A platform for Iraqi voices

Originally published
Introduction: A Platform for Iraqi Voices
IWPR's project seeks to strengthen Iraqi debate over the risks and prospects of potential conflict.

By Julie Flint in Beirut (ICR No. 01, 28-Feb-03)

It is impossible to exaggerate the momentousness of the coming weeks and months for the Arab world. The United States, backed by Britain, is poised to occupy an Arab nation - Iraq - in order to remove the man it did so much, for so long, to maintain in power: President Saddam Hussein. To justify this quasi-colonial enterprise, Washington invokes the name of the people it betrayed in 1991: the Iraqis who rose up against Saddam, at America's urging, and were then crushed by Saddam as America and its allies stood by.

One senior American officer has already said he believes the US will need to remain in Iraq for five years, with substantial military power, "to establish and exploit the peace" America says it will bring.

Most Arabs believe war will not bring peace, but greater conflict and instability that will stretch far outside Iraq's own borders. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has warned that it will light a "gigantic fire" of terror and violence. Iraqis question whether an American client regime in their country will fulfil their dream of a genuine, Iraqi democracy - or whether those who do not accept the American diktat will, once again, be elbowed aside.

In the administration of President George Bush, most Arabs see not a champion of democracy and human rights but an administration implacably wedded to their historic enemy - Israel - and its viscerally anti-Arab prime minister, Ariel Sharon. How, they ask, can America intervene against Saddam while tolerating - nay abetting - Sharon?

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, whose roots go back to the first Allied war against Saddam of 1991, has until now focused on the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Afghanistan. From today it will be giving a voice to Iraqis - those inside Iraq and the several million exiles outside - to highlight their hopes and fears as American troops prepare to become the neighbours of 300 million Arabs.

In the Western media at least, Iraqi voices have been conspicuous largely by their absence so far. Debate, and comment, have been dominated by Western politicians and Western commentators - many of whom have never set foot in Iraq.

Iraqi Crisis Report will also give space to other, non-Iraqi voices - Arab, American and European, to provide unique viewpoints on key issues of the moment - the repercussions of an American protectorate in the heart of the Arab world; the demise of the "Arab nation" and its failure even to meet to discuss the imminent occupation of one of its own; Western double standards and the credibility of the United Nations.

IWPR's central aim is to strengthen Iraqi debate, which may in time include additional development and training activities in line with IWPR's educational activities in other areas. For that, we will hope for your interest and support.

But at this urgent moment, the project seeks to give a platform for the views of Iraqis caught between fear of Saddam and the great uncertainty of what removing him may mean.

Julie Flint, a long-time correspondent from the Middle East and a former IWPR trustee, is coordinating editor of the Iraqi Crisis Report.