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Thursday, January 30, 2003

Unused article I wrote...

Iraqi Mothers’ Resistance

A recent protest by Iraqi mothers received only limited coverage within the corporate media and is also little known among anti-war activists. Indeed the only report of the incident that I am aware of was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Baghdad. The following relies heavily on this, though any inaccuracies are entirely my own.

The unsanctioned protest took place in late October and followed Saddam Hussein’s declaration on October 20th that he was granting amnesty to almost all the country’s prisoners. An event derided by many in the corporate media as a PR stunt (not without good reason, perhaps).

The mass pardon was unprecedented and according to Chandrasekaran, “sparked bedlam as inmates overpowered their guards and stormed out of their cells while anxious. relatives clambered over prison walls.”

The demonstration occurred on the following Tuesday and took place in front of the Information Ministry where foreign journalists have offices. Political observers were shocked by the event. “Something like this has never happened before,” said Wamid Nadhmi, who teaches political science at Baghdad University. “It's a very, very important and unusual event.”

Almost all the protesters were Shi’ite Muslims who were upset that their relatives had not returned home following the amnesty. Only brief interviews were possible before the police dispersed the protesters, but several participants told journalists that their relatives had been arrested on charges of participating in political opposition movements.

The ramifications of the demonstration are unclear. One diplomat claimed that it was an indication that Saddam's government, faced with the prospect of another US attack, was in the early stages of “losing control”. But another said, “It's not something that proves that the Shi'ites are rebelling again. As far as we know, Saddam is still firmly in control.”

Saddam’s regime is dominated by Sunni Muslims and has long been concerned about resistance among Shi’ites who constitute more than 55 per cent of the population, but wield very little political power. Thousands of Shi’ites, many of them deserting conscripts, rebelled against Saddam in the aftermath of the Gulf War as did many Kurds. However they received no support from the US. Indeed Ahmad Chalabi, now the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and apparent US ally, observed that the US was “waiting for Saddam to butcher the insurgents in the hope that he can be overthrown later by a suitable officer.”

The demonstration took place at about noon and attracted around 200 people. It was preceded by a banner-waving march along a busy street. The marchers were not openly critical of Saddam’s regime, but instead praised him. However several participants told foreign journalists that their real reason for attendance was to find out the whereabouts of their relatives. “Where is my son?” asked one distraught woman. “Where was he taken?”

About two hours after the demonstration was dispersed a small group returned to the Information Ministry. They also chanted slogans in support of Saddam before imploring ministry officials for information about their relatives. When more journalists turned up to cover the demonstration security personnel forced the group to continue walking down the street.

The question for those of us opposed to an attack on Iraq is how we respond to this and similar examples of resistance to Saddam’s regime. In my opinion, the assessment of social justice activist Zoltan Grossman presents a positive and realistic strategy: “This kind of Iraqi grassroots opposition, largely ignored by a Bush Administration hell-bent on a war, can be supported by the peace movement. In so doing, we can begin to build a bridge between our civilians and Iraqi civilians, against an escalation of the bombing and sanctions, as well as against the lack of self-determination inherent in both Saddam's brutal regime and the planned US military administration of Iraq and its oil fields.”

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