Interview: Harry van Bommel


Harry van Bommel is MP for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands and took part in an international humanitarian mission that visited Baghdad in December 2000 to protest against the UN sanction regime against Iraq. He was one of two SP  MPs who attended last weekend’s massive antiwar demonstration in London. Spectre spoke to him about his reasons for campaigning against Bush’s war plans.



Spectre:  Does the SP oppose an attack on Iraq under any and all circumstances, or is your opposition to an any action which lacks a UN mandate?

Harry van Bommel: President Bush said in his recent speech to the UN that he hopes for a mandate from the UN, but he also said that Iraq must meet all of his demands to avoid a US attack. Even now that Iraq has agreed to allow weapons inspectors back into the country, the danger of such an attack has not disappeared. The hypocrisy in Bush’s speech was cleverly disguised. But no matter how evil Saddam’s regime is, an attack on his country is an irresponsible violation of the international legal order and an immense hazard to world peace. There are many reasons why one might be in favour of an attack on Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a curse to his people, it is probable  that he is developing weapons of mass destruction and he is a menace to the stability in the region. There are however, far more reasons to be opposed to an attack, and these are much more urgent than many politicians realise. An attack on Iraq will probably demand thousands of innocent civilian lives. Bombings as well as ground battles will create many innocent victims. The military losses could very well outnumber the 200,000 or so of operation Desert Storm. The fact that most of these serve in Saddam’s army against their will is apparently irrelevant. The fact that civilian victims are referred to as collateral damage is a sickening attempt to disguise the criminal nature of the operation. 

Spectre: Will the Dutch government go along with an illegal attack, as Blair appears ready to do?

HvB:  The United States is preparing an attack that has no legal basis – as UN secretary-general Kofi Annan himself says The fact that the Dutch government calls this irrelevant is  astounding, and should be perceived as unconstitutional, as our constitution dictates that the international legal order must be promoted. If we follow the British example and allow the US to bypass international laws, who are we to demand respect for them from others? An attack on Iraq would also constitute a serious threat to the United Nations. If the UN can be brushed aside as irrelevant, we might as well abolish the organisation altogether, allowing the stronger countries of the world to do as they please. This creates a very dangerous precedent. For if the United States is allowed preventive attacks, shouldn’t other nuclear powers, such as India, Pakistan, Israel and China have that same right?  The perception that the country with the biggest guns gets to call the shots will only be enhanced by an American attack. Many international treaties on disarmament and on the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons will be null and void. A number of countries could very well purchase those weapons now as a precaution in case they are the next to fall under the gaze of the US.

Spectre: What do you think is likely to be the reaction to a US attack in the middle east?

HvB: An armed conflict between Iraq and the US is very likely to provoke a hazardous domino effect throughout the Middle East. Israel and Turkey will seize the opportunity to deal with the Palestinians and the Kurds. Besides that, the presence of American forces in its backyard will surely make Iran very nervous. Conservative forces in Iran will almost certainly reverse the reforms that cost the Iranian president Khatami so much trouble to initiate. The living conditions of millions of people will deteriorate and they will have even less freedom than before.

Spectre: And in the wider world?

HvB: Inhabitants of the region will not be the only ones to suffer from the violence. Military intervention will more than ever alienate the Arab world from the West. This will definitely have its effect on the integration of Arab and Islamic people in the West. Social cohesion in EU member states will deteriorate if European governments decide to support the war either morally or militarily.  An attack on Iraq will enhance terrorism rather than stop it. The idea that the Western world is at war with Islam will spread wider and wider. The last laugh will go, of course, to Osama Bin Laden, who will have even less trouble gaining support in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and in the Palestinian territory, and even among migrants in Western countries.

Spectre: Why does the regime in Washington want this war?

HvB: Bush has claimed that most of all he wants to carry out the attack for the benefit of the Iraqi people. Most suffer under Saddam’s regime and want nothing more than to be liberated. But an attack on Iraq is not in the best interest of the Iraqi people at all. The country will fall apart in ethnic territories, each with their own, conflicting agendas. The Kurds in the north will want autonomy expanded, nor are the Shi'ite Muslims in the south the biggest supporters of Baghdad. They will want to safeguard their land and will – following the example of Afghanistan – fight each other for power. In any case, the empathy Bush claims to have with the people is a sham. The American army looked the other way when Saddam was butchering Kurds. And if the US were serious about fighting oppression, they would never have supported dictators such as Videla, Pinochet, Idi Amin, Mobutu, Suharto and yes, Saddam Hussein himself. If they really wish to improve human rights, they’d be better speaking out against the Turkish oppression of the Kurds, the Saudi Arabian oppression of women, the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the Indonesian oppression of the people of Aceh and the Chinese oppression of the Tibetans. To name only a few. The US, by using diplomatic pressure and by connecting conditions for trade but without using force, could end the oppression of over a hundred million people. But apparently they see no  benefit in that: no oil. The wellbeing of the Iraqi people is threatened in other ways as well. If Saddam Hussein indeed possesses biological and chemical weapons, when feeling cornered by the US he just might turn to massive destructive attacks, . A desperate Saddam could do to his own country what he did to Kuwait: set fire to its oilfields. This could lead to unprecedented humanitarian and environmental catastrophes and will make the entire region uninhabitable. An attack on Iraq would benefit only the United States, providing them with better access to and more control over the oilfields and oil distribution in the Middle East and Central Asia. The interests of the Iraqi people are nothing more than an argument meant to cloak the real reasons of the intended operation. European support for the attacks is nothing less than criminal. Hopefully EU member states will see that supporting an illegal war is unacceptable, before they have made themselves accomplices to the death of thousands and to a world crisis of unknown proportions

Spectre: You seem to accept the proposition that Saddam Hussein is an unusually dangerous dictator, that he presents a threat not only to his country’s own people but beyond its borders. Do you then see any alternative method of attempting to dislodge him?

HvB: To reject military intervention does not mean that the international community can ‘do nothing’ as those in favour of attacks often say. To increase the pressure on Saddam we need to start prosecuting him for committing crimes against humanity, as suggested by Human Rights Watch. The UN Security Council could found an international tribunal as it did for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia. Co-operation with Arab countries who shun Saddam, or even endorse his extradition would again be possible. Only then could Saddam be accorded the status he deserves: that of political outcast. After all, that is how Milosevic's political career was aborted and how the Apartheid regime in South Africa was forced to give way to majority rule. In addition, support for the democratic opposition in Kurdistan and the rest of the world will contribute to the fall of Saddam. Last but not least, effective limitation of the arms trade and a controllable ban on biological weapons is needed more urgently than ever. And isn’t it ironic that the US is the greatest adversary of these last two options?