By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Any U.S. leftist who even remotely thinks that Saddam’s regime is — beside its heavy-handedness — some sort of socialist alternative had better think again. No matter how much Saddam relies on the Stalinist model for his security services, the Iraqi dictator has never held anything but contempt for Iraqi leftists.
At 22, Saddam Hussein carried out his first assassination plot, against a Communist-backed leader in Baghdad who was the first president of Iraq. In fact, the young man from Tirkit was not accepted into the Ba’ath party until after he and others shot at President Abdel-Karim Qassem, who was backed by the Iraqi Communist Party and many trade unions. President Qassem survived, while Saddam was wounded in the leg.
Instead of leftist principles, Saddam’s ruling Ba’athist ideology unabashedly champions ethnic nationalism in order to build a greater nation based on ethnicity. His Iraqi Arab Socialist Ba’ath party explicitly excludes the one in every five Iraqis who are ethnic Kurds. Moreover, the Ba’athists’ Pan-Arab message is shaped mainly by Arabs of the Sunni Muslim faith like Saddam, and their form of Arab nationalism has little appeal for Arab Muslims of the Shia faith, who constitute three out of five Iraqis. Rather than empower either Iraq’s Shia majority or its Kurdish minority, the Ba’ath party merely replaced Iraq’s old rulers, who were Sunni Arab–led monarchists based in Baghdad, with new Sunni Arab–led rulers like Saddam from rural regions north of the capital.
“A ruling class-clan rapidly developed and maintained a tight grip on the army, the Ba’ath party, the bureaucracy, and the business milieus,” writes Faleh A. Jabar, a University of London scholar and former Iraqi Communist Party newspaper editor, in a recent issue of the U.S. monthly The Progressive. “You had either to be with the Ba’ath or you were against it.”
Today most of Kurdish-speaking Iraq, in the north, enjoys U.S.-enforced autonomy from Saddam’s regime, while Shias, in the south, still actively resist rule from Baghdad. Take Basra, where Saddam’s officials routinely bring visiting U.S. peace activists. “We were welcomed warmly into the home of Abu Haider, the father of a young boy who was killed three years ago by a U.S. Tomaha[w]k missile shot from a ship in the Gulf,” reads a pre-Christmas report from Pax Christi, a faith-based group. Pax Christi’s newsletter today says that this U.S. missile attack occurred in Basra in 1998. Undoubtedly true. But missing from that newsletter is that in that same year Saddam’s regime interred dozens of anti-Saddam rebels and others in secret graves in that same city, according to Iraqi Communist sources.
Opposing American imperialism is one thing. But ignoring Iraqi fascism is quite another. In the wake of the Gulf War, and after then-President Bush called on the Iraqi people to rise up, mass armed rebellion swept Iraq in the spring of 1991. More than a dozen major cities fell into the hands of the Iraqi rebels. Yet, as American forces stood by with arms crossed, Saddam’s troops and attack helicopters drowned the rebellion in blood, taking at least 100,000 lives. The anti-Saddam opposition was openly and tragically betrayed by Washington.
American leftists and peace activists must not now repeat the same sin. Only a quintessentially American arrogance would lead leftists in a big country to think that leftists in a smaller country don’t matter. Iraqi socialists and leftists have endured Saddam’s Ba’athist terror long enough to know the left from the right in Iraq. And as our nation prepares to invade their country, more Americans, especially peace activists, should take the trouble to do the same.
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