Taha Yassin Ramadhan: “We shall survive these hardships.” [Archives:1999/20/Interview]

May 17 1999

Iraq, a nation destined to greatness only a few years ago, agonizes today under sub-human conditions. Malnutrition, joblessness and a deep sense of betrayal and frustration permeate society at large. The country went to war with Iran for most of the 1980s, and for all of the 1990s, it has been reeling under sanctions from the UN Security Council.
The end result is that the nation has lost its best. Many have died, and more continue to die. Many have left, and more are looking for ways to leave. A nation of proud men and women are now broken down by a self-righteous leadership that has made too many mistakes.

The Iraqi people, heirs to one of humanity’s greatest civilizations are today a pariah nation in world relations. They gave the world its first alphabet, and they gave it its first code of laws. They gave the world its first hanging gardens, and they gave it its first farm-irrigation equipment. They gave the world its first chariot, and they gave it its early steps in the sciences.
Today, Iraq continues to suffer. A cruel system of sanctions is bringing a proud nation to its knees. And there is no end in sight. Whatever Iraq does, it is not good enough for the masters of a unipolar world. Nothing short of full submission and total humility will do. The suffering of the people of Iraq is destined to continue as their leaders are not ready to submit.

Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times had an exclusive interview with the Vice President of Iraq, Mr. Taha Yassin Ramadhan. Mr. Ramadhan is a native of Nineveh, Mosul Governorate. He is a well-published author and a long-standing Baath ideologue. He is today the Commander of the People’s Forces.
Q: An international conference was recently held under the theme “The Aggression and Embargo Against Iraq: An Arab and International issue.” What do you expect to achieve beyond the strongly-worded communique?
A: I can’t say much in this regard. The people who had attended the conference represented different political parties, movements and non-governmental organizations. They drafted the final statement after days of discussions. You have attended the sessions. There was no pressure or interference from any one. The drafting of the final statement expresses the judgment and opinion of the participants.
What happens next is up to the participants. Whether they will push their governments to implement the stipulations of the final statement depends on many factors. The fact is that the Iraqi issue is an Arab issue before it is an international one. We witness great differences between what is said and decided in conferences and the actions following such conferences. Yet, I have no doubt that the participants will convey the outcome of the conference to their governments and this is a helpful step.
We are not counting on this conference to have a magical effect on decision-makers worldwide. But, it is an eye opener to help the world realize the problems and sufferings of Iraq and to help people see the falsifications and wrong allegations against us.
Q: Do you feel Iraq has complied with all UN resolutions? How do you feel about the position of Arabs vis-avis the sanctions?
A: Every Arab individual opposes the unjust sanctions imposed on Iraq. We need to stand firm together.
I feel that Iraq has lived up to its commitments to the UN. But the other side (read, US, Britain) has a strong media and monopolizes the flow of information in the issue. They create false pictures and spread fabricated lies to confuse the international community. Some of the leaders say, “We are with the Iraqi people. We call for the removal of sanctions. But at the same time, we call on the Iraqi Government to comply with the UN resolutions.” These leaders don’t even know what the resolutions are and they were never involved in making them. They just repeat what America says.
They say they are with the Iraqi people, yet their decisions starve the Iraqi people.
But the Arab people have constantly gone on demonstrations and the Arab media supports Iraq. That is a consolation to us. We have great confidence in the Arab masses.
Q: What do you think is the price for lifting the sanctions?
A: Five or six months ago, (US President Bill) Clinton had said there will be no lifting of sanctions as long as this government (of President Saddam Hussain) is there. He said there will be no dialogue with this government.
The Iraqi issue has nothing to do with the UN resolutions. All they want is to overthrow the present government and they are ready to do anything to achieve that.
Q: Are you saying Iraq is singled out and unjustly targeted?
A: Exactly. Let me give you examples of what I mean. Article 14 of UN Security Council Resolution 687, regarding disarmament clearly states that” disarmament of mass destruction weapons must be applied to all the countries in the region”. This includes Israel which has a huge arsenal of chemical and nuclear weapons. But you never hear any person speak a word about this. Not even the Arab rulers.
Let me give you another example. They talk about international law. and international legitimacy. The US and UK do not seek the consent of the world community to carry on aggression against Iraq in the so-called “No-fly Zones” which are not sanctioned by the UN. So, can we believe those two countries respect international law and the world community?
The US brutally attacked Sudan and could not prove anything. They even did not have the decency to admit a mistake.
I ask you, “Can we trust the fate of humanity to such people?”
Q: In the conference, voices have called to reinstate the role of the UN. They have proposed an alternative body to be formed to counter-balance the preponderant US influence over the world. Is that a serious alternative?
A: Observing the current world affairs situation, we see that there is rule of law or fair treatment. If you are a friend of the Americans, you can get away with anything. To us Arabs, Israel is the nearest example. The Israelis are armed to the teeth, they colonize more Palestinian land every day, even as they hold peace talks. They demolish Arab homes on the pretext that they were built without a permit, and of course, they are not given permits when they ask for them.
The US – like a drunken cowboy, pushes everybody around. But this situation cannot remain like this for ever. We all know that change is inevitable.
So, even if an alternative world body is not formed, a balancing power bloc is needed. We will reach out to any nation or group that is interested in making this vision a reality.
Q: You mentioned the Arab media. Do you think you can count on them supporting your case?
A: It is not a matter of supporting our case or not. It is not a matter of agreeing with us or not. I am proud to see Arab journalists and media who do not cower under Western influence, or for that matter, under pressure from Arab rulers. In a sense, independent journalists are the biggest assets of our Arab people.
They may not have adequate information flow, and they may not see the full picture. But, if a journalist is independent and he/she has integrity, you can always see how they will be a beacon of beam of light for their society.
I use this occasion to tell you that we follow the Yemen Times. I can see that the people behind this paper have guts. They do not cower under for any person or power bloc – local or foreign. Whether you agree or not, you have to respect such professionalism.
Q: What is the internal situation in Iraq today?
A: You have been here for a few days, and you have freely moved around. Of course, we have big problems, especially in the field of medicine. Unfortunately, there are some varieties of drugs that we do not produce locally. This has had a devastating effect on our people because we are not allowed to import them.
The oil-for-food/medicine agreement is turning into a big joke as the Americans and their clients are able to block the UN procedures. At this time, less than 12% of total applications have been processed. So, the internal situation is hard as far as certain sectors are concerned.
At the same time, there are many sectors in which we have done fine. For a country that has been subjected to this kind of embargo, I must say that our people have proven they are durable and have shown a lot of ingenuity.
Those people who thought we would wither away or succumb don’t know the Iraqi people.
I assure you that we can withstand the difficulties, and we shall win this showdown.
Q: Let us talk about bilateral relations between Yemen and Iraq. What can you tell us?
A: I wish you did not ask this question. I don’t have much to say.
Q: How about relations with other Arab countries?
A: Relations with many Arab countries are improving. Even those states close to the US, they now see the futility of their approach and position.
In some cases, some Arab regimes say they do not want to back down in front of Iraq. At the same time, you can see these regimes even sleep under when they are ordered by their masters. Today, the Arab people are waking up to see their rulers in their true form. The momentum is on the side of the people.
Q: Any last comments?
A: I believe salvation from these hateful sanctions is near.