Appointment in Samarra?

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, September 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Appointment in Samarra?


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


How would people be discussing the issue of "regime change" in Iraq if the question were not being forced upon them by the Administration? In other words, is the American and European and international audience for this debate no more than just that--an audience, complete with theater critics and smart-ass reviewers? Or to put the matter in still another way, would the topic of "regime change" be dropped if the Bush White House were not telegraphing all its military intentions toward Iraq while continuing to make an eerie secret of its political ones?

I approach this question as one who has been in favor of "regime change" in Iraq for quite a long time, and who considers himself a friend of those Iraqis and Iraqi Kurds who have risked so much to bring it about. I don't feel that I require official permission or exhortation to adopt the argument, but I do feel that it's a relinquishment of responsibility to abandon it. Unlike the chronically enfeebled and cowardly Democratic leadership in Congress, I don't beg like a serf for the President to "make his case" about weapons of mass destruction. Nor do I feel comfortable waiting like a mendicant for him to speak out about the Kurds, or demanding that he pronounce in a less or more scary way about Saddam Hussein's underhanded friendship with the dark world of the international gangsters. I can make inquiries of my own, thanks all the same, and even form some conclusions.

The other day I was on some show with Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a leading member of Washington's black-comedy troupe, who said that unless--like him--you had actually met Saddam Hussein you could have no conception of the reality of stone-cold evil. I reminded the Senator that on the occasion of his meeting with the Iraqi leadership, he had actually emerged to say that Saddam was getting an unfairly bad press, and recommended that he invite more reporters to record the achievements of the Baath Party. That was before the invasion of Kuwait, to which George Herbert Walker Bush and James Baker demonstrated an initially indulgent attitude. During the subsequent bombing of Baghdad, Senator Simpson was to the fore in denouncing Peter Arnett of CNN for being in Iraq at all, and later in circulating the allegation that Arnett had once had a brother-in-law who might have been a sympathizer of the Vietcong.

One can play this simple game, of hypocrisy and "double standards," indefinitely. I have played it myself and with better-seeded contestants than Senator Simpson. But a few nights ago I had a long conversation with my friend Dr. Barham Salih, the prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, and thus one of the very few politicians in the area who have to face an election. He recently survived an assassination attempt by a gang that he is convinced is ideologically and organizationally linked to Al Qaeda. Salih is for a single standard: a democratic Iraq with a devolved Kurdistan (he doesn't like it when the Administration talks about Saddam Hussein gassing "his own people," because the Kurds are by no means Saddam's property).

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