Saturday, January 06, 2007

REFLECTION: Martyring Saddam?

In the make-believe world occupied by neo-Conservative commentators, the execution of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was a victory for freedom and democracy, a time to rejoice at yet another diversion away from the continuous human suffering of Iraqi and American families who continue to mourn their dead as Iraq spirals into an even greater orgy of violence.

An editorial in The Australian triumphantly declared that

Saddam's death sends a powerful message to the dictators of the world that worse fates can befall them than a cushy exile.
(Ironically, the same paper commissioned an opinion piece praising the late Chilean dictator Pinochet.)

Of course, many of these dictators continue to rule the roost in various Middle Eastern capitals thanks to support from the West. A number of Arab regimes are ruled by dictators who have become most efficient at torturing political opponents. Today, their jails also house suspects in the “War on Terror” so that information can be extracted without Washington having to get its hands dirty.

Indeed, Saddam Hussein himself was a dictator propped up by the West. The United States looked the other way as Saddam used the years following his accession to power in 1979 to purge the Iraqi Ba’ath Party of any possible rivals. Within 12 months, the US and its European and Arab allies were openly supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran , hoping it would undermine the revolutionary Shia Islamist government founded by Ayatollah Khomeini.

It was only when Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait that Western powers decided he had gone too far. Then US President George Bush Snr led a large Coalition of nations against a former ally now referred to as “Saddam Hussein, that evil dictator”.

Following the 1st Gulf War, the fear of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons was used as the basis for imposing sanctions that strengthened Hussein and turned the Arab world’s wealthiest nation into a country with among the highest infant mortality rates in the world. No one seemed to mind when these same feared weapons were being used against Iranian soldiers and civilians.

No doubt Saddam was an evil dictator who used deadly weapons against his own people. So who, then, could express any concern over his execution some days back? For allegedly conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald ...

[f]or the most part, with the obvious exception of the Vatican, opposition to Saddam's hanging in the West came from the civil liberties lobby and the left.
So anyone who opposes Saddam’s execution must be a Vatican cleric, a civil libertarian lawyer obsessed with process or a left-wing activist.

The neo-Con scribes may cheer on Saddam’s hanging from their comfortable armchairs. But the fact remains that the public hanging of Saddam Hussein was poorly-timed and executed (no pun intended). And it will be military and political decision-makers of the United States and its coalition partners (including Australia ) who must now deal with the fallout, knowing Saddam will cast a shadow on their efforts to return peace to the country.

The New York Times reported on 1 January of ...

... the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows.
American officials were dismayed with the manner in which the execution was conducted, with those present shouting sectarian slogans despite the pleas of the presiding judge Munir Haddad who exclaimed:
Please, no! The man is about to die.
Among those chanting were supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shia religious scholar whose private militia has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of opponents of all sectarian persuasions. The recent report of the Iraq Study Group described al-Sadr’s Mahdi Brigade as posing a greater danger to Iraqi security than even groups linked to al-Qaida.

The execution was a sectarian spectacle, designed to inflame tensions between shia and sunni Muslims. It took place in a manner contrary to Iraqi law, which stated that executions could not take place until at least 30 days had expired since the decision of the appeals court.

It is believed that Kurdish leaders weren’t happy with the decision. Hussein was still to be tried for massacres against Kurdish communities, including the notorious attacks that involved the use of chemical weapons. For many Iraqi Kurds, important questions about their past suffering will remain suspended.

The timing of the execution – the holiest day in the Islamic calendar – will inflame sectarian tensions even more than the chants of al-Sadr supporters. Sunni Arabs (as opposed to their mainly-sunni Kurdish co-religionists) tended to be treated favourably by Hussein, himself from an influential sunni tribe. Iraq ’s sunni leaders have openly expressed their suspicions that they will become second class citizens under a government dominated by shia Muslims.

Of course, Saddam had many opponents from within all sectarian, tribal and ethnic sectors of Iraqi society. Handled properly and in accordance with the law, his execution could have been a source of national healing. Instead, Saddam Hussein will be regarded as a martyr by far more people than necessary.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked