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Speech by Dr. Barham Sahlih (January 2003)

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Speech presented by Dr Barham Salih Prime Minister, Kurdistan Regional Government - Iraq to The Socialist International (SI) Council, Rome, January 20th, 2003

Dear Comrades and Friends,

I come to you from Iraqi Kurdistan - bringing you greetings from the Kurdish leadership - and a message from our people who hope for your support and solidarity in the struggle for democracy and liberation.

It is profoundly symbolic that we are meeting here in Rome. As the world watches the gathering storm around Iraq, there is no better place to meet than in this city, so laden with history, to reflect on the imperative of freedom and liberation from fascism and dictatorship.

For it was on June 4, 1944, that this city was liberated by Allied troops. Two days later, on June 6, 1944, the liberation of France began.

The enemy then, as now, was an aggressive, racist ideology that brought the world nothing but suffering and pain. Back in 1944, socialists, democrats and other people of good conscience stood shoulder to shoulder against Fascism. Some of those who opposed Fascism went on to become remarkable Socialist leaders in their own countries, to promote just societies. Let us recall with honor the names of Francesco De Martino, Willy Brandt, Pierre Mendès-France, Clement Attlee, Francois Mitterand and Andreas Papandreou.

For Iraqis, our D-Day is at hand. As we watch the military preparations and the game of cat and mouse which the dishonest dictatorship in Baghdad is playing with the UN inspectors, we sense, and we hope, that deliverance is near. The anticipation and nervousness that must have been felt in Rome nearly 60 years ago is today palpable in Iraq, both in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Free Iraq that was liberated in 1991, and in the areas still under the control of the Ba'athist regime.

In my office in Suleimani, I meet almost every day some traveler who has come from Baghdad, and other parts of Iraq. Without exception they tell me of the continued suffering inflicted by the Iraqi regime, of the fearful hope secretly nurtured by so many enslaved Iraqis for a free life, for a country where they can think without fear and speak without retribution.

Today, I stand before you not only as a representative of the Kurdish people in Iraq, but also as a messenger for the oppressed peoples of Iraq.

My Iraqi compatriots, of all backgrounds and religions, Shi'a Arab, Sunni Arab, Turkomen or Assyrian, Muslims, Christians or Yezidis have been united by what they have endured at the hands of the Baath dictatorship. The overthrow of a racist regime that used chemical weapons against the Kurds and that wasted a nation's natural resources on war rather than schools, the reform of colonialism's most disastrous legacy, the state of Iraq— these are goals worthy of the support of every Social Democrat.

Equally, every person in this room can take pride in what has been achieved in Iraqi Kurdistan: • In Free Iraq, we have rebuilt villages destroyed in the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Anfal campaign in 1988; • We have invested in education and health, brought infant mortality down to its lowest level ever in our country; • We have used our share of oil revenues fairly, to invest not in swords but ploughshares, in clinics and not chemical weapons; • We have a free and diverse media; • We respect the rights of minorities. The ethnic differences with which all societies struggle are increasingly accepted as part of the landscape rather than seen as a cause of conflict.

These achievements should be celebrated and be a model for the rest of Iraq. But, what we Iraqi democrats are hearing from many in Europe is that Iraqis should not ask for outside help to be liberated from tyranny; that the war is for oil; that war is always wrong; that the so-called Arab and Muslim "street" will rise up as one against those who liberate Iraq. Friends, let me take this opportunity to tell you how misguided such sentiments could be. I know that many of those who believe such things mean well, that some of them are human rights activists who had noticed our plight long ago. I admire the passion of those who organize and demonstrate for their beliefs - it is a right that we have made great sacrifices for.

Sadly, persistence alone cannot rid us of the dictatorship in Baghdad. Instead, we have suffered for over 35 years of Ba'athist rule and over 80 years from the colonially created instability of Iraq.

In that way, we are rather like the Italians, the overwhelming majority of whom cared little for Fascism, but who had to wait over 20 years and for a foreign force to liberate them.

We have a free bridgehead in Iraqi Kurdistan, but we need international help to finish the job, to end the war that the Ba'ath dictatorship is waging on the people of Iraq. Some of the people demonstrating on the streets said that this war is for oil. Iraqis know that their human rights have too often been ignored because Iraqi oil was more important to the world than Iraqi lives. It would be a good irony if at long last oil becomes a cause of our liberation - if this is the case, then so be it. The oil will be a blessing and not the curse that it has been for so long.

Many people out on the streets say "No to War". Of course, I agree because I do not want war and I do not want civilian casualties, nor do those who are coming to our assistance. But the war has already begun. The Baath dictatorship has been waging war for decades and he has inflicted hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. We have, as we speak, an ongoing brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk, Khanaqin and Sinjar - and other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the dictatorship.

At present the Iraqi regime has intensified the economic blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan, making our position even more precarious.

To those who are going to Baghdad to be human shields, I ask, why were you not you allowed to be human shields at Halabja in 1988 when 5,000 Kurds were gassed to death? In away, the dictatorship killed all the human shields of Halabja displaying no regard what so ever to human lives! Why were you were not allowed to be human shields in Najaf and Karbala in 1991 when the Iraqi Shi'a Arabs were slaughtered and their holy shrines were desecrated? Others says, "No War against Iraq, Justice for Palestine". Since when is justice for the Palestinians, and for the Israelis for that matter, to the exclusion of justice for Iraqis?

So to those who say "No War", I say, of course "yes", but we can only have "No War" if there is "No Dictatorship" and "No Genocide."

We hear much about Muslim solidarity and the so-called "Arab Street". I know the streets of Baghdad. I can assure you that they will be filled with jubilant Iraqis after the dictator has gone.

Let us remember the joy of liberation in Rome in June 1944, the scenes of cheering crowds in Kosovo in June 1999, the Afghans who danced in the streets in November 2001. Liberation did not create paradise in any of these places, but it created hope and opportunity.

Your experience here in Italy is especially important for us. The Iraqi regime will prove to be like Mussolini, a miscalculating brute whose dictatorship will not endure long in the face of determined international resolve backed by a credible threat of use of force. Many will escape from his clutches. Others will defect. A democracy, all be it messy at times, could emerge in a process more like your own. For this to happen, for our future to be better, we need your support.

We need you to be with us after our liberation, to ensure that a post-war Iraq is federal and democratic, peaceful and stable. We need your passion to ensure that a free Iraq enfranchises all its peoples, that there is an Iraq in which the state is constrained by law and that works for its citizens.

Friends, there will be no war on Iraq. There will be, AND MUST BE, a liberation of Iraq. You have a role to play in that liberation, for your values, the values of the Socialist movement, are utterly opposed to the values of dictatorship and racism. Let us join together in the spirit of solidarity that has always animated Socialists, to make Iraq and the Middle East a place of freedom and peace.

Thank You

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