Last November, "two brave Iraqi women opted to defy occupation by coming to the U.S. soil and speaking about the miseries of their people".[i] They spent their time decrying U.S. occupation, accusing U.S. forces of wanton destruction and cruelty and urged Americans to leave. One of these women was Nermin Al-Mufti. The trouble is, she is no ordinary Iraqi, brave or otherwise.
Al-Mufti is co-director of Occupation Watch, "an international coalition of peace and justice groups, together with Iraqi counterparts"[ii] responsible for the Baghdad-based International Occupation Watch Center (IOWC). Occupation Watch is the brainchild of Medea Benjamin, the organizing force behind Global Exchange, Code Pink and the United for Peace and Justice (UPAJ) coalition. These are three of the six founding organizations behind IOWC.
Benjamin has lavished inherited wealth on an assortment of radical causes and has described Fidel Castro's Cuba as "heaven."[iii] Her co-head at UPAJ is former communist activist and Fidel Castro enthusiast, Leslie Cagan. It was Benjamin who helped co-ordinate Sean Penn's second visit to Iraq late in 2003 and on which, for all his opposition to the U.S.-led war and occupation, he could not help noticing an enlargement of Iraqi freedoms since his earlier visit in late 2002.[iv]
Something of the unintended humor of this straight-faced IOWC operation is apparent from the fact that the IOWC flaunts its Baghdadi domicile. For after all, how many indigenous watchdogs held court in downtown Baghdad during Saddam's rule? And if IOWC can now openly set up shop in Baghdad and send its emissaries to speak freely in the occupier's country, what might that tell us of the improvement in human rights in Iraq since Saddam?
The IOWC describes itself as helping Iraqis to resist the abuses "under [U.S.] occupation, including the activities of international corporations and advocate for the Iraqis' right to control their own resources, especially oil."[v]
That Iraqis can be found giving credence to IOWC's conspiratorial view of U.S. policy is unsurprising. Iraqis knew nothing other than Ba'athist propaganda for three decades. Nermin Al-Mufti's significance lies in the fact that she was one of the people actually feeding Iraqis this propaganda. And it precisely this fact that she has denied, camouflaged or otherwise concealed on her speaking tour.
Publicity for one of many addresses Al-Mufti delivered during a lecture tour of the U.S. last November and December describes her as an "internationally recognized Iraqi journalist" and a regular contributor to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. The recipient of fellowships in international journalism from Hungary and the U.K., Al-Mufti is also described as a veteran writer on "corruption, environmental issues, gender issues, contemporary literature human rights, education, nutrition and disease for a well known Iraqi weekly."[vi]
Al-Mufti resents allegations from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that the "well known Iraqi weekly" for which she wrote at a time when there was no such thing as a free press in Iraq was Saddam's Al-Thawra. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), one of the sponsors of her address at Yale, denounced this as a lie, issuing a media release insisting that she had been instead a reporter for a different Iraqi publication, Jumeyrriha.[vii] Glad to have had that one cleared up. Significantly, the FOR media release did not contest the PUK's claim that Al-Mufti also wrote extensively for the Ba'athist newspaper Al-Qadisaya and the Ba'athist magazine ALIFBA.[viii]
Whatever Al-Mufti might say, she had a good time under Saddam, although she now takes time to lament the "two million handicapped, and four million sick" due to "the sanctions and Saddam."[ix] Denying any connection to the regime, she claims indignantly that one of her colleagues disappeared under his regime (which begs the question why she continued writing for Saddam's official organs) also that she criticized the regime, attracting the censure of Saddam's son, Uday.[x] That Al-Mufti flourished under Saddam's rule while millions were killed, tortured, expelled or otherwise brutalized is nonetheless obvious and indeed implicitly conceded.
Thus, according to a report on one of her American speaking engagements, "Al-Mufti spoke passionately about a country of beauty, wealth, religious freedom and education where she grew up that was changed irrevocably by war more than ten years ago."[xi] In other words, while Saddam was gassing Kurds, Al-Mufti was enjoying herself. (Notably, her speaking partner on the tour was Amal Al-Khadeiri, a wealthy patron of the arts who justified Saddam's rule saying Iraq needed "firmness" that justified a "little bit of cruelty." Queried on Saddam's Anfal campaign against the Kurds, which killed tens of thousands, Khadeiri replied "the Kurds are a difficult people, and can be quite cruel themselves").[xii]
Al-Mufti these days signs her emails with the by-line, "occupied Baghdad"[xiii] although in one of them she concedes that things have improved since Saddam was toppled, if only for this reason: "I preferred now to be ruled by the Americans directly than to be ruled by agents."[xiv] Apparently, with all these years of confrontation, sanctions and two wars, some of us missed the obvious fact that Saddam was really our man after all.
