Magazine article New Internationalist

How the HAWK Kills the DOVE [Western Intervention in Iraq]

Magazine article New Internationalist

How the HAWK Kills the DOVE [Western Intervention in Iraq]

Article excerpt

IN a country wracked with violence, more than 100,000 Iraqis marched peacefully through the streets of Baghdad on 19 January 2004 demanding direct elections. Shouting 'No to Saddam!' and 'No to America', the nonviolent throng - many of them linking hands - marched for three miles to the University of al-Mustansariyah where speakers called for direct elections and a constitution based on justice and equality. Many carried portraits of Grand Ayatollah AIi al-Husseini al-Sistani and other Iraqi leaders who opposed both the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the US-led invasion and occupation of their country.

Nonviolent actions have reined in despots and ousted dictators around the globe. But could Iraqis - left to their own devices - have toppled Saddam Hussein?

Quite possibly. Indonesia's Suharto, who ruled the world's largest Muslim nation for more than 33 years, had even more blood on his hands than Saddam, yet he was forced from power in a largely nonviolent uprising in 1998. Largely nonviolent insurrections also toppled tyrannical leaders of other Muslim states - Sudan'sjaafar Nimeiry in 1985, Bangladesh's Hussain Muhammad Ershad in 1990 and Mali's Moussa Traoré in 1991. Islam has traditionally emphasized a kind of social contract between the ruler and his subjects that gives people the right - even the obligation - to refuse to co-operate with authorities seen as unjust.

Ironically, in Iraq it has been the US, Britain and other Western nations that may have made the emergence of such nonviolent movements impossible. Most of the world's successful nonviolent, pro-democracy movements have centered in the urban middle class and industrial working class. However, in Iraq, thanks to the devastation of the 1991 Gulf War, and the debilitating sanctions that followed, the once-burgeoning middle class and the skilled working class were reduced to extreme poverty or forced to emigrate. In their place emerged a new class of black marketeers who had a strong stake in preserving the status quo. The sanctions not only had serious humanitarian consequences - resulting in ,the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from malnutrition and preventable diseases - but actually strengthened Saddam Hussein's grip on power. By forcing the Iraqi people to become dependent on the regime for food, medicine and other necessities, the Iraqi people became even less likely to challenge it.

Since Saddam was ousted, continuing Western interference - both politically and economically - has created an environment in which nonviolent options have become increasingly difficult. In virtually all cases where a dictatorship was overthrown from within through nonviolence, elections came quickly and popular participation was widespread. By contrast, the Bush Administration strongly opposed holding direct elections during most of the first year of the US occupation. Initially the US supported compliant proAmerican exile, Ahrned Chalabi, as leader of Iraq. When that became unacceptable, US officials tried to keep their viceroy, Paul Bremer, in power indefinitely. Neither the Iraqis nor the international community would tolerate that option. So the Bush Administration pushed for a caucus system where appointees of American appointees would choose the new government and write a constitution. That in turn sparked those January 2004 protests demanding a popular vote. Only then did President Bush reluctantly agree to allow direct elections.

Those finally took place in January 2005, nearly a year later. By then the security situation had deteriorated badly and the important Sunni minority was largely unable or unwilling to participate. In most Sunnidominated parts of the country it was unsafe to go to the polls due to threats by insurgents. In addition, the major Sunni parties - angered at the enormous numbers of civilians killed in US counter-insurgency operations - called for a boycott. The result is an elected government that is not recognized by a key sector of the population - a recipe for continued conflict in Iraq. …

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