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"Peace" Marchers Out of Step By: Christopher Hitchens
Mirror.co.uk | Thursday, February 20, 2003


I HAD hoped that it would pour with rain during last Saturday's march for "peace."

Why? Exactly a week earlier in northern Iraq, a brave minister of the autonomous Kurdish government was foully done to death by a bunch of bin Laden clones calling themselves Ansar al-Islam.

Shawkat Mushir was lured under a flag of truce into a dirty ambush, in which he and several innocent bystanders - including an eight-year-old girl - were murdered.

There is already war in this part of Iraq, and on one side stands an elected Kurdish government with a multi-party system, 21 newspapers, four female judges, and a secular constitution.

In this area of an otherwise wretched and terrified country, oil revenues are spent on schools and roads and hospitals instead of for the upkeep of a parasitic and cruel military oligarchy.

The survivors of ethnic cleansing and torture and poison gas and chemical weapons - genocidal tactics which have cost the lives of at least 200,000 civilians - are rebuilding.

And they are fighting both the al-Qaeda forces and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, which operate in an unspoken but increasingly obvious alliance. It's a sort of Hitler-Stalin pact.

In my opinion, these brave Kurds and their friends in the Iraqi opposition are fighting and dying on our behalf - and tackling our enemies for us.

It should be a cause for great pride that pilots of the Royal Air Force take a leading share in patrolling the skies over northern Iraq, protecting a decade-long experiment in successful regime change.

DURING the many years I spent on the Left, the cause of self-determination for Kurdistan was high on the list of principles and priorities - there are many more Kurds than there are Palestinians and they have been staunch fighters for democracy in the region.

It would have been a wonderful thing if hundreds of thousands of people had flooded into London's Hyde Park and stood in solidarity with this, one of the most important struggles for liberty in the world today.

Instead, the assortment of forces who assembled demanded, in effect, that Saddam be allowed to keep the other five-sixths of Iraq as his own personal torture chamber.

There are not enough words in any idiom to describe the shame and the disgrace of this.

I went to the last such "peace" demonstration in Hyde Park last autumn and found it was pretty easy to distinguish between the two main tendencies.

These were:

(1) Those who knew what they were doing and

(2) Those who did not.

Among the first tendency - the animating and organising force - were an easily-recognisable bunch of clapped-out pseudo-Marxists who, deep in their hearts, have a nostalgia for the days of the one-party State and who secretly regard Saddam as an anti-imperialist.

They were assisted by an impressive number of fundamentalist Muslims, who mouth the gibberish slogans of holy war but who don't give a damn for the suffering inflicted by Saddam on their co-religionists.

A more gruesome political alliance I have never seen.

Then came the sincere, fuddled stage-army of the good - people who think that a remark such as "peace is better than war" is an argument in itself. Their latest cry is that "inspections" should be given "more time". I am always impressed by sweet people who are evidence-proof.

The surveillance tapes recently played to the United Nations show conclusively, among other things, that the ranks of the "inspectors" have been heavily penetrated by Iraqi secret police agents, who now know where and when "inspections" will be.

So let's have "more time" for a lot more of that, shall we? And don't let's ask what Saddam wants the extra time for.

Just in the past few weeks, every stop-gap straw-man argument of the peaceniks has been shot down in flames.

Yes, dear, I am afraid that there are bin Laden agents taking shelter in Baghdad.

Yes, Mr bin Laden seems to think that Saddam's cause is, with reservations, one that a Muslim fascist ought to support. Yes, there are weapons and systems, found even by the bumbling inspectors, that Saddam had sworn he did not have.

Yes, sorry to break it to you but the Iraqi regime does have a special police department that inspects the inspectors.

And - are you sitting down? - the French are owed several billion dollars by Saddam for their past help in supplying the sinews of aggression against Iran, Kuwait and Kurdistan.

The Russian government, too, is seeking lucrative contracts in the Iraqi market and is being rewarded with such contracts for its slithery behaviour at the UN.

Excuse me, comrades, but that is "blood for oil."

Meanwhile, 14 or so European governments, including most of those recently emancipated from Stalinism and also the only Muslim state in Europe (Albania), have signed a statement supporting the case for the removal of Saddam's wicked, conspiring, menacing regime.

I think I would prefer to have Vaclav Havel in my corner than the grotesque, corrupt, cynical dandy Jacques Chirac.

NOW, I cheerfully admit that the experience of finding itself on the right side in this region is new to Washington (and to London, for that matter).

And one must be vigilant in ensuring that the "regime change" argument is not just picked up and then discarded by the coalition forces.

But one has to distinguish sharply between those who have learned from past crimes and blunders involving Saddam, and those who have not.

And this test does not apply only to governments or States. The last time that the "peace" marchers assembled, they would have spared the government of the Taliban.

The time before that, they would have spared the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

Thank goodness that such opinions no longer count, however many people may be persuaded to hold them.

Soon, the Iraqi people will have a chance to express their own opinion, which will be more interesting and more complex than the facile banners and placards that we have already grown bored with.

I desperately wanted it to absolutely pour with rain on Saturday's demonstration - heavy rain on the just and the unjust, and a touch of hard rain and hail on the silly who are being led by the sinister.


Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.


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