Al-Mufti nimbly spins her Al-Ahram reportage to predictable conclusions, of which the most frequent are that the U.S. war in Iraq was illegal, achieved little if anything other than Iraqi suffering and set the stage for a disaster in the making. It is a roundabout way of lamenting the dismantling of Saddam's murderous regime.
What makes Al-Mufti's lamentations significant is that they are now being directed at credulous American audiences coupled with two things: crocodile tears for the casualties and hardships of U.S. servicemen in Iraq and fanciful allegations of U.S. destructiveness.
"As an Iraqi I hate the occupation, but really I feel pity for your son [sic] and all the soldiers"[xv] says Al-Mufti in one interview. According to Al-Mufti, women's rights were better protected under Saddam than under the Americans. Evidently forgetting Uday and Qusay's torture chambers for the women they personally handpicked for kidnapping and rape, Al-Mufti was reminded by one interviewer and offered the lame response, "We heard many things about Uday so nobody can defend him. Yes, he did these things, but not hundreds of women, not thousands of women." [xvi]
Speaking at Mills College, Oakland, on November 12, Al-Mufti asked her audience, "How can you let your children fight Bush's war? Please explain to me why this is happening? Why is Bush destroying cultural centers, houses, hospitals and museums? We do not understand this war. What does Bush want? Petrol?"[xvii] In another U.S. appearance, she asserted, "They looted and burned all the universities, the hospitals. I used to cry."[xviii]
Al-Mufti was of course among the first retailing horror stories – since discredited – of looted Iraqi museums and libraries from the moment the Americans arrived. "Hundreds of thousands of books and official documents for the past three hundred years…have been burned," lamented Al-Mufti last April in Al-Ahram, with an authoritative accusation of American neglect from a local vigilante quoted for good measure.[xix] That she is still retailing these debunked stories is testimony to her confidence in the ignorance and uncritical receptiveness of her U.S. audiences.
To state the obvious: terrorist bombings notwithstanding, present-day Iraq is no longer a totalitarian state. Al-Mufti has made it her job, however, to ignore what Saddam's Iraq was except insofar as it allegedly compares favorably to the present. Her post-war reportage is replete with round ups of Saddam sympathizers and conspiracy theory, stab-in-the-back, malcontents.[xx] Why? Because she is one of them.
It certainly explains why she has declared that "Iraq was scheduled to be destroyed" no matter what Saddam did and that "the U.S. will soon control Iran, Turkey, and much of the Muslim world."[xxi]
It explains why she has described the alleged looting of museums and libraries as a "scheme to make the Iraqis loose their identity."[xxii]
It explains why she has given an absurdly apologetic gloss for Saddam's secret police, claiming that "at least they knocked on the door."[xxiii]
It explains why she is willing to claim that the U.S. is using an unidentified new chemical weapon to raze buildings in Baghdad.[xxiv]
And it explains why she has even attempted to insinuate that a policy of enforced "Kurdicization" reminiscent of Saddam's enforced (and now admitted) "Arabization" is presently taking place.[xxv] Are millions, or even merely tens of thousands, of civilians being killed, tortured and uprooted, as in Saddam's day? Al-Mufti tactfully doesn't tell us.
Far from representing ordinary Iraqis, Al-Mufti is clearly an ancien regime malcontent, a compromised, unreliable source. That she should be lecturing Americans on what is happening in Iraq is travesty.
The U.S. mission in Iraq is still in progress and we are not diviners, given to know yet its ultimate outcome. Democracy is an exotic plant in the Middle East and might not take hold. If it does not, more modest aims are in order. This means assisting to establish a system that is less barbarous, tyrannical and unfettered in its brutality than was Saddam's. Such an outcome falls far of ideal but would nonetheless represent a victory for Americans and Iraqis alike.
In the meantime, sowing American doubt, fear and guilt over a just intervention that removed one of the most murderous dictators in existence is the precondition for an ill-conceived American retreat. This is the sum-total of Al-Mufti's recent activism in the U.S. It needs to be recognized and combated.
