Tony Blair yesterday reaffirmed his determination
to confront Saddam, the Stop The War coalition was
able to present an impressive list of celebrities
to add glamour to the fight to save Iraq from Anglo-American
Redgrave, Anita Roddick, Rosie Boycott and Bianca
Jagger are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with rough
train drivers from Aslef and Marxist-Leninists from
the Socialist Workers Party. Everyone who is anyone
from the soft-headed centre to the anti-democratic
Left is there. All are welcome - except the people
in whose name the party is being thrown: the Iraqis.
of thousands might have been invited. London remains
a great exile city, and for more than 20 years Kurds
and Arabs have fled from Saddam's persecution to sanctuary
in Britain. Yet not one of the 50 Iraqi dissident
groups that met in the capital last month to organise
the struggle for national liberation has been asked
to join the coalition. Nor would they be thanked if
they tried to gatecrash.
anti-war movement is a private party. It has proved
to be a remarkably fastidious friend of suffering
peoples of the Middle East, and its doors are always
open to non-Iraqi Muslims - but it's not at home to
Muslims from Iraq.
far as I can work out from the coalition's membership
list, only two Iraqi organisations - one calling itself
the Iraqi Network for Human Rights and a second called
the Federation of Kurdish Community Organisations
- have signed its manifesto. No Iraqi exile I have
interviewed has heard of either.
truth is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqi dissidents
are an embarrassment to the Left. After enduring misery
few of us can imagine, they have discovered that,
without foreign intervention, their country won't
be freed from a tyrant who matches Stalin in his success
in liquidating domestic opponents. Only America can
intervene. Therefore an American invasion offers the
possibility of salvation.
a damnable logic to this that no amount of wriggling
can escape. If you say to the Iraqi opposition that
America is very selective in its condemnation of dictatorships,
they shrug and ask why Iraqis should care. If you
say that Iraq shouldn't be liberated from Saddam until
Palestinians are liberated from Israeli occupation,
they ask if the converse also applies. (It never does,
incidentally.) They confront the anti-war movement
with the disconcerting thought that there are worse
things in the world than George W Bush and American
imperialism, and Saddam Hussein and his prison state
are among them.
right-thinking, Left-leaning people, such thoughts
are not merely disconcerting but unthinkable. Oppressed
peoples are meant to confirm the prejudices of their
(usually white) betters, not raise awkward dilemmas.
The honest course would be to say that the price of
peace is a continuation of Saddam's oppression. But
rather than make a brutal argument that would lose
it the moral high ground, the anti-war movement prefers
to deal with the Iraqi opposition by ignoring it.
absence of honourable engagement is allowing the Prime
Minister and Foreign Secretary to get away with murder.
Journalists demanded yesterday that Tony Blair tell
us if Britain would go to war without UN authorisation.
There's a tougher question: what kind of Iraq would
British troops be risking their lives for if there
is a war?
Washington, the future of Iraq is ferociously contested.
The names of the competitors on either side of the
argument prove that you should never believe easy
political labels. To the surprise of the simple-minded,
Donald Rumsfeld and his supposedly "far-Right"
friends in the Pentagon support democracy, while the
CIA and the supposedly "moderate" Colin
Powell at the State Department hint that they want
to replace Saddam with a more compliant dictator.
Blair seems to be with Gen Powell. Ever since Britain
created Iraq in the 1920s, the Foreign Office has
wanted a kind of apartheid rule by a monarch or dictator
from the Arab Sunni minority. The majority of Iraqis,
the Shia, have been kept down, along with the Kurdish
ethnic minority in the north.
no point has Mr Blair said he wants dictatorship to
end if Saddam is overthrown. The organisers of last
month's conference of exiles in London asked the Foreign
Office if Mr Blair or Jack Straw would address the
assembled delegates. Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for
the Iraqi National Congress (INC), told me the men
at the FO "laughed in our faces". Our leaders
didn't want to waste their time on Iraqi democrats.
moral disgrace of the liberal-Left wing of the anti-war
movement lies in its failure to put pressure on the
Prime Minister to uphold the values it pretends to
believe in. The Iraqi opposition had a right to expect
support. The alternative it offers to Saddam's secular
tyranny is not Islamic theocracy. The INC and the
London conference of exiles both want a democratic
Iraq that gives a voice to the suppressed Shia; a
federal Iraq that allows autonomy for the Kurdish
minority; and a secular Iraq that can contain the
differences between Sunni and Shia Islam.
I put this programme to my democratic and secular
comrades, they turn nasty. I hear that the peoples
of Iraq will slaughter each other if Saddam goes;
that any US-sponsored replacement will be worse. They
may be right, although the second prediction will
be hard to meet. What is repulsive is the sneaking
feeling that they want the war to be long and a post-Saddam
Iraq to be a bloody disaster. They would rather see
millions suffer than be forced to reconsider their
expect that some Telegraph readers regard the British
Left as good for nothing. In mitigation, I would say
that we are world-class nags. If we had taken up the
cause of Arab democracy, we would have nagged away
until Mr Blair was forced to commit himself for or
it is, the only people who won't be welcome in Baghdad
if a free Iraq comes against the odds are the Iraqis'
immensely condescending friends in the Stop the War
Cohen is a columnist for the Observer. This article
first appeared in the Daily Telegraph and is carried
here with permission from the author.
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