Iraqis used to tell me that they never believed that former president Saddam Hussein and his henchmen would ever face justice. But the new interim government is keen to prove that the rule of law is established and will be central to the new Iraq. Only this morning I received an e-mail from Baghdad confirming that the evidence Indict, the campaigning organization I chaired, had collected from hundreds of those who suffered at Saddam's hands will be used in his upcoming trial. Genocide will be one of the charges he faces.
For those of us who have campaigned for over 20 years to topple the regime of Saddam, his performance in the witness box last Thursday, jabbing his finger at the judge, insisting that he is still president of Iraq, justifying the invasion of Kuwait; was predictable. As the charges were read out, we were reminded that this was a regime which had complete disregard for human life.
In 1987 the Committee against Repression for Democratic Rights in Iraq published a pamphlet on torture in Iraq. It included the testimony of an Iraqi doctor who said he had been forced to take part in one of the more sinister practices that took place in Abu Ghraib prison: the forced draining of political prisoners' blood before their executions, so that the reason for subsequent death could be recorded as "heart failure." Only a regime like Saddam's could possibly think of turning a life-saving humanitarian practice into a cruel method of murder.
Seumas Milne, writing in The Guardian last week, believes that putting Saddam on trial is an attempt to retrieve "retrospective justification for last year's unprovoked invasion" and then argues that because of the torture of prisoners by US and British soldiers all moral authority has been drained from the coalition. This is surely a distortion.
It has become commonplace to argue that the new interim government "lacks legitimacy." The words "quislings" and "puppets" are widely used, while anti-coalition violence is said to represent the "real war of liberation." This ignores a recent poll that showed widespread support for the new interim government. The poll was commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority but was conducted by the same organization that discovered widespread disapproval of the coalition only a couple of months ago. This time, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was found to have approval ratings of 73 percent, while President Ghazi Al-Yawar received 84 percent.
The unwillingness to concede that the interim government might be a popular one shows the continuing frustration of some of those who opposed the war. They view any progress made toward democracy in Iraq with suspicion -- a view more honestly expressed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writing in the Evening Standard: "The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder."
Having known and worked with the opposition to Saddam for over two decades, I find the description of brave individuals as "puppets" deeply offensive. Allawi was nearly killed in 1978 in the UK when he was attacked by a Baathist assassin with an axe. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih was imprisoned at the age of 16 for his political activities. The Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Al-Bayati was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib and had five members of his family killed by Saddam's regime. Eight thousand members of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari's family clan disappeared in 1983 and have never been seen since.
Every day, these individuals and others face the knowledge that they are targets for assassination. But they continue to work, just as the policemen return to their jobs every day, despite the suicide bombs targeted at them. As one told The Guardian at the beginning of the week: "Our job is to protect the Iraqi people ... There are bombings, but we are not scared of these terrorists. These people are cowards who are damaging our country."
Those who champion the "resistance" as the real voice of Iraq do not offer an alternative political program, merely an opposition to an existing strategy. They are silent about what they want for Iraq apart from getting the US out.
They are opposed by the emerging civil society of Iraq. On June 21, Abdullah Mushin of the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFTU) addressed the national conference of UNISON, the UK's biggest public service trade union. The IFTU had opposed the war. Last December its Baghdad offices were raided by coalition forces. Despite this, he was clear that what was required now was "solidarity" to defeat those who would deny Iraqis democracy.
"It is only a few days before the handover of power on June 30 and IFTU and Iraqis need your support and solidarity to make this happen and stop attempts by terrorists and Saddam's supporters to derail the transfer of power to Iraqis. This is a crucial step forward to end the occupation, regain full sovereignty and enable the Iraqi people to determine their own political future through democratic elections," Mushin said.
The alternative to the violence of the "resistance" is already in place. In mid-July there will be a national conference in Baghdad that will be the starting point for a process concluding with the agreement on a permanent constitution and national elections. Do we really believe that this would be an option if the so-called "resistance" won?
No one would deny that the Coalition Provisional Authority made some fundamental errors in policy in its 14 months of power. And no one should be blind to the dangers that lie ahead. But at this point in Iraq's history the choice is a stark one. Either we support those who offer the chance of a democratic Iraq, with laws that protect the rights of all Iraqis and a civil society that ensures the country never returns to the evil days of dictatorship, or we embrace the gunmen and the bombers, who have already demonstrated their contempt for human life.
While we can still argue over the reasons for the conflict, the more pressing argument is what we do now. Opinion polls have consistently recorded that the vast majority of Iraqis want democracy. They also want the Americans to leave. But asked what Iraq needs at this time, more than 70 percent told Oxford Research International they want "an Iraqi democracy."
The debate in the UK will be a reflection on us and on our values. Are we capable of the maturity displayed by the Iraqis who are working in the most difficult circumstances to build a new democracy?
Or will we be represented by those who despise Bush and Blair so much that they are prepared to offer support and succor to the "resistance" which has no alternative or agenda other than more bloodshed and chaos?
Ann Clwyd is Labour MP for Cynon Valley, and special envoy to the British prime minister on human rights in Iraq
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