SHAQLAWA, Iraqi Kurdistan – At dawn, on Thursday, March 20, 2003, Iraq suffered what we have always feared and warned against. The U.S. forces launched their first missile attack on Iraq, signaling the breakout of the war they had been threatening to wage under the pretexts of either “regime-change” or the elimination of the country’s weapons of mass destruction.

These objectives could have been achieved by using peaceful means, which would have spared our people and country further suffering and devastation. It would have also paved the way for democratic change.

However, the U.S. administration has chosen the worst available means, thus endangering people’s lives, damaging the economy, and jeopardizing peace and security in the area. The decision to go to war was not only unilateral but also, more importantly, lacked international legitimacy.

Our people have been exposed to another catastrophe of enormous proportions, compounding the wounds that they had already suffered as a result of the regime’s previous wars.

Despite the fact that the invading forces have already penetrated Iraqi territories, it is possible and essential to put an immediate end to the war and resume political and diplomatic efforts, to preserve the lives of the innocent, and protect our homeland and its infrastructure from further devastation.

While we raise our voices to demand an immediate end to the war, we cannot at all overlook or ignore the Iraqi dictatorial regime’s responsibility in precipitating this war, as it has done before.

The tyrant heading the Iraqi regime continues to oppress our people, even while missiles rain down on them, despite many sincere calls for him to relinquish power and leave the country, and thereby spare the Iraqi people the calamities of war.

The removal of this murderous adventurous regime, therefore, remains an essential task for the Iraqi people, their armed forces and the patriotic opposition forces that aspire to a unified, federal, democratic Iraq.

In this extremely grave situation, we call for:

* A halt to the war, ending U.S. unilateralism, and returning to international legitimacy and the UN.

* Urgent action to ensure food, medicine and other basic needs are provided to the Iraqi people, and to work for lifting the economic blockade.

* The implementation of the Geneva conventions, the protection of Iraqi civilians and infrastructure, and respecting our human rights in accordance with international agreements and treaties.

* UN human rights monitors to prevent violations against Iraqi civilians, as well as urgently investigating the fate of thousands of political prisoners and detainees.

* Rejection of the invasion, occupation and US military rule of Iraq. The Iraqi people have the right to decide their destiny, choosing the form of their future government with their own free will, without foreign interference or patronage from any quarter.

* The convening of an “International Conference on the Iraqi Issue,” under UN auspices, with the participation of representatives of Iraqi democratic and patriotic forces.

* Iraq’s national wealth and resources, especially oil, be protected, as they belong to the Iraqi people who alone have the right of disposal over these resources.

* A transitional broadly-based coalition patriotic government, which would ensure democratic freedoms, and prepare for free elections under UN supervision, as an essential step along the path of building a constitutional democratic Iraq.

As enormous grave dangers threaten our people, who are caught between the war and the disastrous policies of the dictatorial regime, we look forward to the world’s solidarity and support in the just struggle to stop the war and build an Iraq of peace, freedom and dignity.

This is an edited version of a March 23 urgent message released by the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party. The ICP, founded in 1934, has deep roots and support in Iraq, despite many attempts to destroy the party, since 1949. The Ba’th Party also persecuted the ICP, among other things accusing communists of “national betrayal” for their opposition to the 1980-88 war with Iran.