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The Toppling Of Saddam Statue: An Eyewitness Report.

 

SBS TV Australia: April 17, 2003

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Neville Watson Interview
After three months in Baghdad as a peace activist, Perth clergyman Neville Watson returned to Australia yesterday convinced that Iraq is on the brink of civil war. His experiences have left him deeply concerned about Australia's role in the war, and critical of the media's coverage of it. Alan Sunderland spoke to him in Perth earlier today.

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ALAN SUNDERLAND: Reverend Watson, welcome to Insight. You were in Baghdad right through the bombing, the arrival of the coalition troops. So tell me, what are we to make of the scenes of Iraqi jubilation on the streets that we've been seeing here?

NEVILLE WATSON, PEACE ACTIVIST: Well, there certainly was some jubilation, but I certainly wouldn't go along with that presented by television. The one that I've seen a lot of since I've been back is the toppling of the statue of Saddam and I can hardly believe it was the same one that I saw, because it happened at only about 300m from where I was and it was a very small crowd. The rest of the square was almost empty, and when we inquired as to where the crowd came from, it was from Saddam City. In other words, it was a rent-a-crowd. Now, that piece of television has been played over and over again, but I've seen nothing of the pieces of television, for example, what happened in Mosul the other day, where the Americans opened fire on a crowd killing 10 and injuring 100 when it became anti-American. So I think the scenes of jubilation have to be balanced against the other side of the picture.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Well, overall, you've talked on your return about your fears for the future. You've talked about the possibility of civil war. What do you base that on?

NEVILLE WATSON: Well, the reign of Saddam Hussein was a brutal one. It was one in which the community was polarised into those against Saddam and for Saddam. Now that has been removed, it's obvious as to what's going to happen. Those who were subjected to great cruelty are going to take revenge on those who did the subjecting. And I fear for Iraqi society in the next 5 or 10 years, because you remember that the Six Day War ended in 1967 but that war is still going on in Israel and Palestine today, and I fear that we have not seen the end of the war in Iraq, we've seen just the beginning of it.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Can you see anything good coming from the current state of affairs in Iraq? I mean, after all, the Hussein regime has been deposed and we may see an end to Western sanctions soon.

NEVILLE WATSON: Without a doubt. I mean, the end of the Saddam Hussein rule is one for jubilation but the way it has been ended is one of great sorrow, because the bombing, the so-called ‘shock and awe’, was one of the most horrific things that I have ever seen. It was designed, as all terrorism is, to create fear by the use of violence and it amazes me that the description of ‘shock and awe’ was not one dreamed up by the opponents of America, it was dreamed up by themselves, and I'd go as far to say that what we saw in the bombing of Iraq was terrorist activity. It was designed to create fear by the use of violence. And that bombing will go down in history as one of the most unjustified and most horrific that we have seen of late.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Now we've heard our own Prime Minister John Howard being confronted today with the humanitarian impact of this war. He's acknowledged that but he says it has to be measured against the awful, terrible atrocities that happened under Saddam Hussein. Does he have a point?

NEVILLE WATSON: I have the awful feeling that neither the Americans nor the Australian authorities have any idea of the humanitarian crisis which is about to occur and I have the feeling that when it does occur, they will be running for cover. Even today, you've got Peter Cosgrove saying that we are not responsible for the anarchy. Even at this point, the Pontius Pilates are queuing up at the washbasin to wash their hands and I fear for the future and I fear that nobody is going to take responsibility for it.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Well, on that point, John Howard today has played down a suggestion that Australia will have a major role in peacekeeping forces. Should we have a greater role?

NEVILLE WATSON: I think that's the tragedy. Australia has had a minor role in the whole thing. I mean, it wasn't included in the Azores conference because, obviously, George Bush speaks for Australia. The contribution was 2,000 compared with hundreds of thousands of the others, and the question that I was asked again and again is why is Australia involving itself with America at this point?

ALAN SUNDERLAND: So that was - it was an issue on the streets of Baghdad while you were there? People noticed that Australia was involved?

NEVILLE WATSON: Oh, very much so. I had one person, for example - once I spoke, he picked me up as an Australian straight away - and he said "Oh, Australian - people good, government bad." And then there was one chap who said to me, he said "Australian Government fall" - and I didn't know what he meant but he said "Australian Government topple over" and when I looked up the Internet, sure enough it was the motion of no confidence in the Senate. These people know precisely what's going on and I was absolutely amazed at their understanding of Australia and its position far more than any Australian would ever know of what's going on in Iraq today - and that's one of the reasons why I went there, because where you stand really does determine what you see.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Reverend Watson, let me ask you one final question about Australia's involvement from here on, if you like. A number of Australian companies have expressed a desire to get involved in winning some of the contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq. Would you like to see us involved in that work?

NEVILLE WATSON: I shuddered when I heard that because you will remember that this war started off with about weapons of mass destruction and when weapons of mass destruction were not used or found to this point, then it became liberation, and when liberation starts to collapse around us, we start talking about the spoils of war, and I hope that Australia will not contaminate itself by being involved in that search for the spoils of war.

ALAN SUNDERLAND: Thanks very much for your time.

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