An odd pick to be an ambassadress for peace

Debra J. Saunders

11/17/2003 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

A group called Fellowship of Reconciliation -- its mission is to "replace violence, war, racism and economic injustice with nonviolence, peace and justice" -- has been hosting a "Women of Iraq Tour" of the United States. The tour stars are "two remarkable Iraqi women" -- Amal al-Khedairy and Nermin al-Mufti -- who "survived through the Persian Gulf War, the ensuing 13 years of oppressive sanctions and now the U.S. occupation."

It's no accident that tour promotions don't question how the two women survived Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday night, a professor at Mills College in Oakland parroted the promotion material as she introduced al-Mufti as "an internationally recognized journalist." What the professor didn't say -- at the time, she didn't know -- is that al-Mufti was a political columnist for Al Thawra, Iraq's Baathist newspaper. She also was the editor of several Baath-government publications.

Al-Khedairy, the scholar of the tour, is an odd pick to be an ambassadress for peace. The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson decided to visit her this summer to see if her Saddamist sympathies had dampened after the war started. Her answer was that Hussein wasn't "all bad" -- he built great roads. As Anderson quoted her in the Aug. 11 New Yorker, she added, "Until 1991, I thought he could still do some good things, and even afterward, but it didn't turn out that way."

The piece continued: "Somewhat shocked, I asked Amal, 'What about the Anfal campaign?' -- when Saddam sent his army to raze Kurdish villages, and killed tens of thousands of civilians with guns and poison gas. 'Even after that you were OK with what he was doing?' Amal nodded. 'You know, the Kurds are a difficult people, and can be quite cruel themselves,' she said. 'I know, I have a Kurdish grandmother.' She laughed and began talking about the Kurdish persecution of Christians, and how, if I liked, she could introduce me to many Christians in Baghdad who had been forced to flee the Kurds. 'One day, you'll have to hear the whole story,' she said."

Wednesday night, al-Khedairy had a lot to say about conditions under the U.S.-led coalition. There were tanks in front of her house, Americans living in Hussein's palaces and "vagabonds" squatting in a museum. Coalition soldiers had tussled with a friend's bodyguards. And meat prices were rising. It wasn't the kind of real-people-are-suffering-horribly speech I had expected to hear.

But as long as al-Khedairy and al-Mufti bashed the Bush administration liberally and blamed the U.N. sanctions -- but not Hussein's refusal to live within U.N. guidelines -- for the loss of life in Iraq, the audience wasn't going to complain.

Why? Andrew Apostolou of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, answered, "It is the very simple fact, as one Iraqi exile said to me the other week, that these people hate George W. Bush more than they hate Saddam Hussein."

I asked al-Mufti about her work for Al Thawra. She says she was a freelancer, and never a Baathist Party member, and that Uday Hussein had silenced her for long periods. But even that information was airbrushed from her talk.

Oddly, al-Mufti now boasts that she is unwilling to write as a journalist under the U.S.-led coalition.

Al-Mufti's most compelling argument was that she didn't want to leave her country. She said others shouldn't judge her for taking what work she could get as a journalist.

I asked al-Mufti what she thought of Hussein; she faulted him for turning "a nationalist party into a family party."

That's it? No mention of the Kurds, the 290,000 people the United Nations figures disappeared under Hussein's watch, the women who were raped?

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Global Exchange, later tells me that she tried to get six Iraqi women for the tour, including one who is strong on human rights. But the coalition only granted these two women visas.

Benjamin asks me not to "paint these women as Baathists, but instead to paint them as nationalists, which they are."

Nationalists. Well, that explains why al-Mufti defended the killings of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. But it doesn't explain why anyone considers them to be poster women for peace.