DAP calls for all-party/NGOs round-table conference to reach a national consensus on the international, political and economic effects, fall-outs and responses to the new geo-political world scene of post-Saddam Iraq

DAP forum on "The US-Iraq War - Impact and Challenges"
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): Nobody would have believed that there could be another subject which could overshadow the United States-led attack on Iraq, but as has been proven in Malaysia and most parts of Asia, the new killer virus disease, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has done just that, displacing the Iraq issue into second place.

We have heard the panellists tonight, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, JUST President, Datuk Param Cumarasamy, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of the Judges and Lawyers and Zainur Zakaria, former Bar Council President giving their views on the topic before us, and in particular Chandra's masterly exposition of the driving forces behind the US-led war and invasion of Iraq - Israel, oil and the US global ambitions.

As the three earlier speakers had dealt with the global geo-political and geo-security implications of the Iraqi question, I will focus more on the home canvas.

If this forum had been held three nights ago, our discussion would have probably revolved around the pro-war and anti-war arguments, but with the fall of Baghdad on Wednesday and the symbolic toppling of the Saddam Hussein statues, although the US-led unilateral war and invasion of Iraq is not completely over, the focus has dramatically shifted to What's Next and Who's Next?

Baghdad's fall had evoked mixed responses not only from the people of Iraq and the Arab world but also internationally. There is a sense of liberation from Saddam Hussein's brutal and tyrannical rule for over three decades as he was responsible for killing two million Iraqis and a regime of indescribable terror and repression, so much so that there are Iraqis who said that Saddam Hussein had made Ariel Sharon looked like an angel. This sense of liberation, however, would be very short-lived, for in its place are fears that the liberation from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein is at the price of the occupation and re-colonization of Iraq, this time by the United States.

For the Middle East and the world, there are fears of the emergence of a hyper power hegemony on the world stage which is completely uncontrollable, raising fundamental questions about the future of the United Nations and multilateralism and placing at the centre the question: Who next - whether Syria, Iran or North Korea?

Malaysians, like the rest of the world, must catch up with these fast-paced developments and changes and move from the impact and challenges of a US-led unilateral war and invasion of Iraq to the impact and challenges of a post-Saddam Iraq world after the US-led unilateral war and invasion.

Last night, the government-sponsored Malaysians for Peace held an "anti-Iraq war" rally in Butterworth, which the mainstream media claimed was attended by 5,000 people. Time seemed to have stood still at this rally, especially when it issued a declaration calling on the United States and Britain to immediately stop war in Iraq - when it is quite clear that the war in Iraq is at its end-game, although it may still prove to very bloody and protracted.

At the Aman Malaysia rally last night, the Minister for Youth and Sports, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein Onn called on the international community to prosecute US President Bush as a war criminal.

I wonder whether Hishammuddin's call reflected the stand of the Malaysian government in the world of post-Saddam Iraq - indicating that Malaysia would be in the international vanguard to demand the prosecution of US President Bush for war crimes.

Has Hishammuddin and other Barisan Nasional Ministers and leaders thought through the consequences of such a stand?

What would be the nature of the bilateral relationship, whether diplomatic, political, economic, educational or cultural between two countries where one holds the head of government of the other as a war criminal who should be prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal?

Such a question is pertinent, especially with the recent AP report quoting senior Malaysian government officials that the US Government last month had threatened Malaysia with diplomatic and economic reprisals for "fanning anti-American sentiment" with its staunch opposition to the war in Iraq.

The report said the US State Department last month warned Malaysia's ambassador in Washington that it might pull its ambassador out of Kuala Lumpur, urge American businesses to leave Malaysia and discourage further investments.

According to the AP report, Washington decided against such action after Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi assured the US Ambassador to Malaysia, Marie Huhtala, that Malaysia was not a foe of the United States and that "Malaysia's anti-war stance should not be seen as being anti-US", that the Malaysian government's disagreement with the US administration is confined to the war in Iraq and should not be taken out of context.

Although a spokesman of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was quoted as denying any such US threats to Malaysia while confirming a meeting between Abdullah and Huhtala on March 22, there had been no denial or clarification on the part of the Malaysian government of the AP report, and what is most significant is the publication of the AP report in today's Malay Mail, one of the UMNO-owned media.

Malaysia should not capitulate or compromise our principles, but it is important that we should act rationally and not emotionally, particularly in the international arena, thinking through all the consequences of our actions, so that consistency becomes a hallmark of our foreign policy.

Abdullah said yesterday that the government to be formed in Iraq must reflect the genuine will of the Iraq people, free from external influence and coercion. Malaysians fully endorse these sentiments, although they would feel more comfortable if the Malaysian government fully reflects the genuine will of the Malaysian people.

Abdullah said that the United Nations must play a leading role in the future of Iraq, as UN is an organization with vast experience in the administration of post-conflict situations and is therefore uniquely placed to undertake such a responsibility.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, has gone on public record more than once dismissing the UN as "useless" for failing to uphold international law in the US-led war and invasion of Iraq (as in his interview with Al-Jazeera three days before the fall of Baghdad) and calling for the resignation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for failing to stop the US aggression on Iraq.

Other examples of open contradictions and lack of consistency of Malaysia's international positions and foreign policy include:

  • Barisan Nasional leaders and and their controlled "mainstream media" editorials have rightly denounced the unilateralism of the US Bush administration, giving as an example Bush's "unsigning" of the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court - forgetting that Malaysia never signed let alone ratified the International Criminal Court instrument;

  • Information Minister, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob said Malaysian journalists covering the Iraq war are free to report from any angle - an admission that this freedom is denied to them when in Malaysia reporting developments in the country;

  • Police double-standards in protecting anti-war rallies by government-sponsored Malaysians for Peace while using tear gas to break up peaceful anti-war protests by the NGOs and Opposition-supported Coalition Against War.

The Barisan Nasional government had sought the support of all political parties, NGOs and the civil society to take a common stand against the US-led unilateral war against Iraq without United Nations sanctions, as in the special motion in Parliament condemning the US war on Iraq on March 24.

In the new post-Saddam Iraq global geo-political scenario, the government should seek a national consensus by convening an all-party/NGOs roundtable on the international, political and economic effects, fall-outs and responses such as:

  • How to restore the international architecture of law and order and salvage multilateralism and in particular the United Nations and give meaning and relevance to the Non-Aligned Movement of which Malaysia is currently the Chair for three years;

  • How to ensure that the liberation of the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein is not followed by the occupation and recolonisation of Iraq by the United States; and

  • It has been said that the first Gulf War spawned al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and that the second Gulf War would seed a new generation of even more ferocious al-Qaeda II and Osama bin Laden II. One agenda of the roundtable conference should be how to better prepare Malaysians for a second wave of terrorism as warned by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai and ensure that the new round of terrorism would not become a new pretext for further crackdowns on human rights and democratic freedoms in Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman