What say you?
Sometimes, the only way to
spread peace is at the barrel
of a gun
When it eventually emerges that the
Iraqi people wanted this war, will
the anti-war movement recant?
By Johann Hari
26 March 2003
Kenneth Joseph is a young American pastor who
was so convinced that the current war would be
waged against the will of the Iraqi people that he
travelled to Iraq to act as a human shield. He was
convinced that he would be welcomed by the Iraqis
as a hero. Yet this week Joseph was explaining that
his trip had "shocked him back to reality".
The Iraqi people told him that they saw the war as
desirable, despite the inevitably high cost of civilian
deaths. (Saddam's thugs are still murdering
"dissidents" who question the regime, so they were
risking their lives to tell him this.) They said - in
footage he recorded on a hidden camcorder - that
"they would commit suicide if American bombing
didn't start. They were willing to see their homes
demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam's
bloody tyranny. They convinced me that Saddam
was a monster."
Every single anti-war protestor should - on the
basis of this evidence and similar material I have offered in previous columns about the
real wishes of the Iraqi people - reconsider their view. This is not "pro-war
propaganda": Joseph was as anti-war as the most vehement members of the Stop the
War coalition, but he was also an honest man who could not disregard the evidence of
his own eyes.
Who are the real imperialists here: those who want to carry out the wishes of the Iraqi
people, or those who want to ignore them in the name of a non-existent peace? And,
yes, it was non-existent. There is no peace if, at any time, people can be captured,
tortured, burned or raped. Read the Amnesty reports. This was the everyday reality of
Saddam's Iraq. Only the dishonest can say that British and American soldiers are
interrupting "peace"; they are interrupting a decades-long war, waged by Saddam
against the Iraqi people, to bring it to an end. Do not weep that this happening; be
Of course George Bush is unpleasant; of course oil is a factor. They know this, too,
but they back the war anyway because it is the only way to get rid of Saddam.
If you honestly oppose the war and think you can defend your stance to the people
suffering under Saddam, dial 00964 and then guess an 11-digit number. Ask the
civilians there what they want to happen. Go on. Tell them that you oppose the war,
and see what they say.
Zainab al-Suwaij, the executive director of the American Islamic Congress, a nonprofit
Iraqi exile group, says: "I was shocked at first [to hear his relatives criticising Saddam
over the telephone]. It's very dangerous. All the phones are tapped. But they are so
excited." Listen to their excitement, and tell them why they are wrong.
So why, you might ask, are the Iraqi armies still fighting? Why have they not
surrendered? Saddam's propaganda channels have been reminding the Iraqis of the
1991 betrayal, when the first President Bush told them that if they rose up against
Saddam the US would support them. They did as he asked, and they were gunned
down. The streets of Mosul and Basra are still studded with the bullet-holes from that
terrible month. Saddam leaves them as a constant reminder of the danger of resisting
him and of trusting America. I have seen those holes, and noted how Iraqis glance at
them with a pale, chastened look. This time, the Americans will not walk away from the
Iraqis' suffering - but the troops have yet, understandably, to be convinced of this.
Once Iraqis are certain the Americans will not back off and leave them to the mercy of
Saddam, they will explain why they wanted this war. This is not idle speculation: it is
already happening. In Safwan this weekend, Iraqis called out to US and British troops:
"You're late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious." Another person
said: "I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand." One woman stated: "For a long
time we've been saying: 'Let them come.' Last night we were afraid, but we said:
'Never mind, as long as they get rid of him, as long as they overthrow him, no problem.'
" This was reported in one of the most anti-war newspapers in Britain.
Those who still deny all this evidence will know soon enough, once the war is over,
what the Iraqi people thought all along. When it emerges - as I strongly believe, based
on my experience of the Iraqi exile community and the International Crisis Group's
survey of opinion within Iraq - that they wanted this war, will the anti-war movement
recant? Will they apologise for appropriating the voice of the Iraqi people and using it
for their own ends?
Confronted with the evidence of Iraqis' feelings, many of the anti-war critics will, I fear,
change the subject. They will say that, whatever the Iraqi people desired, the damage
to international law was too great. In offering this argument, they fail to acknowledge a
key flaw with international law as it now stands. The foundations for the present
system were built in 1945, when the greatest threat to human life and dignity was war
between nations. Its structures are designed solely to prevent conflict between states
and to secure peace in the international arena - and in this respect, they have been
What international law cannot do, however, is secure peace within nations. The
governments of, say, Burma, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe may be judged
"peaceful"under international law, while they are butchering and terrorising their
populations. There is no peace for people living under tyranny. International law must
be changed to allow democracies to act where there are reasonable grounds (as in
Iraq) for believing that the people of a country wish it, and where the regime is
systematically breaching human rights on a massive scale.
Some people, such as the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Shirley Williams, have
voiced the perfectly understandable fear that the alternative to international law is "the
law of the jungle". Yet people living under a tyranny like Saddam's live under exactly
that chaotic "law" - and international law forbids others to act to end it. To focus solely
on the international order at the expense of the level at which people actually live - the
national - is to write off the most desperate and needy people alive.
It might seem perverse to seek to spread peace at the barrel of a gun; but the peace
we enjoy here in Europe exists only because we (along with the Americans) acted
with weaponry to banish tyrants. The Iraqi people want and deserve the same. If their
wishes - as reported unambiguously by Kenneth Joseph and many more like him - are
not compatible with international law, then an urgent priority once this war is over must
be to reconstruct international law to make it encourage, not hinder, the overthrow of