Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Saddam Hussein’

Iraq 10 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th April, 2013

The Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has provided an occasion for reflection on the pluses and minuses of that operation and its aftermath. Having been in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) last month I know that many Kurds there think of the War as a Liberation, and I can understand why, given the dreadful persecution they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen; it did indeed constitute genocide. But I am also aware, from my last visit to Baghdad, in December 2012, just how shattered Iraq remains as a state. Sunni have been pitted against Shia (who are now dominant) and fatal bombings in the capital are commonplace. As I said in a speech to the Cordoba Foundation and Al Sharq Forum’s Conference at London’s Commonwealth Club, “Iraq 10 Years On”, the Americans made a terrible mistake in pushing de-Ba’athification so far that they sacked the army and police force, as well as many officials — a mistake they notably did not make in Germany in 1945 after the defeat of the Nazis. Saddam was a monster, of that I have no doubt; his torture centres bore all the hallmarks of a true sadist. But the Bush-Blair invasion did not usher in a period of faultless democracy and peace. I never believed it would. Moreover, as Wadah Khanfar — former head of Al Jazeera — pointed out at the same conference, the Iraq War, together with the new Arab Awakening, and all the baggage of Western interference in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian situation, has left a region in turmoil. It is not just Iraq that is dysfunctional but the entire MENA region, and I suspect it will take decades before things settle down. Whether that will be within the same b0undaries as the current countries is by no means sure. After all, most of the countries in the Middle East are artificial constructs, the result of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour declaration and the British betrayal of Arab nationalists led by the Hashemites. Moreover, given the Syrian civil war and renewed political activity regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is not impossible that some time in the future there will be an independent Kurdish state. The KRG are currently sticking to their line that they will be happy with devo-max in Iraq, but if Iraq effectively ceases to be a coherent country then there will be a big temptation to go it alone, which could have far-reaching regional implications.

Photos by Richard Chambury (richfoto). 1: Daud Abdullah, Rosemary Hollis, JF, Matthew G Banks; 2: JF.

Links: http://www.thecordobafoundation.com & http://www.sharqforum.org

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Halabja 25 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013

Halabja monumentHalanja museumThe name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.

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The Citadel at Erbil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th March, 2013

Erbil citadel 1Erbil Citadel 2Towering over the old town centre of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Citadel must be one of the largest and most imposing mud-brick structures in the world. At its entrance, up a steep incline, sits a substantial statue of the historian and scholar Mubarak Ben Ahmed Sharuf Aldia (1169-1239), who was a Minister in Erbil under Sultan MuzaFaradin. Within its walls are approximately 500 dwellings, though many of these are in a dire state of repair having suffered decades of lack of maintenance and water damage. Ten of them are currently being restored, notably the magnificent Rashid Agha House, with its courtyards and terraces and rooms that have stunning views over the town below. That house  is being painstakingly conserved with the assistance of Italy’s Foreign Ministry as well as Kurdistan regional government funds. Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds included willful cultural suppression so it is not surprising that people here are keen to see their heritage brought back to its former glory. The arrival of our international solidarity delegation from paying homage to martyrs of the Anfal at the Memorial at Kasnazan caused understandable curiosity among the many Kurdish youths in and around the Citadel, but I guess in a few years time Kurdistan will have established itself on tourist itineraries and Europeans will be a commonplace. Much of the modern city of Erbil is rather identikit, with its tower blocks, shopping malls and upmarket suburban housing, though the Hotel Rotana, where I’m staying, can hardly be faulted and the Kurds are genuinely pleased to have foreign visitors.

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Kurdish Genocide Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th March, 2013

Masoud BarzaniHalabja massacre 2This year sees the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which has naturally provoked a lot of media comment in the UK. But perhaps even more deserving of attention is the 25th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, when Saddam Hussein’s army wiped out around 5,000 Kurds in a chemical weapons attack. Most of the victims in the town were women and children. In fact that massacre was the climax of a horrendous campaign of persecution and slaughter against Iraq’s Kurds that had been going on for several years, largely ignored by the outside world, and with a probable total death-toll of around 182,000, most of whose remains have never been located. This week, international solidarity delegations are in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) to mark the anniversary and to continue the campaign to get recognition of what happened as genocide. The UK Parliament just the other day voted accordingly. But at a day-long conference at the Saad Abdulla Conference Centre in Erbil today the graphic horror and inhumanity of the so-called Anfal was brought home by eye-witnesses to the Halabja attack in March 1988 including the celebrated Iranian and Turkish photographers Ahmad Nateghi and Ramazan Oxturk whose images of dead children in their dead mothers’ arms became iconic. There was also interesting testimony at the conference from Senator Peter Galbraith from Vermont who had witnessed the destruction of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in 1987 and drafted a Prevention of Genocide Act that was passed by the Senate but pooh-poohed by Presidents Reagan and later George Bush Snr, mainly because they hoped that Saddam Hussein would be the next Anwar Sadat, i.e. move Iraq out of the Soviet sphere of influence into the West’s, as Sadat had done with Egypt. The British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts showed and talked about his film “The Winds of Death” and there was a meaty speech of welcome from the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, who declared that “We must not forget the past but it should not lead to hatred and revenge.”

