- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

With the first anniversary of the war in Iraq, people supposedly acting on behalf of the Iraqi people held demonstrations around the world to demand the liberation of the Iraqi people from the occupation.

Oddly enough, no major demonstration took place in Iraq. And this at a time when Iraqis feel free — for the first time in most of their lives — to protest anything they are opposed to.

In the past, Iraqis gave the antiwar demonstrators outside Iraq the benefit of the doubt. They figured that perhaps outsiders were ignorant of the reality inside the country because global media were either not allowed into Iraq or were heavily minded when they were here. Perhaps they were even misled by Saddam Hussein’s propaganda or self-interested soft-ball news coverage in some Western media or by some Arab satellite channels.

The sad truth, Iraqis now realize, is that the antiwar movement was not, and still is not, motivated by any real concern for the Iraqipeople,despite rhetorical expressions to the contrary. Rather, they are driven by an anti-imperialism that in some cases in the past may have been be well-founded, but in this case is simply a knee-jerk reaction. It has become obvious to the people of Iraq that this continuing antiwar effort is purely to score cheap domestic points.

No Iraqi today wants to hear whether going to war last spring was legitimate or not. It is simply irrelevant. As far as Iraqis are concerned, the war was one of liberation: no more mass graves, no more torture chambers, no more random arrests, detention and extrajudicial killings.

A year has lapsed and the antiwar movement apparently remains ignorant to what the people of Iraq want.

Last year, they used to demonstrate and say, “No to the war.” For Iraqis, this meant, “Yes to Saddam.” This year, they are saying, “End the occupation, leave Iraq, and bring our boys and girls home.” For Iraqis this means, leave the Iraqis to anarchy and chaos; leave the country to global terrorists; leave them vulnerable to the interventions of neighboring states who are threatened by a stable, rebuilding Iraq.

If the coalition left Iraq today, it would be disastrous. In 1991, the Iraqis in Kurdistan were left to fend for themselves, unprepared for self-governing and unassisted — in complete isolation of the rest of the world, just as the antiwar camp is now proposing for all of Iraq.

Despite a democratic impulse that led the Kurds to quickly hold elections and develop a representative government, increased interference by the neighboring countries and the weakness of democratic culture in Kurdistan led to a four-year civil war that only ended with the intervention of the U.S. State Department in September 1998.

To Iraqis, this “occupation” is, so far, a safety net. One that protects them against the ill-intent of neighbors and the return of the old regime. Despite miscalculations, mistakes and false starts, this “occupation” is assisting the Iraqi people in its move toward a democratic system.

“Without the perseverance of L. Paul Bremer, it would have taken us two more years to get the Transitional Administrative Law signed,” said a Governing Council member who witnessed the painful birth of the document earlier this month.

In a recent survey conducted by Oxford Research International, only 1.1 percent of the Iraqi people thought that the occupation is the single biggest problem in their lives. Their biggest problem: the terrorists — those who would snatch the opportunity for a possible fear-free and democratic life from their grasp.

For Iraqis, the choice between the terrorists and the occupation forces is a no-brainer. For better or for worse, the coalition is the only partner of the Iraqi people in the tough task of rebuilding a country destroyed by the former regime.

The Iraqi say enough is enough. Antiwar demonstrators should put aside the empty rhetoric of “war is bad” and come and fight the good fight alongside the Iraqi people, who are engaged in the fight of their lifetime.

It is time to take the high moral ground and admit thatthe”imperialist power” was right this time.

Demonstrationsare easy. Many are staged in Iraq these days: to demand jobs, higher salaries, rights for women, better public services, de-bathification and against the “resistance fighters,” who would never allow such displays of public sentiment if they came to power.

But this anniversary was arealitycheckforall Iraqis. They stayed at home remembering how bad things were under Saddam.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist.

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