Pincas Jawetz / Culture Change Media – 2004-07-29 21:46:52
NEW YORK (July 24, 2004) — The US Mission to the United Nations on July 23, 2004 organized a briefing on human rights abuses in Iraq under the former regime. The meeting was held across the street from the United Nations in New York and was chaired by Mr. Andrew S. Natsios, the Washington D.C.-based Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The panel included: Mr. Jano Rosebiani, Director-Producer of Evini Film Productions, who is an expert on Iraq’s Mass Graves; an Iraqi Kurd; Taimour, a second Iraqi Kurd (last name withheld) who was only 12 years old in 1988 when he survived a massacre. One hundred ten members of his own extended family were slaughtered by machine guns in mass graves, so he fled to the United States and hopes to testify in the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Lastly, on the panel was Ibrahim Razzouki, member of a politically important Shia family from Baghdad who was in and out of Saddam’s jails 1986-2003. When liberated he established The Free Prisoners Association of Iraq with offices in 17 locations in Iraq, his group also provides funding to dig up mass graves and uncover locations of secret prisons.
Eventually, from the audience, a Sunni former Iraqi police officer living now in the US expressed that only about 5% of the Iraqis benefited from the regime and 95% suffered, thus only a minority of the Sunnis actually backed Saddam and these came from very clear groups.
We watched a 12-minute excerpt from an Evini documentary on the mass graves and the members of the panel made short presentations.
When the floor was opened to questions, the first question was the most obvious question about Iraq: “Iraq was an artificial creation by young Winston Churchill, then heading the Admiralty or the equivalent of the Ministry of War. Churchill glued together three distinctly different provinces of the Ottoman Empire thus joining together people that were not interested to live in one common state; this created friction — why does the United States perpetuate this situation rather then allow the three different groups to go their own ways as they do not want to be together. Will this not perpetuate the warfare?”
American Proposes a ‘Break up’ of Iraq
The American chair said that if the Iraqi’s would like to break up into separate states, this is for them to do, and the Iraqi government is the right body to decide on such steps. The Iraqi members of the panel then jumped upon this opportunity to speak up with full gusto, and unexpected frankness. Their answers took about 20 minutes and overshadowed the event.
The Kurdish moviemaker, after thanking the questioner for this question and saying that he was of the same opinion, made it clear that the Kurds would have preferred to go their own way, as they tried for years, but had to consider what is possible, so they opted for a true federation. “In a perfect world the federal system was the only way to keep Iraq as a whole. There is some progress in infrastructure and village life is improving.” But the Kurds are unhappy watching how the federation is being shaped, and are asking for redress.
When a follow up question from the UN representative of a US Federalists Non-governmental Organization (NGO) said that keeping the ethnic culture intact should be the goal of the Federation, the Kurdish movie maker immediately agreed and said that this is what they want but have difficulty already now in getting from the Iraqi Federal Government.
Reinstating Saddam’s Baath Party
The Shia member of the panel, though acknowledging the US help as presented by the Administrator of USAID, offered the fact that now the Shia in the south may have 12 hours of electricity a day as compared to two hours in Sadam’s time. The Shia’s difficulty with the present attempt at a federation is that the central government, in order to govern, is reinstating members of the Baath party.
“First we have to seal the borders and keep out the Baathists that infiltrate the Sunni triangle.” He had a list of three points, seemingly prepared a long time ago, and it was clear he had no love left for the Sunnis.
He also had a story about Major Amr Tickriti who, in his effort to extricate a confession from a prisoner had eleven people rape the five months pregnant wife of the prisoner in front of him, then split up her abdomen with a sword in front of the husband and a whole group of other Shia prisoners holding her face up for them to see. He did not believe in a lot of forgiving “because forgiving may be interpreted that the Shia are cowards.”
With this, he brushed away the intervention of a representative of an NGO that professed to work with rehabilitation of refugees in places like Bosnia. She thought that there is not much revenge because of a feeling that “we do not want to be like them” — so much for some outsiders understanding of this situation.
One question, from the Representative of the Center for UN Reform Education, asked what has the UN done all these years. The only answer came from the Kurdish movie maker who said they condemned the chemical attack on his people.
Minority Rights and Democracy
The Administrator of USAID observed that the Iraqis have difficulty in accepting a guarantee of the rights of a minority under the concept of democracy. They cannot see the concept of extra-majority that was built in by the US constitution in order to safeguard the rights of minorities. Democracy does not mean the replacement of the dictatorship coming from the majority.
The Administrator said that the extra-majority concept was rejected by the Shia majority, but clergy is starting to accept the need for such a clause. The Shia contended that the true Muslim is not against democracy, and the Kurdish movie maker said that a “modified” form of democracy will have to be created.
When the religious feelings are touched, a large aspect of democracy does not work — perhaps a new name has to be used. So much for those believing that present day Iraq can become a democracy — Jeffersonian or not. Iraq has now a history of 35 years of dictatorship — there is no concept of democracy. Let us be honest: better established states have difficulty with the concept of democracy.
When the event was over, I continued to mill around and we had private conversations. What became clear was that Iraq was created by the British because of the prospect of finding large reserves of oil, and Iraq is being held as one entity today just for the same economic reason. It is assumed that the Kurds are not left to go their own way because much of the oil is on their territory. But this is not the whole truth.
In effect, much of the oil is also found in the south — in the Shia areas. The Sunnis, who dominated Iraq all these years, do not have a significant part of the oil wealth on their territory. The Sunnis dominated under the British Occupation; there was a British-appointed king and an active British Petroleum Corporation.
Washington’s Rationale for Internal Warfare
The fact is that US oil interests had similar influence via Sunnis in the Arab Peninsula. The Shia were ruling only in non-Arab Iran, being kept away from any government in the Arab world. This offers a clue to the current perpetuation of the Churchill political blunder or success, depending on your point of view. In effect, President Wilson already foresaw that Iraq will be a center of friction. Churchill may have liked this — remember “divide and rule”?
Now with the US Administration’s strong commercial ties with the Saudi monarchy which is strongly influenced by the Wahhabi strict form of the (Sunni) Islam, it would appear to be politically impossible for Washington to leave the Iraqi Sunnis without the income from oil. So, it is the need to placate the Saudis, and the other Sunni rulers of the Gulf states, that is the real reason to perpetuate the Iraqi internal warfare.
The US itself will continue to bleed in order to satisfy mainly the Saudi regime while, in the process, nevertheless, also undermines them when considering the Bin Laden extremists that want to see the oil money finance changes they envision for the Arab world at large along with an eventual restart of Muslim conquest of the infidel.
So, maybe the war in Iraq was not started for oil, but the war in Iraq will continue because of oil — the glue that has created the artificial state of Iraq.
Further, Turkey may be opposed to a Kurdish state on its borders. On the other hand, it could be argued that Turkey, with the prospect of being accepted into the European Union, could actually relish a change to a bi-national Turkish-Kurdish democratic state.
The oil economy of Kurdish Iraq could bring this about much easier than United States’ unwelcome advice to Europe on accepting Turkey in order to help “stabilize” Iraq in its present borders. The Iraqi Kurds are in effect the most advanced part of Iraq, when it comes to trying for a democratic government. That was the real underpinning of the Kurdish movie maker’s comment on a different form of democracy in order to placate the difficulties with the Shia and Sunni regions of Iraq.
Pincas Jawetz is Culture Change’s UN correspondent/international editor. To see more of Pincas Jawetz’ articles, visit: http://culturechange.org/UNclimate.html
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