Since the seizure of Iraq by the Baath Party in 1968, Iraqis have suffered deplorably, facing constant coercion and degradation. In their own country, they have been stripped of the fundamental rights to which all human beings are entitled: self-determination and freedom from hunger. Yet their rallying cries have gone unheeded — not only by neighboring countries but the entire international community. Even pronouncements by the United Nations and major human rights organizations have been unsupported by any real conviction.
Prior to Saddam Hussein’s attempt to annex Kuwait and declare it the 19th province of Iraq in August 1990, his relationship with the United States was strong. This was true even though the American government knew very well that Saddam was using biological and chemical weapons against his own people and had ordered countless tortures, imprisonments and killings targeting any person or organization that defied his rule. I know of this personally; 19 members of my family were subjected to such trials. Even now, we are unaware of my grandfather’s whereabouts since his abduction 13 years ago at the age of 86.
Nonetheless, before the Kuwait invasion, America chose to remain silent on events within Iraq, and, even worse, continued to support Saddam politically, financially and militarily because of U.S. strategic interests.
U.S. policies changed when Saddam invaded Kuwait, which America considered a key country. Overnight, Saddam went from ally to foe. But that was not the case when Saddam invaded Iran and began a war a decade earlier.
There is a tremendous lesson to be learned here: Had the United States acted to help liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny before 1990, then perhaps Kuwait would never have been invaded and the Persian Gulf War would never have occurred. Today, people would not be worried by the threat of a new war in Iraq.
The history of these events is why Iraqis are skeptical when the United States uses words such as ”liberty” and ”democracy.”
Kuwaitis cried for liberty after the 1990 invasion, and overnight America came to their defense. But when Iraqis pleaded for such liberty for more than 30 years, they were ignored. And when the United States finally did act against Saddam, it ended up betraying the Iraqi people.
Remember, during the gulf war, then-President George Bush told the Iraqi people that the United States would provide military support to their fight to overthrow Saddam. Instantly, the Iraqi spirit was replenished, and Iraqi men took up arms to liberate their country — only to be slaughtered by Saddam’s army when American troops were ordered to stop all military action in Iraq in March 1991. In my birth town of Karbala, in southern Iraq, thousands of Iraqis who rose against Saddam were either executed or imprisoned.
Today, America has another President Bush, who also says he is determined to get rid of Saddam, to bring democracy to Iraq and to end the suffering of the Iraqi people.
This would be a heroic undertaking, if true. Iraqis desperately want an opportunity to once again live in safety and freedom, and welcome any nation that would release them from the bonds of Saddam’s regime.
Nonetheless, Iraqis living in and out of Iraq remain worried and skeptical, despite the encouraging rhetoric of the United States.
Worried in the sense that the people living in Iraq could once again see their nation’s infrastructure destroyed and innocent lives lost during a war, all for one man.
Skeptical in that they fear they will once again be deceived by an American promise to assist if they rise up against the regime, a promise that later would be abandoned.
Most of all, worried that after all has been said and done, Saddam will remain in power — and the Iraqi people he has so long tormented will continue to suffer under his dictatorship.
SAYED MOUSTAFA AL-QAZWINI is Imam at The Islamic Educational Center of Orange County.