another to explode yourself in the middle of a column of marines. And that raises a second problem for those of us who do not want war, but who loathe the Iraqi government. The "Iraqi people" are constantly referred to by anti-war campaigners - but without any obvious consideration of what the Iraqi people themselves want. If I were an Iraqi, living under probably the most violent and repressive regime in the world, I would desire Saddam's demise more than anything else. Or do we suppose that some nations and races cannot somehow cope with freedom? In Cambridge, when he had finished his talk, Matt was finally asked about Saddam's government. "The situation in Iraq," he said, "is bizarre, because when Iraq was committing its human rights violations they were being economically supported by the US and the UK ... So the first thing is you have got to get in there straight away - as soon as you hear about a violation you have got to sort it out." I agree with that. The logic of which is that the invasion should have happened long ago. But, as someone who has opposed Saddam for more than 20 years, I have to say that this all cuts both ways. Where, after all, was the left movement against Saddam? Where was solidarity with the Iraqi people then? Who dared go to Baghdad? · David Aaronovitch will write in G2 every Wednesday. Sent by Mail at easy.com, an easyGroup company. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk