A few months after the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, a demonstration was held in 1988 by the Iraqi resistance in the United Kingdom.The demonstration had worked its way around the streets of London and had finally ended up outside of Iraq’s Embassy.
Organised primarily by the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq (CARDRI), the shouts of the thousands present, who carried the banners with the faces of those disappeared, called for the downfall of Iraqi president, Saddam Hussain.
With her own face covered in a khafir, like many of those around her, the North West’s organiser for the Iraqi Women’s League sat on the shoulders of two members from the Iraqi Communist Party and with a mega-phone in hand, led the chants that we all recited; “Saddam is a murderer, down with the murderer!”
Just like in 1958, when the Iraqi Women’s League made history, by electing the first ever female cabinet minister to an Iraqi government, under the leadership of Abdul Karim Qasim, this member of that same organisation was also making history, by introducing an entirely new generation to the world of Iraqi politics.
It was completely unknown to the children on that day, who had previously witnessed the massacre of Halabja through smuggled out pictures and videotapes, that the British government was complicit in the atrocities that were taking place in Iraq.
“Within a month of the gassing of the Kurds, Alan Clark’s successor at the Department of Trade, Tony Newton, flew to Baghdad and offered Saddam £340 million in export credits. He returned to Baghdad later that same year to celebrate the deal and the fact that trade with Iraq had risen from £2.9 million the previous year to £31.5 million. Iraq was now Britain’s third biggest market for machine tools, many of which were for Dual Use – i.e. that is, they made weapons.” (John Pilger’s, Hidden Agendas, Vintage 1998 )
In 1990, those same children were once again on demonstrations but this time they were calling for Saddam to pull his troops out of Kuwait. In 1991, when the allied forces gathered together and forced the withdrawal of Iraqi troops, it came as no surprise when every body started talking of Saddam as the “dictator”, the confusion came over why no one had reacted sooner.
Many people would question the motives of the Americans “liberating” Kuwait and wondered that if they had grown carrots, would America have bothered? Others questioned why the US had not gone in and “liberated” Iraq alongside of Kuwait but as it was later explained by Andrew and Patrick Cockburn in Out of the Ashes (Verso 2000), George Bush senior, “would patiently explain that the United Nations resolution under which he had launched the war authorized only the liberation of Kuwait and he could not have legally gone further.”
Even Osama Bin-Laden had wanted to join in, with the battle against Saddam, who according to Robert Fisk in The Great War for Civilisation (Fourth Estate 2005) had contacted the Saudi royal family in 1990 and had offered to lead his “Mujahedin, against the Iraqi army inside Kuwait and drive them from the emirate.”
“No one wanted to encourage democracy in Iraq. It might prove catching.” So after Saddams defeat in Kuwait and Bush called for the “Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands – to force Saddam Hussain the dictator to step aside…and rejoin the family of nations”, the Iraqi resistance rose up and managed to capture fourteen of the eighteen Iraqi provinces.
The Cockburns’ go on to explain, that democracy would have eventually become problematic for any occupation of Iraq because as British diplomats saw it, if Saddam had been overthrown in 1991, the US “would eventually have to hold elections for a new government”, which would have “led to all sorts of problems for Anglo-American allies among the semi-feudal monarchies of the region, especially Saudi Arabia.”
The children watched, as members of the opposition in the UK, reacted with joy as news of the disintegration of Saddams power spread like fire across Iraq. It was viewed by many, that the years of oppression by the Ba’ath Party, was very quickly being swept away and at the other side was going to come the democracy, which we had all been working towards.
It was unknown to people in 1991, that the chances of establishing democracy in Iraq were to be put on hold by the USA, who “gave tacit assistance to Saddams forces by preventing rebels from taking desperately needed arms and ammunition in abandoned Iraqi stores. Much of these captured stocks were destroyed, but paradoxically, the CIA took possession of an appreciable quantity and shipped it off to fundamentalists in Afghanistan, favoured agency clients in the civil war in that country.”
The uprising never seemed to be mentioned again and those children never got to see Iraq and its original beauty, until they were adults and on their return found the psychological, physical and environmental damage had been done. As it was once pointed out by a young woman in Baghdad; “all of Iraqs children born in or around 1980, started their lives in war, they became teenagers under sanctions and are now living as adults under occupation,”
“It is a sure thing to say, there are no children here!”
by Hussein Al-alak,
The Iraq Solidarity Campaign