SOME 20,000 intrepid, peace-loving activists turned out last week to protest against their government, its unjust policies, its war-mongering president and his utter disregard for international opinion.
The protest was held in Kirkuk, Iraq—outside the Baath Party’s main administrative headquarters. The demonstrators were calling for Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.
True, this protest didn’t generate as much attention as the “anti-war” rallies staged last weekend in a Portland, San Francisco, Washington, and elsewhere, where the America-hating left compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler and pleaded for Hussein’s prolonged hold on power, but there’s an explanation for that—beyond the establishment media’s obvious sympathy for the “anti-war” effort, that is.
The main reason we heard little and saw nothing from the Kirkuk protests is that there were no reporters there. The only evidence the world has that the event took place at all is a number of second-hand reports. That’s because Iraq—which assigns an official government minder to shadow every foreign correspondent—doesn’t allow the media access to its dissidents. For that matter, it doesn’t even let foreign correspondents use their own satellite phones to transmit stories back home. That’s how tightly Hussein’s fascist regime regulates the flow of news.
And it’s not as though protests are some everyday occurrence in Iraq, complete with celebrity appearances and a flurry of advance publicity. In Iraq, demonstrating against the president and his regime is a serious crime, the usual punishment for which is extensive torture followed by death.
At great personal risk, opposition forces have become bolder and more vocal in recent weeks because they’re optimistic that Hussein’s reign of terror will soon come to an end. That’s to say, America’s resolve has already made Iraq a freer place, and the liberation hasn’t even started yet.
Still, Iraqi protesters voice their opinions at their own peril.
Last week, in the al-Hurriyya suburb of Baghdad, Hussein’s security forces arrested a civil servant for preparing to flee the country. With war only days away, the government has issued strict orders for all civilians to stay put, the purpose being to drive up the number of innocent casualties after hostilities begin. To make an example of this poor soul, Hussein’s butchers tied him to a street pole and ordered passersby to watch as they cut out his tongue—then left him to bleed to death.
Relatively speaking, he got off lightly. He could have been forced to watch his wife or children get raped and killed, another of the regime’s more creative forms of punishment. Ann Clwyd, a British Labour Member of Parliament charged with cataloging Iraqi war crimes, reports even more ghastly stories of Iraqi abuses—humans dropped into giant shredders and ripped limb from limb, menstruating women suspended by their legs in a barbaric effort to humiliate them.
This is the regime we’re removing, the one from which America’s courageous men and women in uniform will soon be freeing the Iraqi people.
It’s also the regime that America’s “anti-war” protesters regularly take to the streets to protect, nominally in the interest of the Iraqi civilians who stand to die in an invasion. For some reason, the protesting set doesn’t much worry about the Iraqi civilians who die every day under Hussein’s cruel reign. To them, dying for fascism is somehow less tragic than dying for freedom.
This is the same regime America’s protesters hold out as morally superior, or at least morally indistinguishable, from their own democratically elected government.
Of course, it’s easy to make outrageous and morally obtuse statements about your own government in a country that maintains the right to free speech and respects the civil liberties of all its citizens. It’s great sport to denounce your president as a murderer or a fascist when you can rest comfortably knowing that he will never murder you our submit you to fascistic subjugation.
It’s a different story Iraq.
Another anti-Hussein demonstration last weekend, this one waged by Iraqi Shi’ites in the holy city of Kerbala, was “violently suppressed after the intervention of militiamen loyal to Saddam,” according to news reports. In ethnically Kurdish areas, Iraqi forces have been rounding up young men, Gestapo-style, for fear that the Kurds will mount a revolution once the war begins. “There is a campaign to arrest young people, especially at night,” one 21-year-old Kurd told Knight Ridder. “The other day in the Iskan neighborhood, (Iraqi officials) cut the telephones so people could not speak to each other,” claims another.
Yet despite the risks, a good number of brave Iraqis are protesting—and more—hopeful that after a lifetime of oppression, freedom is coming. Saboteurs staged a successful strike last week against the Iraqi railway system. Vandals have begun trashing the ubiquitous Saddam posters that hang on doors throughout the country. Opposition leaders in Kurdish-controlled territories are busily collecting thousands of surrender letters from Iraqi political and military leaders that take effect the moment war begins.
When that happens, Iraqi protesters will tremble in fear while hanging on to hope. American protesters, on the other hand, plan to greet the start of the war by tying up crucial police and security services—services that could be needed in the event of a terrorist attack—by blocking federal buildings, deliberately creating traffic jams and disrupting commerce.
In Iraq, protesters risk their lives to denounce tyranny. They stand in stark contrast to American protesters who risk nothing to preserve it. The day can’t come soon enough when the Iraqi protesters get the freedom they crave, the same freedom America’s protesters take for granted.