Daniel Mandel is associate director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia.
[i] Dina Rashed, "Touring U.S., Iraqi Women Talk Against the Occupation," IslamOnline.net, December 19, 2003, at http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2003-12/19/article05.shtml
[ii] "About Us," http://www.occupationwatch.org/article.php?list=type&type=4
[iii] Ben Johnson, Sean Penn's Baghdad Homecoming," Frontpage magazine, January 21, 2004, at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=11837
[v] "About Us," http://www.occupationwatch.org/article.php?list=type&type=4
[vi] Biographies, Women of Iraq Tour of the United States ‘03, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, "http://www.forusa.info/news/womenbiographies.html
[vii] "Statement of FOR on Behalf of Amal Al-Khadeiri and Nermin Al-Mufti of the Women of Iraq Tour," Fellowship of Reconciliation, December 1, 2003, at http://www.forusa.org/Media/FOR_Statement-WOR-12203.html
[viii] "Springtime for Saddam Tour: the Sequel," Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, at http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/news031209.html
[ix] Antoine Faisal and Lynne Vittorio, "A War of Others", February 16, 2004, at http://www.indypressny.org/article.php3?ArticleID=1278
[x] Mary McCarty, "Women Have Iraq's Culture Close to Heart," Dayton Daily News, December 12, 2003.
[xi] Randy Weiner, "Iraqi Women Pay U.S. goodwill visit," The Journal News, November 4, 2004, at http://www.nyjournalnews.com/newsroom/110403/b0304iraqwomen.html
[xii] Jon Lee Anderson, "Iraq's Bloody Summer - Revenge killings, assassinations, and the hunt for Saddam," New Yorker, August 11, 2003. Al-Khadeiry's theme on the tour was American barbarism as evidenced by the bombing of her Ottoman-period home-cum-museum. "Ba'athists at Yale," December 11, 2003, at http://offthefence.typepad.com/off_the_fence/2003/12/baathists_at_ya.html. Yet, as she herself conceded, it suffered bombing on account of its proximity to Iraqi government installations in the heart of Baghdad. Dina Rashed, "Touring U.S., Iraqi Women Talk Against the Occupation," IslamOnline.net, December 19, 2003, at http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2003-12/19/article05.shtml
[xiii] June 2, 2003, at http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2003/msg02825.html; June 7, 2003, at http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2003/msg02901.html
[xiv] June 2, 2003, at http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2003/msg02825.html
[xv] Laura Flanders, "Interview with Occupation Watch Staff and Military Families Speak Out", July 10th, 2003, at http://www.occupationwatch.org/article.php?id=435
[xvi] Antoine Faisal and Lynne Vittorio, "A War of Others", February 16, 2004, at http://www.indypressny.org/article.php3?ArticleID=1278
[xvii] Karen Oeh, "Journey to Iraq", November 17,2003, at http://mountaingirl.blogs.com/journeytoiraq/planning/
[xviii]Randy Weiner, "Iraqi Women Pay U.S. goodwill visit," The Journal News, November 4, 2004, at http://www.nyjournalnews.com/newsroom/110403/b0304iraqwomen.html
[xix] "Iraqi smoke and ashes." Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 17 - 23 April 2003
(Issue No. 634), at http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/634/fr1.htm
[xx] For example, "All the King's Horses," Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 1-7 May 2003, (Issue No. 636) http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/636/sc2.htm
[xxi] Keith Urbahn, "‘Tour' was false view of most Iraqi women," Yale Daily News, January 12, 2004, at http://www.yaledailynews.com/article.asp?AID=24453
[xxii] Dina Rashed, "Touring U.S., Iraqi Women Talk Against the Occupation," IslamOnline.net, December 19, 2003, at http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2003-12/19/article05.shtml
[xxiii] "Ba'athists at Yale," December 11, 2003, at http://offthefence.typepad.com/off_the_fence/2003/12/baathists_at_ya.html
[xxiv] Rita Sand, "Iraqi women visitors warn of civil war and reveal use of new chemical weapons used in Gulf II," Chicago Independent Media Center, December 18, 2003, at http://chicago.indymedia.org/newswire/display/34567/index.php
[xxv] "Long-oppressed Turkmen demand a say in future of Iraq," The Daily Star, September 15, 2003.