Not the right way, says Iraqi exile


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 04 May 2003

By Charles Fernandez

AMID reports in the Western and some Arab media that Iraqis were cheering the fall of President Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime while welcoming their British and American “liberators,” Iraqi exile Kifah Al-Salum shook his head in disagreement. 

“While I’m relieved the regime is gone, I would have preferred it if it was removed by the Iraqi people. 

“I don’t agree with the way the US-led forces toppled the regime by bombing the Iraqi people,” Kifah, a member of the opposition Iraqi Democratic Party, told The Star recently. 

“I also don’t expect the US and Britain to provide us with the democratic Iraq my compatriots and I always wanted. 

Kifah Al-Salum

“And I believe that Saddam deliberately surrendered Baghdad to the invading forces, leaving hundreds of tanks, missiles, helicopters, fighter jets and the latest Russian weapons idle in residential areas and in various arsenals,” added Kifah who had served in the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. 

He also believes that the sanctions imposed by the United Nations on Iraq since 1992 were ineffective and instead strengthened the grip of Saddam, his family and cronies on the supply of food. 

”The sanctions let Saddam’s regime survive by controlling Iraq’s wealth through smuggling and supplying food to the people. The Food for Oil programme in the mid-90s provided the people some relief but even then, the regime still controlled imported items and the nation’s wealth by appointing corrupt traders around the world who dealt through Iraq’s embassies,” said Kifah. 

Saddam had created a hierarchy of privilege within Iraqi society beginning with himself and followed in descending order by his sons, his family members, his clansmen from his hometown Tikrit, Ba'ath Party members, members of his special armed forces, army generals and high-ranking officers, his secret police and intelligence services and – at the bottom of the pile – the Iraqi people. 

“Thus, it was impossible for intelligent, highly qualified, professional and independent-minded people to hold good positions unless they became part of this hierarchy,” said Kifah. 

“Saddam manipulated and created divisions between Iraq’s different ethnic, regional and religious communities including Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, Muslims and non-Muslims, Tikritis and non-Tikritis, Kurds and non-Kurds by favouring one group over the other at different times. He also created problems between different clans and families to maintain his rule. 

“Over the last few years there was a growing level of corruption, mainly centred around money, within the army, police, Ba’ath party organisations and government,” he added. 

Iraq's population is 60% Shi'ite, 30% Sunni, 8% Christian with the rest being Jew, Sabeen and Yazidi (a religious sect numbering 300,000). 

Kifah said the UN should have continued with its inspections from 1992 instead of trying to find weapons of mass destruction. 

“The UN should also have pressured Saddam into allowing free and fair elections in return for lifting sanctions as this would have let the Iraqi people remove the regime democratically and peacefully.” 

Furthermore, the “no-fly” zones were useless since they did not prevent Saddam’s regime from committing atrocities against his people on the ground, such as by draining and burning the marshlands in southern Iraq to remove the vegetation which his opponents could use for cover, Kifah said. 

“The regime continued burning the fields of the Shi'ite and Kurdish people under these no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq. The regime became stronger.” 

Kifah viewed the US attack on Iraq as a way to “strengthen its geo-strategic position in the world and in the process castrated Iraq.” 

“I believe that until the very end, Saddam was used by the western powers to destroy one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful Third World nations,” he said. 

“However, what's happened has happened and power should be handed back to the Iraqi people through free and fair elections supervised by international and regional bodies like the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Let the Iraqi people elect a government that will restore order. 

“I have proposed to my countrymen that we adopt some of the methods of the Malaysian Government in maintaining peace and harmony between different ethnic and religious groups, as well as some of its development models,” said Kifah. 

“I encourage Malaysian companies (in construction, telecommunications, technology, hospitality and services) to invest in Iraq and help build our homes, buildings, infrastructure, hotels and other industries.” 

Kifah and his family fled to Malaysia in 1992 to live in exile. 

“I had voiced my opinion that Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait was wrong before a public gathering attended by Saddam and his brothers, and also told the same to my students at Baghdad’s Institute of Instructor Development.” 

He later noticed that his home was being watched. He received nasty stares from Ba’athists around him and was even threatened by some of his students. 

 

He finally left after members of his Al-Hamdani clan working in government advised him to flee with his family for their own safety. 

Kifah holds a degree in educational psychology and pedagogy from Baghdad’s Al-Musdansyria University and a Higher Diploma from the National Centre for Pedagogical Studies, Paris. When he arrived in Malaysia, he worked as an instructor with the Human Resources Ministry’s Centre for Instructor and Advanced Skills Training in Shah Alam. 

 

In 1996, he left to form his own company, HCI Masters (M) Sdn Bhd, which eventually produced over 35 multimedia CD-Roms featuring Islamic and Arabic stories and themes. 

“Throughout my period here, I maintained contact with opponents of Saddam’s regime among Iraqi exiles around the world, including members of the Iraqi Democratic Party and Iraqi National Coalition,” said Kifah, who used the Internet and other available means to learn about their viewpoints, activities, politics and strategies over the last 10 years. 

 

He also collected money and other donations from well-wishers in Malaysia and sent them to affected people in Iraq either directly or through organisations.  

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