First of all, a few of the inaccuracies that are floating around need to be addressed and corrected for the record.
To begin with, notwithstanding the declarations of most senior foreign policy advisers, Saddam Hussein has not gassed “his own people”. He has, however, gassed the Kurds, a minority in his country who have resisted being “his” for years. So it affronts us to hear that we are Saddam’s people.
As if this misnomer was not enough, at the now famous Columbus “town hall” meeting broadcast live on CNN, Secretary of Defense William Cohen showed a picture of a dead person with a child and told the world that it was a photo of an Iraqi mother and her baby cut down by gas by the brute in Baghdad. He too erred, for the picture was not of an Iraqi woman and her baby but of a Kurdish man and his infant son.
More telling would have been the tale of the man whose life Saddam had poisoned to death but whose story the Secretary of Defense Cohen could have shared with the CNN viewers to put his fingers on the nature of the threat America is facing in the Middle East.
The old man had a name, Omar. He and his wife had eight daughters and one son, his youngest. On the day Saddam’s planes appeared in the skies over his house in the Kurdish city of Halapja, he grabbed his boy and ran to a neighbor’s shelter. He never made it. Together with the infant, they dropped lifeless. Close to five thousand other Kurds would meet the same end on that spring day on March 18, 1988.
As would be expected, the event had a profound effect on us, the living Kurds. The blatant and indiscriminate extermination of our kin in Halapja has awakened us to the follies of entrusting the welfare of our people to the tender mercies of brutes like Saddam. It has also taught us a lesson to be skeptical of solemn declarations that emanate from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing. We have learned to look at ourselves and only believe our eyes.
For ten years have passed now and the powers that be are not talking about indicting Saddam. Those who speak for our human family seem to have developed a blind spot for him. Our need for oil has thus far immunized him from reporting to the dock.
Today, the clouds of war are gathering again over the skies of the Middle East. There is the subtle proverbial talk that the Kurds could again be used as cannon fodder to settle another dispute with Iraq. We have been down this road before and we will not to take it again. We can only wish Uncle Sam God speed to put an end to the rule of the despot in Baghdad.
He remains a threat to us, to the peoples of the region and to the Western world which he regards as an adversary blocking his grand plans to achieve his archaic end: a sort of immortality not rooted in public service but on concepts such as his own “honor” and his own “dignity” at the expense of those who are weaker than him. The man thinks highly of himself, and he has got enough stooges and deadly weapons, a powerful mix, to take on the region and the world.
Just last week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a moment of unguarded frankness, noted that perhaps biology will take care of Saddam Hussein. The remark was an honest admission on her part of the problem the American policy makers face in gauging him. He gassed five thousand Kurds and killed thousands of others to instill fear in four million of us who live inside the borders of Iraq. Is there a limit to what he will do to embarrass America or better yet drive it out of the region once and for all? We think not.
One could also speak of post-Saddam scenarios on a more sanguine note. If America pushes Saddam into the oblivion or sees the light of the day and arms the Kurds to do the same, very few will shed tears for him or his dreaded Republican Guards. In wars, the unexpected often happens; for us Kurds to be rid of one tyrant at a time would be the beginning of the good.
February 22, 1998