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Interview with Hani Lazim, of Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation (IDAO)

12th August 2003

In August Hani Lazim travelled to Belfast to speak to the Belfast Socialist Forum. He was able to predict in advance many of the difficulties that the occupation forces would face. Below we carry an interview with Hani obtained after the meeting by John McAnulty

If we could begin with you telling us something about your own background.

I came to Britain in the ‘60s, having won a scholarship to study overseas from Iraq’s oil ministry. My family were poor and had a background of involvement in radical politics. I returned to Iraq to visit them in 1968 and found myself in the middle of the Baathist coup. Several members of my family were arrested but I eventually managed to get out and return to Britain.

Since then I have been politically active. With other exiles we organised against Saddam. Then we organised against the first Gulf war led by Bush’s father. We organised against the sanctions, against the war and now we organise against the occupation.

How did the Saddam dictatorship come to power?

When I was growing up Iraq had a large and combative working class. Initially this was led by a Communist party leadership who were not radical and were simply stooges for Moscow. After 1963 coup the majority of the communist party finally split away in 1967 after a long internal struggle from this leadership and took a very radical turn to push the interests of the working class.

Faced with this threat the CIA organised a coup very like the Pinochet coup in Chile. The difference was that the Chilean coup was organised more or less by the army on its own. In Iraq there was a right-wing hodge-podge of the Nationalists, Muslim brotherhood and the Baath party. The coalition proved unstable and it was Saddam and the Baath party that rose to the top with the support and blessing of the CIA.

Once the CIA and its allies had put down the progressive forces in Iraq the US began to use Saddam as an instrument in its dirty work to control the entire region. The main job was to weaken Iran by a savage war in which millions died. It was at this stage that Saddam began to develop and use chemical weapons from materials readily supplied by the US and Britain.

So how did Saddam come into conflict with the US?

The US aim was to leave both countries decimated by the war so that Israel would be the regional power. However Iraq maintained significant military forces. The US began to see the country as a problem rather than a useful tool. They now saw Saddam as too big for his boots.
The first Gulf war came about in this way. Kuwait, historically a part of Iraq, was being used to weaken the regime. Credits made available during the war were rescheduled as loans and payment demanded. Kuwait and the emirates stepped up production to cut the price of oil to $9 a barrel and weaken Iraq financially. The US whispered in Saddam’s ear that no action would be taken if he invaded. The result was war and the decimation of the conscript base of the army. This achieved the US aim of weakening the military structure without removing Saddam. Immediately the war ended they helped to suppress an uprising of the opposition that they had in fact encouraged.

But the biggest weapon in keeping Saddam in power was the sanctions imposed on Iraq for 13 years. These were very savage sanctions covering every aspect of life. The result was to impoverish the population and make them totally and utterly dependent on the regime. The sanctions alone cost 1.5 million lives, not counting those massacred by Saddam with US and British help.

So why then did the US go to war?

The 13 years of sanctions led inevitably to war. After 13 years of sanctions, inspections and constant armed attacks from the air the US was sure that there was nothing left and it was safe to attack. Saddam had no connection to the 9/11 attack or to the Islamic fundamentalists. The new neoconservative movement in the US, supported by the large Zionist lobby, had decided that indirect control by the US should be replaced by an open policy of empire. The war follows on the heels of a whole series of military adventures in Bosnia, Serbia and so on establishing a policy of military intervention at the whim of the US. The war would give the US direct control of oil, remove any military threat to the client states in the area and allow seizure of the wealth of the Iraqi people under cover of a privatisation campaign. We should understand the extent to which the policy of war was driven by crisis in the US. In the ‘60s the US accounted for 50% of world output. Today it is 18%. The war was itself preceded by what was essentially a coup in the US – the ‘election’ of Bush.

How do you see the situation developing now?

The glaring weakness of the US strategy was the belief that Saddam was so hated that they would be welcomed with flowers. The hatred for Saddam is real, but it does not mean that the people will welcome the imperialists. They know it was the US and Britain that inflicted Saddam upon them and kept him in power. The US claim they came to liberate the people, but instead of calling a constituent assembly they set up a puppet regime. The people say: " What liberation? End the occupation!"

The occupiers would have won some tolerance if they had been able to deliver stability and basic services but in fact they could not do so. Part of the invasion plan was to smash up the services and disband the state structures so that everything could be privatised and handed over to the US transnational corporations. In they early days engineers were physically prevented from repairing water and electricity facilities and looters were given free rain to smash up public services.

The US and Britain say that it is Saddam and the fundamentalists who are fighting them, but in fact new forms of resistance are emerging. The trade unions have reformed and held a national conference. Political demonstrations are held every day in every part of the country. The occupation forces mop up Saddam’s men, but find that the military resistance is coming from many directions.
The Iraqi people are a very patient people, but we have a long tradition of mass organisation and mass action. If we conclude that the US and Britain have outstayed their welcome we will tell them so and what has passed so far will seem very small beer indeed.


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