GEORGE NEGUS: Haifa, welcome to Australia.
HAIFA ZANGANA, WRITER AND ACTIVIST: Thank you.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think the Iraqis are aware of Australia’s involvement in the conflict in your country?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Oh, they are, yes. They know exactly figures and the numbers and all what’s called the coalition forces.
GEORGE NEGUS: So how significant do they think our role is?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Not very significant because mainly they are worried about the Americans and the British and the Australians come, like, I don’t know fourth or fifth place, or even less, perhaps.
GEORGE NEGUS: You have said that the series of interim governments that have occurred over the last few years, since the invasion, have been a total disaster. What about the latest attempt at a government? The new government of national unity?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Hardly anything has changed really. What we are witnessing in this new government is almost the cloning of the same people, or the same sectarian and ethnic divide they were establishing under Paul Bremer, the ex-ambassador of Iraq.
GEORGE NEGUS: Will it work as a government? You’re making it sound like a puppet government.
HAIFA ZANGANA: It is a puppet government nothing more or less. I don’t think it is going to accomplish anything different than the previous one. All they are receiving They are on the receiving end of orders from the unexpected visits by Condoleezza Rice, Jack Straw previously, and to orders from Bush and Blair.
GEORGE NEGUS: So you don’t see it as a true attempt at an Iraqi government at all?
HAIFA ZANGANA: It isn’t at all. It is not even a government even. It is a government of the green zone. It is an occupation government. An occupation government, no matter what it does, it doesn’t represent people and their aspirations. People have the right to rule themselves.
GEORGE NEGUS: Are you saying that life in Iraq is no better or in fact worse than it was under Saddam Hussein, the dictator?
HAIFA ZANGANA: He is not our moral yardstick on any level regarding political government with political attitudes at all and invasion. So better or worse, we are entitled o to democracy as much as any other country. And democracy the way we understand it is not taking place at the moment.
GEORGE NEGUS: We should look at it this way. You were imprisoned and tortured under Saddam, right?
HAIFA ZANGANA: I was, yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: How badly? Can you give us some picture?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Terrible. It was terrible. It was something beyond imagination and it is still happening. The same thing is happening now in Iraq. So we are against this continuity of torture. This is why we fought Saddam’s regime. We did not fight for 35 years to replace it by another torturer.
GEORGE NEGUS: I guess what a lot of people in the West would say, particularly government leaders and leaders of the coalition, is that you can say this now. Could you say this in Iraq now? Where you couldn’t criticise Saddam without finding yourself in prison and tortured, now can your voice be heard in Iraq?
HAIFA ZANGANA: No, you can’t actually. Iraqis inside Iraq cannot say what I’m saying at the moment here. I’m saying it because I am here. I feel safe and secure. I would not be able to. Because whoever voicing any issue against the occupation is Iraq is targeted. We have the academics being targeted, we have hundreds of our scientists being killed, academics, lectures, professors, whoever. Journalists we have the biggest campaign of killing journalists. Fiction writers – we have a fiction writer who’d been imprisoned for three years, not even saying a word about anything.
GEORGE NEGUS: So if you are am saying in Iraq what you are saying to me now, would be a victim, you would be a target of that kind of treatment?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Yes, definitely.
GEORGE NEGUS: Doesn’t that leave Iraq and people like yourself in a no-win situation? If you listen to Condoleezza Rice, she says that all that has gone wrong, the thousands of mistakes that she has acknowledged has occurred is worth it – to get rid of Saddam, it was worth it.
HAIFA ZANGANA: This is a total farce. And it is continuing what we heard from Madeline Albright, before that when Iraq was under sanctions, when 500,000 children were killed or died because, as a consequence of the harsh sanctions on Iraqi people. 500,000 children were killed and she said that the price was worth it. And here is Condoleezza Rice repeating the same thing. “We are only committing mistakes in Iraq.” It is not mistakes. When you kill a person this is a crime, you do not call it a mistake. So crimes are committed in Iraq every day. In fact there is an Iraqi being killed at the minute where we’re talking now. One Iraqi per every five minutes killed as a consequence, direct consequence of the occupation. So we are asking for the withdrawal of troops and immediate withdrawal – not to go on for 5 years or 10 years and prolonging, putting a timetable to it. The way they walked in the troops, they have to leave.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let’s talk about that. Because in the last few days Tony Blair has talked about the withdrawal of troops, George Bush has talked about the withdrawal of troops, Blair has gone so far as to say maybe by the end of the year all the British and American troops will be out, I suppose that means Australian, except for a couple of key areas like Baghdad and the West. What would occur if there was this withdrawal that you say Iraqis want, if that was to happen in the next six months?
HAIFA ZANGANA: To start with, we have to make it clear that the withdrawal that Tony Blair’s talking about, or Bush, is different about the withdrawal we’re talking about. I am talking about the complete withdrawal of troops. That doesn’t mean they go around and build bases, American bases in Iraq which they are doing at the moment. There are more than 14 bases building. And there is the biggest embassy in the world. And no signing of long-term binding agreements, not on behalf of Iraqi people but on behalf of these interim governments or the puppet governments at the moment. This is second.
Third – there should be a compensation for all the crimes being committed against Iraqi people, whether in life or the destruction of the country. So we’re talking about a different kind of withdrawal. They said the country is going to descend into civil war. But we it have already. Those occupation forces there, they are encouraging it because they are emphasising the force of one militia against the other, even supplying weapons to certain militias against the other. So who is encouraging civil war?
There is no civil war among Iraqi people themselves. There are the militias fighting. And there is another kind of war which no-one is talking about. This is really the fighting of Iraqi resistance against the occupation forces.
GEORGE NEGUS: How do you draw the line, then, between a terrorist and an insurgent, and an insurgent and a resistance fighter?
HAIFA ZANGANA: There are differences. I’m talking about 80 attacks per day, average, which has being really constant for the last two years and targeting American and British troops. This is, for me, pure resistance. I cannot really believe this is terrorist acts or any civilian act, attacking civilians. This is Iraqi national movement demanding liberation, independence and building our own country, the democracy as we see it democracy because we are desperate for democracy and we want to do it that way. Not by shock and awe.
GEORGE NEGUS: In the meantime, is there anything – from your contacts, which are regular, and your visits to Iraq – is there anything vaguely resembling normality about life? How would you describe life in Iraq?
HAIFA ZANGANA: Whenever I talk to an Iraqi, I ask, “How are you today?” they say “Well, thanks God, we’re still in one piece.
GEORGE NEGUS: Nice to meet you. Enjoy your stay.
HAIFA ZANGANA: Thank you very much.