Joe Conason's Journal

How to be antiwar without encouraging Saddam? Protest Iraqi embassies.

Published February 20, 2003 6:08PM (EST)

Now make Saddam listen
Today's bad news from UNMOVIC has to be taken seriously by principled opponents of the impending war: According to this report in the Washington Post, Iraqi officials believe that last weekend's demonstrations expressed support for their regime -- and as a result have stalled their cooperation with inspections. (The Guardian also reports renewed frustration among the U.N. inspectors.)

That is precisely the opposite of what the peace movement should want.

The Post report is highly credible because this kind of lethal illusion is characteristic of Saddam. Wily but unwise, he mistakenly assumed that the West and the U.N. would do nothing if he invaded Kuwait in 1990, and like many dictators, he is reportedly isolated from the truth about negative world opinion of him. Apparently he also shares the Bush administration's jaundiced view of the antiwar movement as "defenders of Saddam," which could well be his fatal error. International ANSWER and other "radical" stooges for fascism may well support Saddam, but the millions who turned out to endorse inspections rather than war don't share ANSWER's politics.

Although time is terribly short, there is a real answer to this problem. The Iraqi tyrant must be made to understand that the enormous crowds that turned out to oppose war don't support him -- in fact, despise him -- and demand his full, complete, immediate cooperation with U.N. Resolution 1441.

During the weekend's rallies and marches, it occurred to me that the next venue for protest should be Iraq's embassies in New York and around the world. I thought such an initiative would serve the interests of the antiwar movement by shoving off ANSWER and proving that doubts about war aren't synonymous with softness on Saddam.

Now the reason to aim demonstrations at Baghdad as well as Washington is much more urgent. Antiwar sentiment has encouraged the Iraqis to continue gaming the inspectors. By doing so, they are making Bush's case and undercutting everyone who prefers inspecting to bombing.

I have no illusions that ANSWER or its ideological allies will take this advice (or that their leaders actually care what happens to Iraqi civilians). But the many thousands of decent activists who want to prevent this war -- for reasons that involve no sympathy whatsoever for Saddam -- must impress upon Iraq that this is indeed the last chance.

Hans Blix is expected to report to the Security Council again on March 6. By then it may already be too late. Yet it would surely make an impression on Saddam Hussein if even a fraction of the people who marched on Feb. 15 showed up outside the Iraqi embassy on March 8, the following Saturday. In the meantime, anti-warriors can make their feelings known directly via e-mail to the Iraqi U.N. mission ( and the Iraq News Agency ( Pass them on. If those e-mail systems are crashed by a few million messages demanding immediate cooperation with UNMOVIC, perhaps some bureaucrat will be brave enough to tell Saddam.
[10:20 a.m. PST, Feb. 20, 2003]

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