The voices of Iraqi opposition to Saddam

By SALIM MANSUR -- For the Toronto Sun

In debates and demonstrations of late across Europe and North America over the rights and wrongs of the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or bring regime change in Baghdad, there is curiously very little being heard from the Iraqi people.

In any discussion of public policy, especially one pertaining to war, the need to consider the views of those most affected should be a high priority.

The near absence of Iraqi voices may be explained by the paradox of the inverse relationship between geography and politics. That is, the greater the distance of people from Iraq, the more their politics is concerned with the nature of American power and distrust of that power.

By contrast, those nearest to or inside Iraq, or those exiled or having escaped from it, are less concerned with American power and intentions, and more concerned with bringing to an end the tyranny of the Iraqi dictator.

Obviously within Iraq fear and state control censors all that may be said, or even thought, about the conditions inside what amounts to a vast prison. Some four million Iraqis in a population of 23 million have been forced into exile.

But northern Iraq, predominantly Kurdish, has become over the past several years an autonomous territory, protected by American and British warplanes. Here, politics has become relatively free, open and representative. Here, the voices of Iraqi opposition to Saddam can be heard loudly and clearly.

Dr. Barham Salih is the elected prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq. He recently visited Europe in the midst of the anti-war demonstrations, and then spoke at length in Rome.

In describing Iraqi attitudes about the impending war, Salih reminded Italians how excited they felt anticipating their liberation as the Allied forces advanced on Rome in June, 1944.

He answered the various objections raised in Europe against a war that will bring freedom to Iraqis.

To the slogan "no war for oil," Salih's response was, "Iraqis know that their human rights have too often been ignored because Iraqi oil was more important to the world than Iraqi lives. It would be a good irony if at long last oil becomes a cause of our liberation. Oil will be a blessing and not the curse that it has been for so long."

To Europeans headed to Baghdad as human shields, Salih asked, "why were you not allowed to be human shields at Halabja in 1988 when 5,000 Kurds were gassed to death? Why were you not allowed to be human shields in Najaf and Karbala in 1991 when the Iraqi Shi'a Arabs were slaughtered and their holy shrines were desecrated?"

To those who very justly raised the issue of Palestine, Salih's answer was simple: "Since when is justice for the Palestinians, and for the Israelis for that matter, to the exclusion of justice for Iraqis?"

To skeptics about the possibility of Iraqi freedom and the potential Arab reaction, Salih said, "We hear much about Muslim solidarity and the so-called 'Arab Street.' I know the streets of Baghdad. I can assure you that they will be filled with jubilant Iraqis after the dictator has gone."

I have quoted Dr. Salih as he is a freely elected leader. Space does not permit me to quote others such as Dr. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, or Kanan Makiya, a professor and writer based in the United States and now working in northern Iraq. Their writings and speeches are readily accessible on the Internet.

There are occasional Iraqi voices skeptical or opposed to any use of force against Saddam Hussein's regime for fear of doing greater harm. But as Dr. Salih said in Rome: "For Iraqis, our D-Day is at hand. As we watch the military preparations and the game of cat and mouse which the dishonest dictatorship in Baghdad is playing with the UN inspectors, we sense, and we hope, that deliverance is near."

Those who cherish freedom and democracy as universal values must feel the joyful anticipation of Iraqis awaiting an end to their long nightmare. The Iraqis need support now and in the future so that their democratic hopes are not betrayed.