You should have known we'd fight
The invading forces will never win over Iraqi hearts and minds
Tuesday March 25, 2003
It is now five days since the British and US governments launched an unprecedented military invasion of my country of birth, its people, land, towns and cities. This attack was launched without UN authority, public support or the will of the international community. To win support for this unjust and illegal campaign, it has been claimed that this is not a colonial war of occupation but a war of liberation; a compassionate war. Britain and the US will save the Iraqis by bombing so they can thrive in a democratic Iraq and live at ease with their neighbours. Those who believed the hype expected the Iraqis to welcome the invading armies. After British troops were forced to retreat from Basra yesterday, a military spokesman said: "We were expecting a lot of hands up, but it hasn't quite worked out that way."
It is now clear to everyone that ordinary Iraqis are resisting this military aggression with their lives and souls. Commentators and politicians in Britain and America seem taken aback: how come the Iraqis are putting up such a fight? Why do they so passionately resist this attempt to liberate them from the brutal dictator, Saddam? But Iraqis aren't surprised at all.
When Iraq was first colonised by Britain in 1917, Iraqis were fed the same British propaganda about liberation through occupation. We fought the best part of last century to get rid of colonial Britain and, since then, have helped a great number of independence movements worldwide. Iraqis may wish for the current regime to change, but anyone who understands our culture will know that in this war Iraqis will fight and die, not to save President Saddam Hussein, but to protect their home, land, dignity and self-respect from a new world order alien to their way of life. We are an enormously proud people.
And so history repeats itself. Just as in the past century, the military superiority of the Anglo-American invaders may eventually overwhelm the Iraqi army, which is weak and ill-equipped because of sanctions, containment and isolation. But there is also no doubt that in the end this military crusade against Iraq will fail just like the previous British occupation of Iraq, led by General Maude, where the military odds were just as much in favour of the British army. Iraqis - in particular the Arab-Iraqi Shi'ites - fought bitter and hard and suffered thousands of casualties in order to liberate Iraq from the British occupation. They will do so again.
It is true that, this time, the British and US forces may assume control of sea, air and deserts of Iraq, but they will never win the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Not only do the people of Iraq face devastation by the US and UK aggression on a scale not previously known to mankind, but they also face death and destruction by another war - the civil war that would inevitably follow. We know what this means, because we have been there before.
As a young lad in the town of Mosul I lived through the horror of the civil war in Iraq in 1959-60, when the communist and Kurdish coalition fought the nationalists for control of the country. With my brothers and parents, we used to hide huddled together, in a small concealed basement for days on end, absolutely terrified of being slaughtered because we were considered to be on the Nationalist side.
I saw Iraqis split in half, while alive, by two cars. Girls were hanged from telegraph posts, with fish hooks through their breasts. Men were hanged outside my school gates. We were forced to watch mass hangings in public squares. Dead bodies with their throats slit lay in the streets.
Forty years on, in the comfort and safety of London, those images remain vivid. A scar of fear for life, and one shared by a great many of my people.
This is the fate that awaits "liberated" Iraq. Only today, the Kurds - backed by the US - have even more violent scores to settle. There are many, many people in Iraq today who fear the sectarian violence that may result from the breakdown of the secular regime; and Iraqi history shows that they are right to fear it. I do not wish this future to await anybody in the world, friend or foe.
Neither the British nor the American forces will be able to react quickly enough in order to prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians in the ensuing civil war. In the aftermath there will not be an Iraq to re-build, but simply chaos.
So the message from Iraq is clear: go home and leave us alone. You will never be welcome in Iraq as colonisers. Stop destroying Iraq. Do not bury our nation. Stop the war and give peace and the UN inspectors a chance in the name of humanity.
Dr Burhan M al-Chalabi is chairman of the British Iraqi Foundation and a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs