Exiles Say U.S. Secretly Supports Iraq
By Sascha Segan
LONDONSome Iraqi exiles living in Great Britain try not to think about politics. They're more focused on personal tragedy - piecing their lives back together and worrying about family members left behind. The expatriates number about 200,000; many reside in the Bayswater and Hammersmith areas of West London.
"We've lost faith in everything," said Shaima Jillood, an employee in an Edgware Road pharmacy that offers a wider selection of Arab newspapers than English ones. "Saddam and the Americans are probably on the same side; it's just a game they're playing."
In this community, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and U.S. President Bill Clinton seem to receive equal condemnation. The former is called a murderer; the latter, a betrayer.
"[Saddam] is the worst. Not Ceaucescu, not Marcos, not Stalin," said Abdul, a successful restaurateur in London. Like many Iraqi exiles, he was unwilling to give his full name for fear the Iraqi government would retaliate against his family.
Every exile knows people who have been executed, deported or who have vanished, Jillood said. "Brothers, uncles, cousins. Nobody hears about the massacres that go on."
Those interviewed say America has betrayed the Iraqis. They point to 1991 when President George Bush publicly exhorted Iraqis to rise up and revolt after the Gulf War. When dissidents tried to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they found themselves with no support from the U.S. military. Saddam Hussein then proceeded to systematically kill tens of thousands of his own people, who were thought to have defied him.
Hundreds of thousands fled the country, as the United States watched without acting. The situation was compared in The Washington Post to the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolt, in which the United States publicly exhorted Hungarians to stand up to the Soviet Union and then watched passively as the Soviets smothered the rebellion.
If America doesn't want Saddam Hussein out, the exiles figure, America must want him in. A dozen Iraqis espoused the same theory: Saddam Hussein is kept in power by the United States to keep Arab countries disunited, to provide a Gulf market for U.S. arms suppliers and to give the United States an excuse for a military presence in the Gulf.
"Each time Saddam Hussein moves his troops one inch, the arms interests get billions of dollars," said William Solomon, an Iraqi Jew closing up shop at his computer store in London. "They want to keep the bloody regime to keep the benefits."
"After they removed him from Kuwait they could have removed him from Baghdad," said Jabbar Hasan, an aid worker. "Saddam's presence means that America needs a presence, too. America is losing goodwill in Iraq."
American government sources have told The Post that they have no U.N. support to oust Saddam. His regime is considered an internal Iraqi issue; his weaponry is seen as the issue of international concern.
Saddam Hussein's lock on power continues to baffle Iraqi expatriates. They point to American attempts to remove dictators such as Panama's Manuel Noriega and don't understand U.S. reluctance to pursue a similar objective in Iraq. Noriega was spirited out of Panama in 1990 on drug charges
Moreover, a U.S. executive order forbids the assassination of foreign leaders. It prohibits U.S. government employees, or anyone acting on their behalf, from engaging in or conspiring to engage in an assassination. The order was first signed in 1976 by then-President Gerald R. Ford. P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told The Post that the United States is not considering changing the executive order.
"We do not think this current situation is about removing Saddam Hussein from power, but simply about dealing with the threat posed by his program of weapons of mass destruction," Crowley said. "Removing Saddam Hussein from power would take a significant ground force and require us to occupy Iraq. We do not feel that the risk is warranted."
Some Iraqi expatriates say they think the risk is warranted, and that the United States is the only nation with the power to do the job. "They know where his palaces are. It's very easy to kill him," said one woman in an English class at an Iraqi community center in London.
The exiles' idea that the United States supports Saddam Hussein is backed in part by history. Throughout the 1980s, the United States supplied Saddam Hussein with billions of dollars' worth of weapons, technology and food to help his country fight Iran. By 1990, Iraq reportedly owed the United States $80 billion dollars.
The American efforts to weaken Saddam Hussein have done more harm than good, the exiles said. Sanctions have kept food from children and have deprived hospitals of medicine. Malnutrition and illness among children have become endemic in Iraq, The Post has reported. Starving people can't rise up against the regime, the Iraqis said.
"If you are hungry, can you do your job? If the people are hungry and poor, how are they going to fight and change the regime? Let them eat first," Solomon said. "The sanctions don't affect Saddam; they affect the honest people."
Current conditions in Iraq are a far cry from the country's standard of living a generation ago. "Before 1980, Iraq was heaven," said Susan Abraham, a welfare aid worker in London. "I couldn't have imagined leaving Iraq for 20 years."
Several expatriates interviewed for this story say they welcome military action to eliminate Saddam Hussein, but oppose bombing raids that could kill civilians. They hold little hope that the United States and its allies will end sanctions and topple the Iraqi president.
Longing for the peaceful country of their memories, these Iraqis see more darkness in their future. They say they hope for a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but they don't dare hope too much.
Outside the Iraqi Community Association's headquarters in west London stands a fountain dedicated to "the relief of suffering." Reflecting the bleak views of the people inside, the fountain is dry.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company