LIVE FROM BAGHDAD
Antiwar Protests in Baghdad
With Bianca Jagger
Human Rights Advocate
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2003; 11 a.m. ET
With tens of thousands of U.S. troops mobilizing for a possible invasion of Iraq, hundreds of antiwar activists have descended on Baghdad in recent days to plead for a peaceful solution to a possible showdown between the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein. Bianca Jagger, a longtime human rights advocate, is there as part of a 35-person delegation of American academics and activists who represent Conscience International, an antiwar group based in Atlanta.
"I have come here to urge the Iraqi government to comply with all the U.N. Security Council resolutions and to urge the U.S. government to avoid a pre-emptive strike," said Jagger in a telephone interview with washingtonpost.com.
Jagger was online live from Baghdad on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the mission of the antiwar activists and what they hope to accomplish.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Ms. Jagger, thank you for joining us today from Baghdad. Please tell us what's happening there right now and how effective you feel your mission has been.
Bianca Jagger: What's happening here right now is that the Iraqi people I've been able to meet are aware that the clock is ticking and that the drums of a war are being beaten. I have met with women and girls and children and I have been able to ask them how do they feel about the impending war and I have had responses from total resignation to total bewilderment to total incomprehension to those who do not understand why they are going to be attacked. They've all asked us over and over again, how can we stop the war?
We have had some very important and in depth debates and dialogue with the exchange of professors from the U.S. and from the University of Baghdad. A very frank and candid conversation we had with the speaker of the house here in Baghdad and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nagi Sabri. I have stressed to them the necessity and the need for the Iraqi government to comply with Security Council resolutions and to give full access to the weapons inspectors. I have spoken to them about my fears that a war would have catastrophic effects on the civilian population especially the women and children.
I have told the Iraqi people why I've come. I believe that there's still precious time to find a solution to the conflict between the U.S. and Iraq through diplomacy and dialogue. I have urged the Iraqi government to do the best to improve the political pluralism by opening the arena to opposition parties and begin a democratization process from within.
Washington, D.C.: What reason should the U.S. believe that the Iraqi government will honor the U.N. resolutions?
Bianca Jagger: Until now it is my understanding that the Iraqi government has granted full access to the arms inspectors. It is my understanding that until now they have not found the smoking gun. I've been repeatedly told they will continue to give unfettered access to the arms inspectors. If the U.S. or the British government has evidence that they have not provided to the weapons inspectors, they should present it as soon as possible to prove their argument. Today when we met the speaker of the house, he told us and showed us a copy of a letter he sent to the Speaker of the House in the U.S. and the Senate -- as many as they wish -- with members of the CIA or any branch of government to come to Iraq for as long as they wish to inspect all the sites where they have information that they have weapons of mass destruction. They will give them access for as long as they want and unfettered access to every part of Iraq.
Brandywine, Md.: Ms. Jagger
While I applaud your efforts to encourage the Iraqi government to comply with the UN inspection, do you believe that in itself would be enough to avert war? It seems that nothing less than a regime change in Baghdad will accomplish this. Apparently you have access to high levels in the government there; have you tried to encourage a peaceful regime change?
Bianca Jagger: I am a human rights advocate who for more than 20 years has seen the ravages of war. I believe that if we are to resolve the conflict with North Korea, we can use dialogue and diplomacy, we can do the same with Iraq and I believe that we should act in accordance with the international court of law. It is up to the Iraqi people to engage in regime change if that is what they so desire. All I can do is urge and encourage the government to engage in a democratization process. President Bush has claimed that we need a war against Iraq, that we need regime change in order to bring democracy to the people of Iraq. I believe that the right path to follow is to encourage the Iraqi government to begin the democratization process and to improve the human rights record now.
Lawrence, Kan.: What have been the most valuable aspects of this trip (in terms of the stated purpose of fact-finding or other)?
Bianca Jagger: Being able to have a frank and open dialogue with academics and students and average Iraqis and being able to understand the high level of culture that exists in this country. Perhaps the most important thing was how warm and welcoming and grateful they were that my American colleagues have come to this country to oppose the war.
Alexandria, Md.: Hi Bianca! I'm really glad the Washington Post is doing this chat. Can you explain why so many human rights activists want to avoid war with Iraq? Saddam has and continues to commit so many human rights violations against his people ... Why is it better to keep him in power, or how would you approach that part of the problem? Thanks!
Bianca Jagger: A war in Iraq will have an enormous cost in terms of human life. A report just came out in England that up to 500,000 may die and most of those who will perish will be women, children and the civilian population. I do not believe that that is the right option to follow. We must exhaust every other alternative before we declare war on Iraq.
Hong Kong: How do you really feel about Saddam Hussein? Should he stay in power?
Bianca Jagger: I did not come to Iraq to condone the human rights record of President Saddam Hussein, nor do I condone the human rights record of President Bush. I came because I believe that there are other options and that we still have time to resolve the problem without engaging on a pre-emptive war that will set a terrible precedent for the future of the world.
