Two dictators, two eras, one cause

March 24, 2011

For those who are trying to justify why removing Saddam was wrong but removing Qaddafi is right, I say do not waste your time. Just look at the people of Iraq and their history. The images coming out of Libya are a reminder of Saddam Hussein’s brutal suppression of Iraqis in 1991.
The comparison between Iraq 2003 and Libya 2011 is simply wrong. The 2003 operation was 12 years late. What we are seeing today in Libya is a flashback to Iraq’s uprising 20 years ago this month, when the people took control of the south and north, leaving Saddam with what later was called the Sunni Triangle.
The international community did the exact opposite of what they are doing in Libya today, and the people of Iraq — not the regime — paid the price. In fact, most of the anti-Americanism in Iraq stems from the failure of the US and the international community to support Iraqis during that difficult period.
After encouraging the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam in 1991, then-US president George Bush Sr. turned his back on Iraqis and allowed Saddam to fly his helicopters, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis. The international community did not impose the no-fly zones until after the uprisings were crushed – bodies were already being piled into mass graves in the south, while in the north Kurds were fighting for their lives and millions fled to the cold mountains in Iran and Turkey.
The United Nations then imposed sanctions over the next decade that left the country impoverished and with crippled infrastructure and services that have never recovered.
Those who claim that the Iraq war wasn’t justified because there was no resistance against Saddam are wrong. Iraqis attempted the popular uprisings that are now sweeping the Middle East, and paid dearly for it.
Without minimizing the gravity of any crime, let’s not forget that Saddam carried out mass murder on a scale that cannot be compared to Qaddafi or any other Arab leader. His regime committed acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. It doesn’t matter whether these acts were carried out right before the invasion of 2003, because the fact is that Saddam’s brutality, especially in 1991, guaranteed that an uprising wouldn’t happen again. He crushed the rebellions, especially those in the south, ensuring that people stayed silent forever.
Iraqis waited many years for the international community to act because they could not throw Saddam out on their own. In 2003, as the international community engaged in heated philosophical and legal arguments over the invasion, the people of Iraq couldn’t care less – they just wanted Saddam gone.
They also were not aware of the debate because Saddam ensured that there was no access to the outside world. Iraq did not have internet, satellite, or mobile phones until 2003, and all other means of communication were monitored.
In the end, removing Saddam was a true liberation for Iraqis, even if the post-war planning was flawed.
There are various geopolitical and other factors that are to be closely analyzed when comparing Iraq and Libya. Iraq had Iran as a neighbour, who tried to dominate the southern uprising in 1991. It also had Saudi Arabia, who encouraged the Americans to allow Saddam to crush the uprising.
Libya has Free Egypt and Free Tunisia next door. In 1991, the world had a single CNN dish beaming out of Baghdad — the devastating atrocities could not be documented for the world to see. Today, thanks in large part to Facebook and Twitter, regimes cannot hide the dictators suppression of their citizens. In 1991, the US had George Bush, who was intent on protecting oil and political interests; today, the president is Barack Obama, who is more of a “people’s president”.
The justification for military action in Libya is now about protecting the people’s human rights and humanitarian needs, as it should have been in Iraq given the brutality and threats Saddam’s regime posed to its own people. While internationally the military intervention in Libya might be controversial, it should not be. It is a crucial transformation that supports citizens and rights over international interests.
It is important that the international community learn from Iraq in 1991. The same mistakes cannot be made in Libya. Qaddafi must go.
As the standard for intervention today is to protect people, it raises a moral quagmire for those who opposed regime change in 2003 but support it today. It is very difficult to find a moral justification for their opposition to Saddam’s removal. A good way to resolve this conflict is to admit that regime change was needed – but it came 12 years too late.
To those who oppose “international aggression” against Libya, I say your days to be taken seriously are numbered. Soon you will be the laughingstock in Facebookstan and Twitterstan. Or it may come out that you were a beneficiary of these regimes, as were those who opposed the war in Iraq and benefitted from the oil-for-food program.
Instead of explaining how you were right in 2003 and still right today, have the intellectual and moral courage to admit that you were wrong then and right now. Perhaps you were just blinded by hatred toward the US and to George W Bush, and a selective memory that failed to recall Saddam’s brutal legacy.
Despite everything that has happened since 2003, Iraq today is a better place. No Iraqi can even begin to comprehend what Iraq would have looked like today if Saddam was not removed.
The world has changed, in large part because of Iraq, and it is only a matter of time before the likes of Saddam and Qaddafi are gone for good. The new Arab world will definitely be a better place without their dictators. Already, we are feeling the difference.

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