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The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013

Halabja victimsSaddam Hussein2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014

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Celebrating Newroz in Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd March, 2012

London Kurds and their friends in Parliament gathered in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to celebrate the spring-time festival of Newroz. The event was hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP, a stalwart supporter of minority rights, as well as a representative of one of the areas of north London with the highest concentration of Kurdish and Turkish inhabitants. His colleagues David Lammy and Andy Love also spoke, as well as Lord Rea and London Assembly member Jeanette Arnold and the women’s rights campaigner and lawyer Margaret Owen. In my short presentation I recalled my experiences as a writer and broadcaster covering Kurdish issues for the BBC and other outlets ever since the Halabja massacre in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I have twice monitored Turkish national elections in the Diyabakir region and have sat in as an observer (for PEN) on trials of writers, publishers and others who have fallen foul of Turkey’s byzantine laws relating to the Kurdish issue. This is a matter that is constantly being taken up by the European Parliament, as it reviews Turkey’s progress towards possible EU membership, as Sarah Ludford MEP outlined in a written statement she sent to today’s gathering. There have been some genuinely positive steps in the granting of some cultural rights to Kurds in Turkey in recentyears, for example with regard to language, but much more still needs to be done. And although Newroz is a time for celebration, many of the speakers today were sombre in the wake of hundreds of detentions of Kurdish inside Turkey and curbs on Kurdish Newroz celebrations there.

 

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The Mubarak Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th January, 2012

Sitting in Beirut watching Al Jazeera as Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ousted President, was being wheeled into the Cairo courtroom today for the prosector’s final statement raised mixed emotions inside me. Like many of my Egyptian friends, I am still in a half-daze of disbelief that the Revolution actually managed to get rid of the wretched man. But as a European — and therefore a citizen of a continent which has eschewed the death penalty (at least so far as the EU 27 are concerned) — I am also perplexed by the prosecutor’s demand for the death sentence. I have no doubt of Mubarak’s guilt, not only in overseeing the killings and harassment of protestors duing the Tahrir Square demonstrations, but also of presiding over threee decades of a corrupt regime in which torture and human rights abuses were commonplace and he and his family syphoned off not millions but many billions of dollars. To add insult to injury, he was even trying to engineer a succession for his favourite son, Gamal, who has at times during recent weeks been alongside him in the dock. Unlike in the case of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, an even more monstruous dictator who was despatched without dignity after his death sentence, Mubarak is unlikely to face the hangman’s noose. He is seriously ill — though how seriously is a matter of controversy– and he is quite likely to expire before all legal proceedings (including probable appeals) are exhausted. I believe the highest level of command in the Egyptian army would also be extremely reluctant to see their former Commander in Chief swing. But in the meantime, many of us who metophorically popped champagne corks when Mubarak finally resigned may well find ourselvew obliged to sign petitions against his execution, in favour of life imprisonment, on humanitarian grounds.

 

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Brazil’s Nuclear Cooperation with Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th February, 2010

As the United States is preparing a new Resolution to submit to the UN Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, the government in Tehran has announced that it has begun 20% enrichment of uranium at the plant in Natanz, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last Sunday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the uranium enrichment and denounced what he called ‘the enemies of Iran’ for trying to halt his country’s nuclear and technological development. US President Barack Obama has voiced common fears in the West that Iran is aiming to achieve nuclear weapons (a situation that would particularly alarm countries on the other side of the Persian/Arabian Gulf, as well as Israel). But not all countries in the Americas see things Washington’s way, Brazil being a notable example. Since last November, President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ Da Silva and his Ministers have been exploring nuclear cooperation actively with Iran and this week, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, declared, in defence of this collaboration, that the Iranians ‘have the right to a peaceful programme of nuclear development, just like other countries.’  That is a line which finds great resonance in much of the developing world, as well as among Tehran’s close friends and allies, who point out that (a) the United States is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons, and (b) Israel is the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons, in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty. Indeed, the Israelis bombed Iraq’s main nuclear facility when it looked as if Saddam Hussein’s scientists were on the way to weapons-grade production.  And the Israelis have made clear that they would be prepared to do the same to Iran — which is why the United States has despatched missile-carying ships to the Gulf, in the hope of cooling the Israeli hotheads.  But many Latin Americans, at least, ask whether there aren’t double standards at play on this issue.

