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     Volume 4 Issue 67 | October 14, 2005 |

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In Focus

Talking Talabani

Mustafa Zaman

As Iraq plunges more into chaos, Jalal Talibani, the president of Iraq, makes an effort to reiterate his position by clearly defining his foes and friends. It seems that his allies -- the US and its coalition -- have found an enthusiastic soul in him. If his words are any guide Talabani seems to have found his foot firmly on a ground of comfort from where rhetoric of freedom and democracy flows like newborn butterflies. The fluffs of freedom and federalism took over his speeches while he was visiting Britain. Even before that, while in the US, the land of the free, he took one step too long. While giving a speech at Columbia University on September 17, in a fit of enthusiasm, he directed much of his attention to that arch-enemy of democracy -- the insurgents in Iraq. But he was not satisfied while treading on common grounds; he strove to put his foot further only to find himself in a muddier patch. He redefined the war that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq. In his speech he branded the war 'his country' has fought against the Saddam regime as a civil war. He said, "The American people are our partners in our liberation from tyranny. In 2003, we fought together to end a civil war, the civil war of Saddam Hussein against the people of Iraq. Now, we continue to struggle side by side to uproot terrorism and fascism that had long threatened us all."

Granted that Saddam was an ogre, but the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition force defined as a civil war by Talabani, who happens to be the president of that nation, simply deals out a lethal blow to our definition-seeking cognitive faculty. Talabani labels Ba'athist Iraq as the longest lived fascist state in history as his regime was guilty of "multiple acts of aggression and genocide". What he carefully overlooks is the killing in the name of collateral damage by the invading US-led coalition. If history is to be rewritten in the post-Saddam Iraq, it must include the aggression, annihilation and excesses that the US and its allied forces were party to while successfully toppling Saddam and battling against the ever-increasing insurgency. It is a shortcoming on Talabani's part that he fails to recognise events as they happened. When words from the highest official of Iraq fail to recognise the chaos and killing in the recent history, it only shows how obsequious an elected man can become, when that election is designed and managed by the strongest of all the forces on earth, the UN protected by the US-led forces. Saddam -- the monster -- thrived on omission of facts, so does the present regime that has been elected to power while the Sunnies stayed clear out of voting.

Much of what Talabani said was directed towards terrorism that ails his fledgling democracy. But what is worrisome is that the simplification of the issues. During the joint press conference in London on October 6, Talabani lets the world know that "People of Iraq are now free, they are enjoying all kinds of democratic rights." "I think one of the noble goals which the coalition forces achieved is that 27 million Iraqis were freed from the dictatorship," he added. He also stressed that, "Iraq was a concentration camp above the earth, and the mass graves are beneath it. His rhetoric echoed the verbal embellishment of both the White House and Downing Street. He talks as if Iraq has left all its difficulties behind and now is ready for reconstruction. It is the line of thinking White House has been spinning. While the Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa warns of the fact that Iraq is on the brink of a civil war, the head of the state has only shown a freewheeling attitude best suited for the head of the US governments. Talabani seems blind to what is going on in Iraq. Mussa, on the contrary, feels that the situation in Iraq is leading it to a combustive end. "The situation is so tense that there is a threat looming in the air about civil war that could erupt at any moment, although some people would say that it is already there," Mussa told BBC radio in an interview.

Mussa's warning comes at a moment when numerous Sunni Arab political and religious leaders in Iraq have called for a "no" vote to the constitution because they believe its federalist provisions will divide the country.

Since the beginning of the war in March 2003, 1,950 US troops were killed in Iraq, according to an Associate Press count. There is no tally of how many Iraqi civilians have died. Us policy has been confrontational from the start; they have never undermined the enemy. The preemptive measure that marked the beginning of this war is still what the US-led forces rely on. US troops with the help of the Iraqi government forces now continue their sweeps to "root out insurgency". Meanwhile in London press conference Talabani's comments on troops withdrawal sounded like mimicry of George W Bush. He said, "If they pull out it would be catastrophic for the people of Iraq and the cause of democracy and it would be a win for terrorists." He also joined Tony Blair in accusing Iran of supplying the lethal explosive technology responsible for killing British soldiers in Iraq. Their comments came just days after a senior British official had accused Iran's Revolutionary Guard of supplying the explosive. When the US and the UK are putting a finger at Iran accusing it of feeding the fire of insurgency in Iraq, Talabani is only behaving like a stooge by lending vocal support.

Now, what kind of a fellow sees the world through the eyes of his masters? Dilip Hiro, a veteran journalist on Middle East, in an interview sheds some light on the issue. Talking about Talabani, he said, "He has changed sides so often that I think it would be boring for me to go through each twist and turn. There's a very long entry on him in my book, The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide." He further corroborates that after the 1991 Gulf War, when there was an uprising of Kurds which was suppressed by Saddam's regime, Talabani headed a Kurdish delegation, and in June 1991 they actually made a deal with Saddam Hussein. Talabani was seen kissing the cheeks of Saddam, the man against whom he now keeps in store nothing but vituperation. Dilip Hiro puts it straight to an interviewee recently, "Basically, he is, to put it simply, an opportunist."

There is nothing wrong with Talabani's vision of democratic, pluralistic, federal country, but the means that he and his allies are applying to bring in the fruit of democracy is something which is worrisome. Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector of the United Nation recently said that the "aggressive warfare" of the US and Britain in Iraq was similar to German actions in Europe in World War II. "Both these men could be pulled up as war criminals for engaging in actions that we condemned Germany in 1946," Ritter said in an address at the Chatham House think tank in london.

"Tony Blair and George Bush are guilty of planning and committing aggressive warfare," Ritter added. He was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in between 1991 and 1998, when he resigned, citing a lack of UN and US support for his tough disarmament method. We can only hope when Ritter talked Talabani was listening.

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