Sharif Ali al-Hussein, Ahmed Chalabi and Sheikh Mohammed Mohammed Ali are leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the primary Iraqi national opposition to the regime of Saddam Husayn. Al-Hussein is the first cousin of the last king of Iraq, who was deposed in 1958. Chalabi, well known for his role in the Iraqi resistance, is a businessman with a Ph.D. in mathematics. Mohammed Ali is a religious scholar now living in London. They addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on February 12, 2001.
The Threat of Saddam
Today, moral issues are often blurred; contrasts between good and evil are often less defined. This is not the case in Iraq today, where the regime of Saddam Husayn is responsible for acts of pure, malicious evil. It has used chemical weapons against civilians, practiced ethnic cleansing, supported international terrorism, tortured, raped, and blackmailed. The fight against Saddam Husayn is not about oil, national interest, or even ideology. It’s about human rights and the fight against one of the final remaining tyrants of the twentieth century.
The impression that Saddam is not a threat to the United States is completely wrong. He escaped from his "box" a few years ago. United Nations (U.N.) inspectors were ousted from Iraq in 1998, and Saddam has returned to developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Production of chemical and biological weapons is underway; nuclear capabilities are in the works.
Assuming that sanctions against Iraq will be removed, Saddam will once again dispose of vast funds and will use them to make WMD. On New Year’s Day a month ago, he held a parade of 1,000 tanks and maintains an army with which he continues to threaten Israel and Kuwait.
Saddam is a serial killer who has been in power for thirty years, and he shows no signs of changing. His goals are power and revenge; he will use these arms to attack his Arab neighbors, Israel, and the oil fields of his enemies.
Further, Saddam has stated openly that if the United States and Britain don’t leave Iraq, he will withdrawal his recognition of Kuwait (which he signed after his defeat in 1991).
Surprisingly, Saddam might be stronger and more dangerous than ever before. He has withstood everything that the allied coalition has thrown at him and has stood his ground. After war and ten years of sanctions, he still remains in power. Saddam will be back to haunt the outside world in a few years, and this time he will have chemical weapons and, perhaps, nuclear weapons, too.
Attempts to Repeal the Sanctions
Saddam has tens of billions of dollars set aside in French banks from oil revenues. Iraq, after all, is the second largest oil exporter in the world. In the last six months, however, only half of the approved finances were delivered to Iraqi schools, sewage systems, infrastructure, food and medicines. In other words, Iraq is not suffering from sanctions; Iraq is suffering because Saddam invests his money in banks and weapons rather than his people. With $16 billion in oil revenues last year, Saddam has the money to feed and clothe his people.
The INC plans to get food, medicine, and clothes to Iraq by way of an international organization. With that, Saddam Husayn could not claim that sanctions are killing his people.
The Iraqi National Congress
The INC is a coalition of Iraqis who believe in democracy, plurality, peace, human rights, and a peaceful international community. We have managed to reinvigorate our struggle against Saddam in the last eighteen months. We have launched a full-scale diplomatic effort; we have met with more than twenty delegations from the U.N. Additionally, we have sent INC delegates to Europe, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. We continue our struggle by way of television, radio, and newspapers that speak out against Saddam’s regime.
At this time, we are also looking for ways to send aid to the Iraqi people since Saddam refuses to spend money on his constituents who need help desperately. The INC is also increasing its legal activities as we attempt to indict Saddam for war crimes and crimes against humanity. These activities comprise the first phase of our initiatives.
We have come to the U.S. to propose phase two—to take the struggle directly to Iraq. The Bush administration has been very responsive to our ideas. The INC intends to gather information that might help us indict Saddam for war crimes. This includes intelligence on conditions in Iraqi prisons, aggression against Kuwait, the withholding of foods and medicines from the Iraqi people, military movements, personnel changes, and the like.
It is sometimes said that the INC is divided and ineffective. This reflects propaganda put out by the Iraqi regime. In truth, the INC is the most effective opposition group in the Middle East. We have a presence in every country that neighbors Iraq, we have effective media outlets that make our positions clear, and we are received by heads of state. The African National Congress (ANC) took years to come to power in South Africa. We will do the same in due time.
American Aid to the INC
However, to do this we need outside support, especially that of the U.S. administration. The Iraq liberation act was passed by Congress and signed by former president Clinton in October 1998. The act allocated $97 million to efforts that would end Saddam’s rule and replace it with a democracy. Unfortunately, only $433,000 of that was spent by the last administration. Fortunately, there is no expiration date on that money.
During the last administration, it appeared that President Clinton did not want to challenge Saddam. Perhaps he saw Iraq as dangerous or believed that efforts there jeopardized the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The INC and Israel
The INC believes that a settlement with Israel should be reached through peaceful negotiations with the full involvement of the international community. Following Saddam Husayn's disastrous wars with Iran and Kuwait, it is clear that an attack on Israel by Iraq would be suicidal.
It is a little known fact that Iraq used to have the largest Jewish community in the Arab east. Approximately 120,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1952. The history of the Jews in Iraq is a long-standing one of tolerance, cohabitation, and respect. This is entirely separate from the Arab-Israeli conflict which was started by competing national interests in an era of extreme nationalism.
Summary account by Jonathan Schanzer, research associate at the Middle East Forum.