[photo: PressTV]

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Phil Willis on Faith and Science

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st February, 2010

Alastair Campbell famously reined in Tony Blair once by saying ‘We don’t do God!’ Subsequently, of course, it became clear that whatever Number 10’s Spinmeister wished, Blair did God in a big way — and thus had even more to talk about with his pal George W Bush. Together, they were indeed on a sort of Crusade, not just to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but to defend what they considered to be good, wholesome Christian values. Campbell’s warning reflected the fact that Britain — in common with most of the rest of Western Europe — has largely become a secular society; only a small percentage of the nation’s Christians could be described as ‘practising’ in any true sense of the word. Nonetheless, within all political parties there is a nucleus of ‘believers’, whether they are Christian Socialists, Conservative CofE or Liberal Democrat Non-Conformists.

Indeed, the Non-Conformist tradition in the old Liberal Party was very strong and there are more than a few remnants today. Methodists, in particular, are well represented among party members, but so too adherents to smaller denominations or sects, such as the Quakers. After the merger with the SDP, at least some of that tradition survived and is well represented by the LibDem Christian Forum (LDCF), whicb notably runs breakfast events during autumn federal party conferences, when many less conscientious delegates are asleep or nursing a hangover. The LDCF has also instituted an annual lecture, named in memory of William Gladstone (who had no qualms about involving God in politics). Alan Beith, MP, gave the first lecture last year and tonight, at the National Liberal Club, the honour fell to the retiring MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Phil Willis. The former headmaster gave a thoughtful reflection (devoid of his usual stock of jokes) on Faith and Science, arguing that scientists, politicians and theologians are all researchers into truth and act largely out of a desire to serve humanity’s best interest. As Phil said, Gladstone avoided locking horns directly with his contemporary Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution rumbled through the second half of the 19th century until breaking as a great storm in the 20th. Some people blame Darwin for the decline of religious faith, others the horrors of War. And in a sense, Nick Clegg is a product of our secular age. But one hopes that all liberally-minded people — whether of great, little or no faith — can unite round the values being promoted by the party: of tolerance of diversity and the championing of fairness as a basis for society.

Link: www.ldcf.net

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London’s Camp Ashraf Hunger Strikers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th August, 2009

JF speaking  at Camp Ashraf demonstrationFor over three weeks now, a small group of dedicated Iranians have been on hunger strike in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, vowing to continue their protest until the United States guarantees the safety of thouands of their exiled compatriots who live in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the major base for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gave sanctuary to the mujahideen, much to the fury of Tehran, but after his overthrow, US forces took control of the camp and disarmed its inhabitants. However, at the start of this year, as part of the Americans’ policy of handing more and more responsilities in Iraq to the government in Baghdad, Iraq assumed authority over the camp. Alas, at the end of July, Iraqi security forces stormed it, in an extraordinarily inhumane operation that led to several deaths and scores of casualties. The brutality of that operation was graphically illustrated in video footage screened last night at the protest demonstration in Grosvenor Square.

Earlier, I spoke at the event — as one of a series of British politicians and representatives of non-governmental organisations over the past three weeks — calling on the United States to take control of Camp Ashraf again until some sort of UN or other international supervision can be put in place. The Iraqi government would dearly like to get rid of the PMOI inhabitants, but sending them back to Iran could be a potential death-sentence for many of them. This week, the London protestors  tried to deliver a letter to the US Embassy calling for urgent action, but the Embassy refused to accept it. The official American (and indeed Briitsh) line is that the situation at Camp Ashraf is being monitored closely to ensure that the Iraqi government complies with its written guarantees that the camp’s residents will be treated hunanely, but one can see why, after last month’s assault, many of those inhabitants and their relatives in cities including London consider those guarantees to be hollow.

I do not support any one political grouping in Iran, but I have followed events in the country closely since I first visited it 40 years ago. As has been demonstrated in Iran itself in recent months, there are many varied and valid political strands and many brave people there, and I for one long for the day when there can be the sort of freedom and security which would mean that there can be a truly democratic contest in which the different political parties and groups could set out their stalls without fear of prohibition, harassment, imprisonment or worse.

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