Exiles cited by PM are backed by Iran
Jeevan Vasagar and Brian Whitaker
Wednesday February 19, 2003
From his lectern yesterday and his conference podium on Saturday, Tony Blair has flourished a succession of letters and emails from Iraqi exiles as proof that a war to remove Saddam is supported in at least one quarter.
Mr Blair took a personal interest in Iraqi human rights after meeting a group of seven Iraqi women at Downing Street last November, two of whom wept as they told him their stories. But he was criticised yesterday for selectively quoting from those Iraqis who share his views while ignoring other exiles who have written to No 10 opposing war.
At least one of the letters Mr Blair published is signed by the UK leader of an Iranian-backed Shia Muslim group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Dr Hamid al-Bayati signed a letter in which members of the Stop the War coalition are labelled Saddam appeasers.
"The anti-war coalition ignores the terror we have lived under for so long, offers no alternative to our nightmare, can only be construed as supporting Saddam Hussein and helping to maintain his regime indefinitely," the letter states.
The letter also urges the west not to impose a military dictatorship, saying: "The people of Iraq should be given a chance to form their own democratic government after the liberation of Iraq and in the future."
Although Dr al-Bayati is not seeking an Iranian-style theocracy, the fact that Mr Blair has joined forces with an Iranian-backed Shia group to attack domestic opponents may come as a surprise.
The letter, which has 31 signatures, claims to be written on behalf of "the 350,000 Iraqi exiles in the UK and the 4 million forced to leave Iraq".
Dr al-Bayati's brother Ali, a property dealer in Manchester, said they were writing on behalf of all opposition to the regime: "We support all Iraqi opposition regardless of who they are - anybody who opposes Saddam."
But this claim has angered other Iraqi exiles, not least a group of 160 who presented a letter opposing war to Downing Street last Friday. This anti-war letter said that although many of the exiles had personally experienced persecution by President Saddam's regime, "the remedy must not cause greater damage to the innocent and to society at large".
Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist who signed the letter and joined Saturday's anti-war march, said: "The range of Iraqi views is so wide, so different."
She said that it was not just the Iraqi left who opposed a US-led war.
"If you read the list of names in our statement - some are Muslims, some are atheists, some are Arab nationalists."