The path to war: 2003 interview with Providence Phoenix

Issue Date: January 31 – February 6, 2003

THE PATH TO WAR: A different view on Iraqi domestic opinion

BY IAN DONNIS

Although George W. Bush suggested in his State of the Union address that Iraqis should welcome a US-led war against Saddam Hussein, a member of a recent delegation to Baghdad believes that even those Iraqis who hold little favor for their leader may offer stiff resistance to an attack.

Maxim Fetissenko of Providence, one of 35 participants in an “academic airlift” that visited Iraq between January 11-17, says it’s impossible to predict with complete certainty how typical Iraqis will react to war. But there are several reasons — including the likely lack of UN sanction, widespread global opposition to the war, and skepticism about Washington’s true motives – to discount the Bush administration’s inferences that Iraqi support for Saddam will quickly crumble.

“With the absence of any material evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, Iraqis would only see a war against their country as an aggression and they would defend their country,” says Fetissenko. And while many people in the Middle East wouldn’t miss Saddam if he was gone, he says, the possible death of tens of thousands of Iraqis is seen as too high a cost to justify the change. “The casualties would be enormous,” he says. “There will be no dancing in the street. There will no welcome for the liberators.”

Fetissenko, 30, who is working toward a Ph.D. in international conflict resolution at Florida State University, traveled to Iraq as part of a delegation organized by Conscience International, an Atlanta-based humanitarian group. Much of the US media attention about the trip has come from conservative pundits belittling Bianca Jagger and other participants for aiding Iraqi propaganda and not acknowledging the threat posed by Saddam.

But like other critics of a US-led attack, Fetissenko describes war as the worst possible solution. He believes that conditioning the lifting of US sanctions on Iraqi cooperation with the UN weapons inspectors would be the single greatest step toward easing the plight of the Iraqi people, and that the inspectors could make far-reaching changes. “The regime of Saddam Hussein certainly bears responsibility for the [difficulties faced by ordinary Iraqis for] last 11 years,” Fetissenko says. “However, sanctions do play a very large part in that process and lifting economic sanctions would go a long way.”

Although Saddam is often depicted in the US press as having virtually complete control over Iraqi citizens, Iraqi intellectuals told delegation members that the country is more open to political reform than at any time in the recent past, even if it would represent a very lengthy process. A transcript of these discussions is due to be published in a few weeks at www.logosjournal.com, a magazine of politics and culture.

Fetissenko, a Russian native who came to Rhode Island after getting a one-year visiting appointment at Rhode Island College in 1999, paid his own travel expenses (about $1500) to be a part of the delegation to Iraq. He contacted the Phoenix in hopes of spreading impressions from his trip (he can be reached at [contact form]), and he plans to continue to speak out. “I think that if Americans realize what the true cost will be,” he says, “and what the perception of the war is with the Iraqi people, they would not be quite as willing to consent to this war.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@phx.com. [Update: Ian Donnis now works as political analyst at Rhode Island Public Radio.]