Socialist Worker

What would you do to free the Iraqis?

Issue No. 1840

War is the only way to remove Iraq's brutal dictator, says Tony Blair. His claim is echoed by commentators such as David Aaronovitch, Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen. Blair puts to one side the fact that the West hoisted the brutal Iraqi dictator into power.

Instead he issues what he thinks is an impossible challenge to the anti-war movement - who else can liberate the people of Iraq? The answer is the people of Iraq themselves, a force which Blair scorns. There are many examples of regimes every bit as repressive as Iraq's falling to popular revolt. In December 1989 revolution swept Romania and toppled its ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu.

Romania was one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. Ceausescu had a massive secret police - the Securitate. He ran a one-party state. Opponents were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Popular opposition was smashed off the streets. In 1987, for example, the army ringed the city of Brasov, where there was a major strike, and opened fire killing hundreds of workers.

No one felt able to speak freely even to neighbours and friends for fear they would be reported to the authorities. But a big strike at the end of 1989 triggered an uprising which Ceausescu was unable to crush.

The revolt reached the capital, Bucharest, when Ceausescu called a pro-government rally. Viorica Butnariu, a student, was there and recalled: 'We were ordered to go to the rally. This time when the president began to talk, somebody from the first rows shouted, 'Down with Ceausescu!' Suddenly people dropped all the portraits and began to shout, 'Down with Ceausescu!''

Troops opened fire killing hundreds, but the protests spread across the city. As hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets soldiers refused to open fire.

As with many other examples, the fear of repression evaporated almost overnight. A seemingly impregnable and utterly ruthless regime fell to pieces in a few hours.

Ceausescu fled by helicopter from the presidential palace. He was captured and executed five days later. The Romanian Revolution was the most dramatic of a wave of uprisings that ended totalitarian rule throughout Eastern Europe. The people themselves, not Western bombs, overthrew their rulers.

Right wing politicians and papers in the West had for decades said 'Better dead than red', claiming that the only hope of freeing the people of Eastern Europe lay in Western military might.

Revolt has toppled Western-backed dictators too. In 1998 US-backed dictator General Suharto of Indonesia was overthrown. Students and workers took to the streets, defying secret police, thugs loyal to the regime and the army.

Suharto was as brutal as Saddam Hussein. His forces killed between 750,000 and one million people in the CIA-backed coup that brought him to power in 1966. Suharto's invasion and occupation of East Timor led to the deaths of over 200,000 people in the tiny country - one in three of the population. The invasion was supported by the US.

Despite control of the army and US support, Suharto fell. We want revolt from below to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

Kevin Ovenden

Dictator loved by the US

SOME OF the worst dictators in the former Eastern bloc managed to hold on to power. One such survivor is Islam Karimov, president of the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan.

Clare Short, international development minister, is due to meet him soon when the annual conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development is held there. 'Uzbekistan is distinguished by human rights abuses on an epic scale,' writes Steve Crawshaw, London director of Human Rights Watch, in a recent article.

'A United Nations special rapporteur talked of the 'systemic torture' that he found. The British ambassador rightly notes that 'brutality is inherent' in the government. Police in Uzbekistan use electric shock, beatings and rape to compel confessions. They asphyxiate detainees with plastic bags, sprinkle chlorine in gas masks and shut off the air. In basement cells they hang men naked by their wrists and ankles. In one case last year doctors found that burns on the body of a prisoner who died in custody were caused by immersion in boiling water. The hands had no fingernails.'

There are thousands of political prisoners in Uzbekistan. The press here had a field day when Saddam Hussein claimed he won a recent election for president with nearly 100 percent of the vote. Uzbekistan's president Karimov claimed he won a referendum in 1999 extending his term of office with 99.6 percent of the vote.

None of this bothers the US and Britain. Since the Afghan War the US has established permanent military bases in Uzbekistan. They give the US a presence south of Russia, west of China, and in the middle of a strategically vital area which also sits on oil, gas and other resources.

So we don't hear much about liberating the people of Uzbekistan or of neighbouring Turkmenistan or of any of the other Central Asian states that are still run by the old Stalinist bureaucracies but are now in the US orbit.

Regimes cracked in hours

THIRTY YEARS ago the Shah of Iran had the largest secret police force in the world, Savak. When instability rocked the Middle East in the mid-1970s nobody believed it would spread to Iran. This was the home of the largest CIA listening base in the world and, along with Israel, the US's main ally.

But a strike by oil workers in the autumn of 1978 triggered a wider revolt. Millions of people took to the streets in January 1979 and much of the army switched sides. The uprising forced the Shah to leave the country.

His whole apparatus of repression crumbled. Over 11,000 people walked free from Evrin prison, just one of many run by Savak. Even the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, held up by the warmongers today as an example of what Western bombs can achieve, in fact shows the opposite.

The NATO bombing campaign in the spring of 1999 against Serbia shattered the internal opposition to Milosevic, who had only a few years earlier faced nightly demonstrations of tens of thousands of people calling on him to go. He was then able to strengthen his position by appearing to stand up to NATO aggression.

Many commentators in the West despaired of ordinary Serbs rising up. One, Michael Ignatieff, bordered on racism when he said that the Serbs as a whole were morally unfit to run their country. The bombing stopped. Milosevic held on. Then a year and a half later a strike by miners turned into a popular uprising.

One million people stormed the parliament building. Milosevic was finished. In Iraq today the US and Britain do not want to see a popular democratic insurrection. They want to replace Saddam Hussein and the pinnacle of the regime with people who will be favourable to them.

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Sat 1 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1840
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