Iraqi ambassador talks about life under Saddam By: Randy Dockendorf
Yankton Media, Inc. The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations told a University of South Dakota audience Wednesday Oct. 22 that he came to tell the story that most Americans donâ�?�?t hear about his homeland. â�?�?I believe the American people have the right to hear what is going on in Iraq from an Iraqi perspective. You donâ�?�?t hear it much,â�? Ambassador T. Hamid Al-Bayati told a packed room of about 200 in the Al Neuharth Media Center. Al-Bayati spent time as a prisoner of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseinâ�?�?s regime. Saddam hired two people to kill Al-Bayati, who led Iraqi opposition in London from 1992-2003 until returning to Iraq that year. â�?�?I knew opposition members who lost 30, 40 and 50 family members. I lost eight family members,â�? the ambassador said. Saddamâ�?�?s regime repressed women, tortured innocent people and invaded Kuwait for no reason, Al-Bayati said. The Iraqis tried to overthrow the regime but were unsuccessful, he said, adding that 500,000 Iraqis were killed and the revolt crushed. â�?�?We needed the support of the United States,â�? he said. â�?�?The Iraqi people never forget what you (Americans) did to get rid of Saddamâ�?�?s regime and bring democracy.â�? Since the fall of Saddamâ�?�?s regime, the Iraqis have adopted a permanent constitution, elected a government that includes women, and have taken their place in the United Nations, he said. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s the first time in contemporary history that we have had a parliamentary government,â�? he said. â�?�?Almost every component is represented in the government.â�? Because of Saddamâ�?�?s regime, Iraq was isolated from the world community and suffered sanctions that crippled the economy, Al-Bayati said. Iraq has begun to turn things around but still needs billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, he said. â�?�?Everything needs to be rebuilt. We are talking to people about investing in Iraq. We are reaching agreements with Iraq and the U.S.,â�? he said. â�?�?We allow foreign investments and give incentives such as free taxation and free land. There is no such thing as not having the United States corporations coming to Iraq.â�? Even with a $70 billion budget surplus, Iraq needs billions of dollars in investment in its oil industry and is not ready to repay the United States at this time, Al-Bayati said. Iraq now produces 2.5 million barrels of oil a day but has the capacity of producing 6-7 million barrels a day, he said. â�?�?We hope someday to repay,â�? he said. A current agreement calls for U.S. troops to begin a drawdown in June 2009 and totally leave Iraq by December 2011, Al-Bayati said. However, that timetable can be altered, he said. â�?�?We hope to continue with the support of the United States. We still need U.S. troops in Iraq. We arenâ�?�?t able to maintain the security of Iraq,â�? he said. â�?�?We want you to go back as soon as possible, but not one day earlier than needed.â�? In response to audience questions, Al-Bayati said: â�?¢ India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons that endanger the world. Iraq opposes weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, in the Middle East. â�?¢ Iraqis view the U.S. presidential election as an internal matter, and he declined to name his preference for a candidate. â�?�?We respect the view of the American people. We will work with (the newly-elected president) as much as we can. We have strong agreement to fight terrorism in Iraq,â�? he said. â�?¢ Al-Bayati criticized much of the major world media for not telling the truth about the Iraqi situation. Al-Jazeera promotes terrorism, while the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and other major Western media sensationalize the negative to draw readers and audiences, he said. â�?�?When itâ�?�?s negative, we make the news,â�? he said. â�?�?When the situation is good, why donâ�?�?t we hear anything in the media?â�? â�?¢ Al-Bayati told of efforts to help preserve and promote Iraqi historical sites dating back to Biblical times with Iraq as the cradle of civilization. He recently met with First Lady Laura Bush and received her support, and the effort to help Iraqi sites received a $14 million donation. Al-Bayati told of growing up in an Iraq where Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together. â�?�?This Iraq I grew up in is the Iraq I would like to see again, not the sectarian violence,â�? he said. Wednesday nightâ�?�?s event brought out a sharp contrast in audience sentiments over the war. One man said President Bush has violated Iraqi sovereignty, and the war has brought five-and-a-half years of destruction and loss of life. â�?�?When will it all end?â�? the man asked. Al-Bayati took a different approach to the idea of sovereignty, saying Saddam violated Iraqi human rights and stole the nationâ�?�?s oil. The United States and coalition forces brought freedom to the Iraqi people, the ambassador said. The United States has shown restraint in its dealing with terrorists over the years, Al-Bayati said. He pointed to terrorist attacks on Marines in Beirut, the USS Cole in Yemen, and on targets in Kenya and Tanzania. â�?�?On 9/11, we had a whole 3,000 people killed in one day in New York. You canâ�?�?t expect the United States to say â�?�?I donâ�?�?t care, this (Iraqi invasion) is against sovereignty.â�?�? You went from containment and deterrence to pre-emptive strikes and the war on terrorism,â�? the ambassador said. â�?�?You had a terrorist attack against the United States on its homeland. God knows if (terrorists) could manage weapons of mass destruction (WMD), what would happen? If they could kill 30,000 instead of 3,000, they would not hesitate.â�? The audience gave a loud ovation for a woman who said she was a soldier who â�?�? along with other veterans in the audience â�?�? came to hear Al-Bayatiâ�?�?s story. â�?�?I thank you for coming,â�? she told the ambassador. â�?�?A lot of what you have said validates a lot of what I saw as a soldier, especially as a female soldier and what I saw happen to (Iraqi) females.â�?