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memri
June 9, 2003 No.
519

Arab Columnists on the Killing Fields of Iraq

Starting in early May 2003, large mass graves have been found in Iraq. Buried in them were Iraqi civilian victims of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime. Among these victims were political prisoners and participants in the Shi'ite and Kurdish revolts that were violently quelled in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Also found were the remains of women, children and the elderly. According to some estimates, the total number of victims may exceed one million. [1]

Only a few columnists in the Arab world have written about these discoveries. The following are excerpts from some of their articles:

'Many Arabs Sinned against the Iraqi People when they Stood by Its Executioners'

In an article titled "No One Apologizes" in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, columnist Ahmed Al-Rab'i wrote : [2] "Dozens of political parties and figures applauded Saddam Hussein and his regime. [They all] defended him because they considered this regime to [be] nationalistic and an enemy of Zionism, and some even used to label this regime 'democratic.' [These people] appeared on [various Arab] satellite channels and on the streets of [Arab] cities fervently defending Saddam Hussein's regime, [until the moment that the] veil was lifted from the unknown, until they saw with their own eyes the hundreds of thousands of families searching for their missing [relatives], the hundreds of secret prisons the doors of which [never] closed, and the thousands buried with their clothes in a barbaric and inhuman way."

"Furthermore, they saw with their own eyes how these opponents of the regime were tied with explosives and blown up by remote control, while their murderers applauded…. We saw none of those who defended Saddam and his regime stand with a shred of courage to apologize to the Iraqis, admit his mistakes, and face the truth."

"Is there not a single man of conscience who might be brought by these sights to… admit he was mistaken, that he was unaware of the truth, that he was a victim of the misleading [Arab] media? Is there no one who will tell the public, [the very public] he led in demonstrations defending Saddam Hussein's regime, that he was wrong? Is it not a disaster when the one who committed the crime of defending Saddam's regime and deceived the people refuses to apologize!?"

"[And he should], first, to save his own face, and second [to save] the honor of the [Arab] nation …"

"Many Arabs sinned… against the Iraqi people when they stood by its executioners, when they underestimated the savagery with which the [Iraqi] regime treated its own people, when they opened up their media to anyone defending this ghoulish regime, and when they refused to treat others' opinions tolerantly. It is about time that some of them stand, with a minimum of self-respect, and apologize to the Iraqis...!"

'We Felt We were Partly Guilty, because Murderers from Our Arab World Perpetrated this Savageness'

In an article titled "But Who Will Apologize," Columnist Rajah Al-Khuri wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: [3] "Over half a century has passed since the Third Reich collapsed, and the German people has still not purged itself of the horrible Nazi crimes committed by Adolf Hitler. A few weeks ago, Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled, and there is still not sign that the Arab regime has grasped the heavy weight of Saddam Hussein's horrifying crime…"

"The facts revealed together with the mass grave of 15,000 victims, like all the other mass graves, are a huge mark of shame, not only on the forehead of the deceased Iraqi regime but also on the foreheads of the entire Arab existence and identity and on any one who says 'I am an Arab'… because contemporary Arabism includes [also] tremendous measures of hatred and barbarism..."

"We all saw the film of the execution and murder [of victims by] blowing them up by remote control with explosives stuffed into their pockets. Later, we saw the [executioners] applauding as the victims flew into their air, their limbs torn apart and covered with dust."

"We felt something precious within our human dignity blown up [with these sights]… We felt that we, in some way or another, shared partly in the guilt, because murderers who came from our Arab world perpetrated this kind of savageness."

"[These murderers] had sold [the Arab world] the slogans of nationalism and progressiveness while riding on the back of the ideology of Arabism, which they prostituted... This barbarism, unprecedented in human history, was committed by Arab hands, by hands that found such delight in death and murder that the death squads would send the heads of the victims to Saddam Hussein's two sons in cardboard boxes…"

"These plastic bags in the mass graves contained bullet-riddled skulls, [bodies] wrapped in rags, [tied] in ropes, [or] dressed in worn pieces of clothing… Ropes still tied a mother's bones to her infant's, and a father's to his son…"

"So far, no one heard a single word… not an apology, not an announcement to betray an ounce of shame and disgrace, in light of the daily horrific ignominy done to the image of the Arabs by Saddam Hussein's – whose portraits were raised in the anti-war demonstrations!"

"All these murders, all these excavations that spill over the banks with the decaying bones of the victims, all the shock caused by 'Saddamism,' whose crimes surpass those of Nazism and Stalinism – and the world has not yet read a [single] communiqué expressing regret and apology…!"

"W e do not know what is more important now. Is it to rebuild the bankrupt Arab League or to rebuild the shameful image of Arabism?"

"What is required [now] is an Arab apology to the world for the Saddamic crime, an apology to the dead in their mass grave… an apology to the slaughtered Iraqi people, after there were among us those who tried to prolong this slaughter by defending Saddam, claiming that they were protecting the Iraqi people!"