It is up to the Iraqi people to decide what option they want to take. All I can do is encourage them to allow political pluralism and urge them to have parliamentary elections in which opposition groups who have not participated in the political process could be allowed to run. Furthermore, I have urged the Iraqi government to include Kurd representation from the two main opposition groups with a new autonomy agreement that will allow them to receive revenues from the Kirkuk oil fields and to allow the same for the Shi'ite opposition groups. In other words, a process of democratization to begin.
Washington, D.C.: Ms. Jagger:
I think what you and your colleagues are doing is extremely courageous and heroic, and I commend you. There are some in the U.S. who believe that any communication with "the enemy" is unthinkable; can you explain for them what some of the benefits are to learning how Iraqis are thinking and how that can change the U.S. approach to the conflict?
Bianca Jagger: I came with a delegation of 32 academics from 28 states in the U.S. and our criteria for coming here was that it was important to have a dialogue/an exchange of ideas with the academics from the University of Baghdad. The sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq have left hundreds of thousands of children dead over the last 12 years. In addition to the harm caused to those who are not the culprits it has isolated the Iraqi people, devoiding them of cultural exchange with the outside world. They are not allowed to receive books, medical journals, and they're not allowed to come to study anymore in the U.S. and unfortunately they don't have any more contact with people in the U.S.
We met hundreds of professors from different areas of expertise who had gotten their degrees from American universities. They all long to renew their longstanding friendship with the American people.
Harrisburg, Pa.: What general sense are you getting from government officials in Iraq? Do you believe they are stalling for time and appear deceptive? Do you believe they are trying to be open and honest and genuinely wish to avoid war? Do you hear any negative comments against members of people of other religions and racial groups amongst the people you've met in Iraq, or do you see a willingness to reconcile and unite a nation?
Bianca Jagger: I am leaving with a profound impression that everyone in Iraq that I met wants to avoid a war. They are aware that this war will be decimating. I met one minister who is a Kurd, the minister of health. I met the speaker of the house, who is a Shi'ite. I met with academics who were Catholics and of other religious denominations. I was not aware of a religious persecution; however, I cannot make a conclusive statement and it is for that reason that I came to urge the Iraqi government to allow an official delegation from Amnesty International Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations to assess their human rights records.
Rockville, Md.: How accurately informed do you believe Iraqi citizens are about the current state of events? Do you believe there is a lot of propaganda that hides the truth from them? Also, do you sense a great deal of anti-American sentiment?
Bianca Jagger: It is my impression that they don't have an open flow of information from the outside world, although people now have access to the Internet and they have Internet cafes. However, they can't access every site because some sites are prohibited to anyone from Iraq.
Of course there's a lot of propaganda, but we have propaganda in the U.S.
As I said before, the one thing that really struck me was their friendliness towards Americans and the openness towards Americans and their desire for Americans to come to Iraq to see for themselves what is going on there.
Oakton, Va.: What possible reason would Saddam have for opening the political system? Be realistic. He would have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Bianca Jagger: I have not met President Saddam Hussein; however, one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that everyone in Iraq knows that if there is a war this war will have a devastating effect and that President Bush will certainly not spare the life of Saddam Hussein. The clock is ticking and many who know him and who are experts on Iraq always refer to him as a survivor. So allowing a war to take place is certainly not the best option for him. If Saddam Hussein makes genuine effort to encourage a democratic process within the country and improve his human rights record, it will certainly undermine the argument of President Bush for a need to launch a war against Iraq.
Capitol Hill: Do the people you meet seem to be speaking freely, or is there fear they may face consequences if they say anything critical to you? How much open discussion are you finding amongst students and the general population in Iraq?
Bianca Jagger: We have been able to have an open dialogue -- difficult at times -- with academics and Iraqi students where myself and my colleagues have asked extremely difficult questions either to politicians, government officials, academics, students and average Iraqis. We have asked extremely difficult questions, often on camera, and we have been given answers. I can only speak for what I saw and that's why I think it will be important for visitors to come and engage in a dialogue with government officials, academics, students and the average Iraqis to continue an open dialogue.
Bianca Jagger: I would like to appeal to all those in the U.S. and in Great Britain to urge President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to engage in a meaningful dialogue and diplomacy in order to find a solution to the conflict with Iraq. The day I left the U.S. I heard former ambassador Richardson saying that there was still time to find a solution with North Korea through dialogue and diplomacy. I would like to urge President Bush to use the same set of standards for Iraq. A war with Iraq would leave a catastrophic effect on women and children and thousands of innocent lives will be lost. If President Bush decides to call a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, he will be creating a terrible precedent that will go against the U.N. charter and the international rule of law. In addition, it will fuel hatred against Americans throughout the Islamic world and risk creating a clash of civilizations.
I will be leaving Iraq convinced that war is not the answer and that we need to build a bridge of understanding over this troubled water and I urge the American public who oppose the war to write and to call the White House to let President Bush know that they don't support a war against Iraq.
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