Iraqi voices heard

The New York Times has had a tortuous relationship with the Iraq war. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion, senior journalist Judith Miller produced any number of “exclusives” that allegedly proved Saddam’s vast weapons of mass destruction. Her source was leading Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi, who now blames the Americans for the country’s current fate.

Since 2003, however, the Times has often campaigned against the war, and the various inadequacies of the Bush administration, but questions remain as to whether its opposition is to the ways in which the war has been fought or the original premise of the mission.

One of the great tragedies of the war has been the Western media’s continuing ability to ignore the voice of Iraqis. What do they think of the current power-play in Washington? How do they deal with the near-apocalyptic violence wracking the country?

In the last days, the Times have at last provided a small forum for such perspectives on its op-ed page.

Waddah Ali is a poet, translator and university lecturer. He explains how he worked for the Americans, even viceroy Paul Bremer, but quit after threats on his life. He argues that the Americans simply didn’t appreciate the country they were occupying:

America did well to liberate Iraq. But Iraqis were used to tyranny and afraid of freedom. The Americans entered Iraq without a psychological program for dealing with this fact. Iraqis had been programmed according to another system of thought and feeling. America should have considered that.

Basim Mardan is a poet and translator and remains more sympathetic to American ambitions for his country. He recalls a caring US military that should not be defined by the Abu Ghraib scandals.

Omar Ghanim Fathi, an essayist and college lecturer, thinks the Americans failed by not installing a strongman to replace Saddam. The Iraq people had no experience with elections or democracy, he argues, and “after four to eight years, we could have had an election, and the new government could have started working on the basis of the new Constitution.” A civil war is essential to solve the country’s problems, Fathi believes.

Reading the words of these Iraqis is revealing. It confirms reports by Robert Fisk last weekend – both Sunni and Shiite death squads are systematically trying to “cleanse” whole neighbours – and paints a nation fundamentally at odds with claims by John Howard that Iraq is not a disaster.

A former UN envoy to the country, Lakhdar Brahimi, now says that the US, Britain and Iraq are in a “state of denial” over their failed policy. The Australian government is equally positioned.

How long will it take for the Times to advocate withdrawal from Iraq? At this stage, the paper remains unwilling to embrace any fundamental shift in US strategy.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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