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[casi] A few inconvenient facts about Saddam

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

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

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 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

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