One of North America's leading theorists of non-violent resistance, Jack Duvall, came to U of T's Munk Centre for International Studies recently to tell an audience it takes more than courage to launch a citizens' revolution against Saddam Hussein. It takes cold, hard cash. "While many in the State Department think it would be a good idea in principle to help the non-violent destruction of the dictatorship, there is no actual program," says Duvall, who heads a Washington-based group called the Center for Nonviolence.
This lack of interest persists despite the astonishing breakthrough demonstration in Baghdad on October 22, when people stormed the gates of the information ministry to demand info on their imprisoned relatives.
Those who study civilian mobilization say that it took $45 million from U.S. and European government sources for OTPOR (Resistance) to overthrow the Milosevic regime in Serbia in 2000. And they are horrified that the Bush administration isn't giving pacifist regime change a chance.
That's the view of exiled Iraqi journalist Ismail Zayer, spokesperson for the worldwide No To Saddam. "We would like to show the world that there is a third choice that does not involve keeping Saddam in power or having a war," he tells me from his temporary home in the Netherlands. "The third choice seeks to expand the democratic rights of the Iraqi people, to challenge the 250,000 security agents in the country.
"We have already succeeded in establishing a small network within the country and are planning a clandestine media campaign. We will launch our own magazine and Web site."
The October 22 demonstrations where insurgents chanted pro-Saddam chants while refusing to be dispersed even by gunshots "really opened people's eyes, since many thought such protests were not possible," he says.
Supporters of the No To Saddam movement like retired U.S. army colonel Robert Helvey are also infuriated that the U.S. Congress has allocated $92 million for a military attack while Iraqi exiles eager for funds for civil disobedience training are going without.
"The money from Congress is misdirected," he says from Washington. "The Pentagon wants all this money to train Iraqis in violent methods to take part in an invasion force. It would be a cheap investment to see what might happen if a modest effort were made to train people willing to use non-violent means."
Helvey, a former U.S. defence attaché in Rangoon, Burma, knows something about non-weaponed war. In the mid-90s he traipsed through the jungles of Burma with non-violent strategist Gene Sharp, teaching officers of Burma's Karen resistance how to use civil disobedience. And he's the guy Congress funded, through the national Republican Institute, to train OTPOR activists in the Hilton Hotel in Budapest.
But Congress, it seems, has taken little interest thus far in this kind of liberation movement. According to Kurt Rosen, spokesperson for Indiana senator and board member of the Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy Evan Bayh, while $99,000 a year is being given to Iraqi Kurds to develop human rights organizations, the question of funding Iraqi dissidents in general "hasn't yet come up on the radar. Any proposal would have to come from the executive branch."
The most likely person to swing U.S. Congressional support for a pacific transition to democracy in Iraq is Dr. Daniel Serwer, director of the Balkan Initiative of the U.S. Institute for Peace, who was responsible for persuading the U.S. Congress to fund OTPOR.
Serwer's institute, which is funded by Congressional statues to the tune of $13 million to encourage political neutrality, is in a pivotal position between NGO activism and government. But while he recognizes the early signs of resistance in Iraq -- the October protests, increasing graffiti, Shiite Muslims subverting the prohibition of chanting by instead tapping their toes, and Iraqis turning in their Baath membership cards -- he believes resistance has not gone far enough for him to make major fiscal recommendations.
"The major difference between Iraq and Serbia is that Milosevic allowed an opposition to operate. He used it cleverly as a safety valve. There is no such opposition in Iraq."
Duvall thinks this perspective is over-cautious. "Skeptics often cite the difficulties presented by the tyrannical nature of the (Iraqi) regime. There are, however, some unique advantages. One is the porous border with Kurdistan, which allows [activists and literature] to move back and forth. Such an advantage was lacking in eastern Europe."
Helvey, who served two military tours of duty in Vietnam, finds Serwer, a former anti-Vietnam War protestor, too conservative on this matter. "From my experience in Yugoslavia, I find that a number of NGOs don't want to commit until they see success is very likely. This makes it difficult in the beginning, when you have to be prepared to take risks to get things going."
And the Canadian government -- are we any better at boosting the non-violent option? Apparently not. According to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Sameer Ahmad, "Our involvement with Iraq is minimal at best."