Halabja is a Minor Episode in the Bloody Game of Saddam's Ba'ath Regime

In "Saddam's Mass Graves," columnist 'Ureib Al-Rintawi wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: [4] "With the discovery of mass graves [on the outskirts of] Basra containing… the remains of over 15,000 Iraqis, the story of Halabja seems like a minor episode in the bloody game experienced by the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime." [5]

"This regime allocated graves – just as it did for his magnificent presidential palaces – in Iraq's districts and communities, equitably and impartially. [Accordingly], all Iraqis, among them respectable and disreputable members of the Ba'ath party, are among the many victims. These appalling revelations call for a reemphasis of the following facts:"

"For one thing, the dictatorship of the Iraqi Ba'ath dictatorship reached the level of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and next to it the other Arab capitals looked like oases of democracy and human rights..."

"Second, the assumption that change could come from within Iraq was refuted. Under this kind of regime, Iraqis were compelled to contain their suffering and pain for three decades. Change from within became inconceivable …"

"Fourth, to those still immersed in the search for the causes of the swift collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, I say: 'Do not exhaust yourselves searching for conspiracies, intrigues and betrayals. The reasons for this collapse were most shamefully exposed by the mass graves….'"

Characteristics of Official Arab Discourse: The Nothingness of the Individual, and Disparagement of His Liberties, Dignity, and Even his Bones in the Mass Graves

In "Mass Graves Don't Shake Their Consciences," columnist Salem Mashkur wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: [6] "Many of those with good intentions say that what is needed now is to turn the page of the Iraqi past, to start a [new] page for the future, and to act to ensure that this page will be different from the previous one in every respect."

"It is impossible to meet this goal until we unlock the past and the elements that led to such a degree of oppression, suppression, and destruction…"

"We must beware of [the possible] recurrence of these factors and tragedies. This requires that first we shed light on the implications of tyranny, dictatorship, and the expropriation of an [entire] country and its subjugation to the interests of a single man and his two sons… to the point where, when foreign forces invaded the country, the Iraqi people stood idle, indifferent to the outcome of everything. All the people wanted was to be rescued from this nightmare..."

"… When I spoke this way at a convention organized by students at the American University in Beirut, my words were not well received by the leader of a Lebanese movement who spoke after me. He described my words as 'more Iraqi whining' and called for turning the page over on the [Saddam] regime and thinking of the future 'because the Arab nation is at risk and is under oppressive conquest' [i.e. American occupation]. He also said, 'As for the mass graves, these exist in any Arab country, and are not unique to Iraq.' As my interlocutor spoke, hundreds of mothers and sons were exhuming their murdered from a mass grave of 15,000 Iraqis, among them a large number of women and children. This grave is only one of dozens… exposed every day…"

"This colleague of ours tried to detract from [the seriousness of] the massacres... This is how the defenders of Saddam's dead regime acted, claiming that Saddam was not the only despot in the Arab world. While the late regime slaughtered its own people for decades, all these 'Jihad warriors' and the various Arab 'fighters,' secular and religious, held their tongues. Some even welcomed this slaughter; others justified their silence [by claiming] it was a foreign conspiracy…!"

"All these arguments [reflect] the… official and general Arab discourse: the negligible nothingness of the individual, and disparagement of his liberties, dignity, and even his bones in the mass graves…

'Only They Who Cry Out Against the Mass Graves… Will Have Their Demand to End the U.S. Presence on Iraqi Soil Respected'

In "Graves… Graves… and a Proposal," columnist Hazem Saghiya wrote in the Arabic-language London daily Al-Hayat: [7]

"It is not the mass graves and Saddam Hussein's regime that are scary. What is scary is those who say, 'Saddam's [regime] is ended, so let's forget about its graves.' [This is] scary mainly because in the shadow of this obliviousness, the Saddam phenomenon and its graves might recur… in Iraq or in any [Arab] country ruled by this culture of 'let's forget'…"

"In 1940, under Stalin's orders, the Soviets executed in the Katin forest 4,000 Polish officers who had been held prisoner. This mass grave became the backbone of national Polish culture [and a key factor] in Polish-Soviet and later Polish-Russian relations."

"Saddam filled the graves with his countrymen, such that it is even harder to forget… [Also] the number of the victims is not simple. The number of those murdered by Saddam… ranges between a million and a million and a half… We now face a schism in Arab culture… Those who want to oppose the U.S. in obliviousness and want to mobilize all efforts to this goal [of resistance]. But even if [all] agree [we should forget] and even if all agree to struggle against [the U.S.] – the road they take will lead to a new Saddam and new graves..."

"Only they who cry out against the mass graves… will have their demand to end the U.S. presence on Iraqi soil respected. Otherwise, how can someone be so eager to liberate Iraq yet show such abhorrence towards the collective death of Iraqis?"

"The one who turns these mass graves into monuments, who dedicates them as a lesson for the future, who seeks to expose the slain, one by one, to expose the life story of each, who restores to them a bit of [their individual] expression and frees them from being [mere] lumps and corpses… it is only his call… to bring about an end to the American occupation that will be trusted..." "To prevent the reappearance of these graves, [we must] discuss why they [came into existence]… and these reasons concern tyrants' domination of the peoples' lives with dogma and slogans..."


[1] See article by Hazem Saghiya in Al-Hayat (May 25, 2003), who does not mention the source of this estimate.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 19, 2003.

[3] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 20, 2003.

[4] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 19, 2003.

[5] In March 1988 the Iraqi Air Force gassed the Kurdish village of Halabja, about 250 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing 5,000 and harming thousands more.

[6] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) May 21, 2003.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), May 25, 2003.