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Remarks by The Honourable Gar Knutson, Secretary of State for Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East

An Historic Speech of Truth Unbridled by Timidity during the House Debate on Iraq

House of Commons

2. October 2002

A truly historic speech on the Middle East from the Hon.Gar Knutson was delivered yesterday. Historic within the Canadian context. Historic because it delivered truth unbridled by timidity and we need more of it in our government. Those of you who are involved with us, or have followed our work, will recognize not only the message and metaphor but also the content,character and cadence of this address. We were proud to have been involved with a Minister and a group of advisors who produced a stirring statement that could transform stale rhetoric into a fresh reality signaling a vigorous, and broad, new resolve on this nation's position on issues in the Middle East.

Beryl P. Wajsmann
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal

Mr Speaker, this House has a serious task before it. As we debate what Canada's policy toward Iraq ought to be under the current circumstances, it is essential to look back at Iraq's recent past. It is essential to speak the truth about the nature of the regime in Iraq. This awful truth is a fact of life for 25 million Iraqis. It is a fact of life for hundreds of thousands more who have fled that country, often leaving behind loved ones to face an uncertain future. It is also a fact of life for Iraq's neighbours, two of whom have been invaded in the past twenty years, and for the broader region in which Iraq is situated.

The police state was born in Iraq in 1968, when Saddam Hussein and various collaborators seized power in Baghdad. With his final triumph over his junta rivals in 1978, Saddam consolidated not only his grip on power but the reign of terror he had launched a decade earlier.

From that point on, for almost a quarter of a century, the regime in Iraq has pursued essentially two policies: the ruthless repression of its own people, and military aggression against its neighbours with the aims of asserting regional dominance and acquiring territory. The results of these policies have been an unmitigated tragedy for Iraqis and for Iraq's neighbours.

Let us first look at the regime's main domestic priority, which is the preservation of its own power at any cost. The Government of Saddam Hussein has sought to retain its control over Iraq through the use of force, coercion, and the brutal suppression of all potential sources of opposition. The basic rights of a number of ethnic and religious communities have been systematically violated. Political dissent is simply not tolerated in any form.

The forms this oppression takes have been documented in detail by the United Nations and by international human rights organisations. Virtually the entire population of Iraq lives in fear of its government, for the horrifying reason that the regime of Saddam Hussein has found that arbitrary arrests, torture, mutilation and executions are brutally effective means of crushing dissent.

Whole religious and ethnic communities in Iraq--Kurds, Shiite, Marsh Arabs, Turkomans, Assyrians and others--have been targeted for vicious treatment aimed at destroying any potential they might have to organise even the mildest, most peaceful opposition to the government.

The details of just how the Iraqi Government runs its terror-state are chilling. Iraq has the largest number of recorded instances of government-organised disappearances, with thousands of perceived opponents of the regime simply vanishing into Iraq’s extensive prison system or without any trace at all. Over 16 000 cases of political disappearances remain unresolved, including thousands who vanished following Iraq's suppression of the Shiite uprisings in 1991.

Iraq's security services carry out extra-judicial executions in the most brutal of fashions, killing parents in front of their children, beheading suspects on the street and using methods to terrify the survivors as well as murder the innocent. Interrogations are based on brutal, degrading and barbaric tortures. Punishments are routinely inflicted on entire families or communities in response to the perceived transgression of a single person. Most infamously, Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons to exterminate whole towns--to kill thousands of men, women and children.

Despite the obstacles his government has thrown up to thwart every kind of external investigation, the international community has established without a doubt the true attitude of Saddam Hussein's regime to the Iraqi people. Faced with documentation of its brutality, the Iraqi government responds with lies.

As Max van der Stoael, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iraq, explained to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1999:

I have continued to seek and receive information, and I have continued to report my findings. The Government [of Iraq] has continued simply to deny everything or to offer limpid excuses even for its own laws which blatantly sanction arbitrary killing for anyone who insults the President or institutions of the regime, and laws which prescribe tortures for criminal acts like petty theft or evasion from military service...All the while the violations have continued without the slightest indication of any change in Government policy--of any effort or intention to improve the situation of human rights in Iraq.

Perhaps the most succinct comment on the state of the rule of law in Iraq comes from Saddam himself, who has been quoted by a former senior nuclear weapons scientist as saying: "Don't tell me about the law. The law is anything I write on a scrap of paper"

Saddam Hussein has not been content to direct his violent will against only the helpless Iraqi people. He has also directed the state’s resources-counted in human lives and oil wealth-against Iraq’s neighbours. Scarcely two years after he had consolidated his control of Iraq, Saddam Hussein unleashed an unprovoked war against Iran. His aim was both to bolster his claim to leadership of the Arab world and to grab vast chunks of Iranian territory.

Within months, his campaign had bogged down and the two countries settled into one of the longest wars of the twentieth century.

At the end of the war, in 1988, at least 800,000 people were dead on both sides. Some on the Iranian side died as the result of chemical weapons attacks; others were killed when the Iraqi government began to terrorise the civilian residents of Iranian cities with massive but dangerously inaccurate missiles.

Within two years of the end of that conflict, the regime in Iraq launched another military adventure. In the summer of 1990, Saddam Hussein’s forces overran Kuwait and annexed the sovereign state as a mere province of Iraq. The resulting showdown with the international community led to massive population movements and the deaths of thousands before Saddam Hussein was forced to withdraw his forces from Kuwait and abandon his territorial ambitions against that country-but not before he had attacked two more regional states, Saudi Arabia and Israel, again with missile attacks directed against civilian targets. The disaffection provoked among Iraqis by Saddam’s pointless war and ignominous defeat came close to resulting in the collapse of his regime, but his government responded by putting down this insurrection with characteristic brutality.

Since the end of the Gulf War, we have seen further evidence of the Iraqi Government’s refusal to conform to even minimal standards of internationally acceptable behaviour. As Minister Graham and others have noted, the government of Saddam Hussein has deliberately resisted fulfilling its obligations to the United Nations Security Council, using every available subterfuge to conceal its efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. It has also allowed the humanitarian situation in Iraq to deteriorate, and ignored the efforts of the international community to remedy that situation.

It has illegally exported billions of dollars worth of oil outside the Oil for Food Programme with the aim of directing these ill-gotten proceeds to banned military projects. Together with its appalling record on human rights, the Iraqi government’s diplomatic and military behaviour demonstrates that it remains unrepentant and unreformed.

While Iraq remains recalcitrant, Canada's policy objectives remain clear and unchanged. We want to see Iraq comply with its obligations to the UN Security Council and the international community. Only in this manner can Iraq resume its place among the family of nations, and can the Iraqi people look forward to a brighter future after so many years of suffering.

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