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Friday, March 21, 2003

Als Baghdad in Flammen liegt...


Please do not cite large swaths of this; just link. This is just for this post -- take whatever you want from others! -- but I'm not 100% sure about the word-for-word accuracy of my note-taking, and, especially as he probably saw it as helping his wife's dorm learn about Iraq rather than a media appearance, I don't want it appearing quoted as an official interview or report anywhere.

Tonight, Mather House was graced with a visit by its Allston Burr Senior Tutor's husband, famed Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya.

He starts off the discussion provocatively, passing around a "register of eliminated villages." This midly battered book, written in Arabic, contains a list of locations and names of villages that have been eliminated, razed to the ground, with the inhabitants herded off for mass execution. Their crime? living in territory that is classified as being prohibited "for security reasons." This practice, which Kurds claim has cost some 180,000 their lives since the mid-1970s, is increasing, as more and more land is so classified. The book, which he says shows the "final solution to the Kurdish question," may one day be found in the equivalent of an Iraqi holocaust museum.

While we leaf through the book, he explains that he does not think of this as the beginning of a war, but rather as the possible end of a "different kind of war," a war against the Iraqi people by their dictator. In the past two decades, he says, one and a half million have died violently at the hands of that regime, a number comprising eight per cent of the population. Blaming certain unspecified European governments for a failure to adequately condemn and prevent egregious human rights violations, he goes on to add that "the only unreasonable thing is countries like France that have vested interests" in Iraq, before opening up the floor for questions.

Q: the common question about how the US supported Saddam in the past, so how can we justify what we're doing now?

A: the equally common answer that it's not against morals -- rather, it's the opposite -- to try to correct your mistakes. Even if it's indicative of future US meddlesome behavior, he says it's irrelevant if we can somehow help right now.

Q: the common question about how lots of countries have mean rulers and lots of countries have WMDs

A: the equally common answer that this regime both seems stoppable and they have the desire to use the WMDs on neighbors and their own citizens, something that kind of sets them apart from others.

Q: What will happen after the war? What will the US's role be? the UN's?

A: [and this part Matthew Yglesias will agree with] call your senator, your representative, everyone, and ask them to make sure they will follow through with the stated aim of our government to create a democratic and stable Iraq. This administration -- and all in government right now (whether or not they're administrating) is divided on whether or not it is even worth trying to impose democracy on the region. We say we don't want to meddle, we don't want to destabilize the area -- "don't rock the boat" and all that. He emphasizes, "That's the way the United States has always dealt with the middle east ... but now you have another point of view, one that's very reactionary" -- with whose other platforms he emphatically does not agree -- "that has arrived at the conclusion ... that our old way of dealing with the middle east is nothing short of disaster." This idea, new as of fall of 2001, holds that we have been "hosting demons in our midst" in trying unending diplomacy. "The UN is always a deeply conservative force, an appeasing force," he adds, and by its very nature opposed to changing the way member states or other states run themselves.

Q: what will happen with Israel? and what part does Turkey play in all this?

A: He firmly states his belief that Iraq does not have enough or the right kind of missiles to reach Israel, as shown by how he fired in the direction of Kuwait instead. Israel, not being in danger, should also not interfere, he argues. Turkey, on the other hand, has not had historically good relations with the peoples of northern Iraq, and so he strongly hopes that Turkish troops will not try to join in. Air space, support for American troops, is all find, as long as Turkish soldiers are not involved.

Q: what of the much-vaunted "Arab street"? Or the posters claiming that "Saddam was elected"?

A: he does a double take, of sorts, replying, incredulously, "somebody actually said that???" On the topic of the 100% support vote, he replied that Iraqis were forced to go and forced to vote yes in order to get their ration card stamped. While he admits that non-Iraqi Arab countries do have "streets" with anti-American sentiment, very little of that is to be found in Iraq. [One supposes he'd say that anti-war sentiment from such as Salam Pax comes from the very rational desire not to have your house blown up, not from a desire not to see the results of a war.] He predicts that "you are going to see American troops received with flowers and sweets on the streets of Baghdad." He then continues in this poetic vein, while predicting mass desertions, saying that "chemical weapons are a perfect weapon for a regime like Iraq, because it is designed in the image of the regime itself," as it does not require loyalty or manpower.

Q: What are the US motivations for the war? What will the long-term results be? Will it truly be good for Iraqis? how about civilian casualties?

A: "If anybody is going to die it is going to be Iraqis, and they want this war." He does not believe the US is truly driven by a desire to make the world happy and friendly and other such idealist utopian ideas, but he does feel that there is a fortuitous "coincidence of interests" in this instance, in that US desires for national security can lead to freedom and democracy for Iraqis. "This war is not about oil," he makes clear, pointing out that the US can buy as much oil as it likes from anyone who has it, no matter which despot or democracy is selling it. What the US's worry is, is that September 11 raised the bar on terrorism attacks, so that now someone has to surpass that to count as a terrorist, and therefore anyone who is providing the means for interested persons to do that must be stopped. That is clearly not an argument for the US to do great nation-building in the short term, but rather just an argument for disarmament; there needs to be enough pressure for the US to provide the framework for democracy as well.

Q: What of the detention of asylum seekers, the interviews of Iraqi Americans, and so forth?

A: He says that it is terrible, and probably a product of paranoia and "Tom Ridge's excessive zeal." He has no problems with voluntary interviews, though, and sees them as a crucial way to find out about any possible Iraq-placed saboteurs about whom the volunteer interviewees might know.

Q: the common question about whether or not Iraq even has WMDs -- because you can claim any country has WMDs, and pay off some "witnesses" to claim they've seen them.

A: "Yesterday, they fired scud missiles that they claimed they did not have." You can claim that any country has hidden WMDs, Iraq actually has an unarguable record of actually using them. Blix couldn't find them because he didn't know -- and couldn't be told -- where to look. "The illusion was created in people's minds that the inspection process could actually work. I put it to you, it will never work," he replies, quite forcefully.

Q: what about damaging US-mideast relations? when and how will they be rebuilt?

A: He says they are already being rebuilt, even as the war has just started, with Egypt, Jordan, and other countries making overtures to the US. They know what happened after the last Gulf War; they know they will end up wanting to be on the side of the US. "The much-touted Arab street is going to be a total fizzle." He also predicts that the US will not only engage in reconstruction itself, but will also get the Iraqi army to help out, "which will be a nice change for them, after eliminating villages!" There are Iraqis working on it already, planning out how the pretty much ground-up construction of a functioning society will work. It is a difficult task, because the Ba'ath party is "a truly modern, totalitarian type of structure." You have to be a Party member to join much of anything, and it is "systematically destroying the society" in order to prevent any rebellion.

Q: after war, what?

A: Reconstruction. The interim Iraqi government will gradually take over authority from the US armed forces, dismantle the Republican Guard, winnow out the undesirable Party members, and create a government heavily involving the members of the London Conference of Iraqi Dissidents.

Q: are there worries about factions within the country, as has been seen in Afghanistan?

A: Yes, as well as in the US government. The Pentagon is purely focused on disarmament, but the CIA and the State Department both want reconstruction and nation-building. One big fear is that the US will achieve its own aims and leave before the Iraqi aims are met.

And that's all, folks.
In an ironic contrast to that last statement, though, a UN person was just on ABC expressing fears that the US will not leave once having achieved its own aims, but rather will want to stick around and control things. Well, we'll see what happens, and who gets their wishes carried out. Trusting Makiya to have been correct, I hope the Iraqis get their wishes, regardless of either the US or the UN. (Clearly, if he is not correct, and all of them want to be gassed while taking out the US, I will change my wish.)

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