Having made several official visits to Iraq, former Union minister of state for external affairs Eduardo Faleiro was among the few foreign leaders allowed inside Baghdad during the first Gulf war.
Faleiro, as a representative from the Opposition at that time, and then foreign minister Inder Kumar Gujral, met Saddam Hussein to work out a repatriation plan for Indians living in Iraq. Looking back at that visit, the former minister remembers the special treatment meted out to them and says he was deeply impressed by the secular character of the country.
In an interview to Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay, Faleiro blames the "new imperialists" for the current war, and says the time had come for the democratic international community to defeat these designs.
How credible is the US assertion that its war in Iraq is because President Saddam Hussein still conceals weapons of mass destruction?
The US allegations against Iraq are not based on facts. The International Atomic Energy Agency in its recent report categorically stated that Iraq no longer has a nuclear weapons programme. Last month (Russian) President Vladimir Putin declared that his country had not seen any evidence of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction.
Several United Nations weapons inspectors said Iraq has no such weapons and no longer has the necessary infrastructure or access to technology for WMD. Among the inspectors was Scott Ritter, a former US Marine intelligence officer. He underscored that Iraq's weapons were identified and destroyed across the country.
Iraq is willing to allow UN weapons inspectors to return and give them unrestricted access to all its facilities so that no doubts remain. Therefore, the US assertion is totally unjustified.
What could be the reason behind the US campaign for the war in Iraq?
I am not given to using strong words but the US position on Iraq is what we in India call total 'dadagiri' (bully). President George Bush feels that his country, as the sole superpower, has the right to use its awesome might, without a thought to reason or ethics. He embodies what I feel are the new imperialists.
They should be deterred and discouraged. The rationale and the sane must stand up against such people.
It is said you enjoy a personal friendship with President Saddam Hussein.
I first met him not when I was a minister but when I was in the Opposition during the Kuwait war. I was among the dozen foreigners who were allowed inside Iraq. I was chosen because I was the representative of Rajiv Gandhi who led the Opposition during the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government. (Inder Kumar) Gujral was the foreign minister. The two of us met President Hussein and Vice-President Ramadan.
I asked for a meeting (with President Hussein) as a representative of the Congress party to oversee the repatriation of Indians who were held up in Kuwait. I must say I was given special treatment in meeting President Hussein. I suppose this was because his Baath Party had fraternal relations with the Congress.
I was deeply impressed by what the president had been able to achieve for his country. One of the things that struck me most was the secular character of Iraq. It was and continues to be extraordinary. I visited a few churches, a gurdwara and a temple. The spirit of secularism is alive and thriving in Iraq.
Incidentally, Tariq Aziz (foreign minister and now deputy prime minister) is a Christian. The prosperous Christian community in Iraq told me that they were comparatively better off than their Muslim brethren. And what they said next was fantastic! They said Saddam Hussein was their protector!
This was reiterated when I went to Iraq two months ago. They said they were greatly afraid of this war because if Saddam Hussein goes fundamentalists would take over and they would be in deep trouble. They said the president and his Baath Party are for the people.
They also pointed out that apart from oil, the president developed agriculture and other sources of revenue. Then health and education, including study abroad, is free for all Iraqis. Even two months ago, when the war clouds made Iraq cash-strapped, the government heavily subsidised food and made it practically free. Other basic needs like garments are practically free.
Saddam Hussein's mistake was that he wanted to make his country self-reliant, not merely to have the paraphernalia of independence. But that does not suit the US and its allies, the new imperialists. They continue in their desire to browbeat their erstwhile colonies and make their economies at their beck and call.
Are you referring to the US president?
Regrettably, yes. There is no doubt that this act of aggression, the invasion of Iraq is illegal according to international law and immoral. One is compelled to say it but it must be said.
How do you describe the US president now?
George Bush is now terrorist number one. What he has done is to create conditions wherein it will be very difficult to criticise rich and powerful nations.
What do you think of the United Nations' role in this context?
Bush has destroyed the United Nations and international law. He has created the dangerous precedent that might is right. It is leading to the law of the jungle. I can see international anarchy in the making. It is the worst thing any president has ever done.
What do you think about the growing opposition to the war in Iraq?
Mankind, as a whole including American citizens themselves, has come out emphatically against the war. In Manhattan in New York on March 24, 300,000 people demonstrated against it. Never in the history of the West have so many people gathered in a demonstration of any sort whatsoever. It is their revulsion and thumbs down signal to the war foisted on Iraq on flimsy excuses. It is a criminal act.
What do you think about the divisions in the European Union over the war?
That division is very much welcome.
Isn't that simplistic?
What the compulsions of these European countries in this regard are is difficult to answer. But what France and Germany have done is commendable. Whether they have opposed the war to uphold the rule of international law, humanitarian causes or whether they have their own agenda is hard to tell. But it is not important what their agenda is; what is important is that they have stood up against this unilateral act of aggression by the US and its junior partner Britain.
What you think of the Vajpayee government's stand on the war in Iraq?
His government has deplored it. It did not condemn the attack, it was a very timid reaction. I must tell you what this government has done has been repeated by its Pakistani counterpart. (Pakistan) Prime Minister Jamali has made the same statement like Mr Vajpayee. Both India and Pakistan have deplored and not condemned the war in Iraq.
So the arch-rivals have a similar view.
Yes, on this they are a mirror image of each other. Both countries have failed to pass the (anti-war) resolution in Parliament in New Delhi and the national assembly in Islamabad. This is most regrettable because during the American aggression in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan were competing with each other to be a satellite of the US.
What is you party's stand on the war?
We have condemned this aggression. But what is important for all the parties and the people of our country is to understand that this war is not in isolation, it is part of a total strategy of new imperialism which is to take over the economic resources of developing countries. The insidious World Trade Organisation attempts on developing countries is yet another pointer in this direction.
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