Hussain: From Monster
By Patrick Cockburn
05 January, 2007
takes real genius to create a martyr out of Saddam Hussain. Here is
a man dyed deep with the blood of his own people who refused to fight
for him during the United States-led invasion three-and-a-half years
ago. His tomb in his home village of Awja is already becoming a place
of pilgrimage for the five million Sunni Arabs of Iraq who are at the
core of the uprising.
During his trial, Saddam
himself was clearly trying to position himself to be a martyr in the
cause of Iraqi independence and unity and Arab nationalism. His manifest
failure to do anything effective for these causes during the quarter
of a century he misruled Iraq should have made his task difficult. But
an execution which vied in barbarity with a sectarian lynching in the
backstreets of Belfast 30 years ago is elevating him to heroic status
in the eyes of the Sunni - the community to which most Arabs belong
- across the Middle East.
The old nostrum of Winston
Churchill that "grass may grow on the battlefield but never under
the gallows" is likely to prove as true in Iraq as it has done
so frequently in the rest of the world. Nor is the US likely to be successful
in claiming that the execution was purely an Iraqi affair.
Many Iraqis recall that the
announcement of the verdict on Saddam sentencing him to death was conveniently
switched last year to 5 November, the last daily news cycle before the
US mid-term elections. The US largely orchestrated the trial from behind
the scenes. Yesterday the Iraqi government arrested an official who
supervised the execution for making the mobile-phone video that has
stirred so much controversy.
The Iraqi Shia and Kurds
are overwhelmingly delighted that Saddam is in his grave. But the timing
of his death at the start of the Eid al-Adha feast makes his killing
appear like a deliberate affront to the Sunni community. The execution
of his half-brother Barzan in the next few days will confirm it in its
sense that it is the target of an assault by the majority Shia.
Why was the Iraqi government
of Nouri al-Maliki so keen to kill Saddam Hussein? First, there is the
entirely understandable desire for revenge. Members of the old opposition
to Saddam Hussein are often blamed for their past ineffectiveness but
most lost family members to his torture chambers and execution squads.
Every family in Iraq lost a member to his disastrous wars or his savage
There is also a fear among
Shia leaders that the US might suddenly change sides. This is not as
outlandish as it might at first appear. The US has been cultivating
the Sunni in Iraq for the past 18 months. It has sought talks with the
insurgents. It has tried to reverse the de-Baathification campaign.
US commentators and politicians blithely talk about eliminating the
anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and fighting his militia,
the Mehdi Army. No wonder Shias feel that it is better to get Saddam
under the ground just as quickly as possible. Americans may have forgotten
that they were once allied to him but Iraqis have not.
When Saddam fell Iraqis expected
life to get better. They hoped to live like Saudis and Kuwaitis. They
knew he had ruined his country by hot and cold wars. When he came to
power as president in 1979, Iraq had large oil revenues, vast oil reserves,
a well-educated people and a competent administration. By invading Iran
in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, he reduced his nation to poverty. This was
made worse by the economic siege imposed by 13 years of UN sanctions.
But life did not get better
after 2003. Face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Iraqi adults by the Iraq
Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in November revealed that
90 per cent of them said the situation in their country had been better
before the US-led invasion. Only 5 per cent of people said it was better
today. The survey was carried out in Baghdad, in the wholly Sunni Anbar
province and the entirely Shia Najaf province. It does not include the
Kurds, who remain favourable to the occupation.
This does not mean that Iraqis
want Saddam back. But it is clearly true that the chances of dying violently
in Iraq are far greater today everywhere in the country outside the
three Kurdish provinces than they were in 2002. The myth put about by
Republican neoconservatives that large parts of Iraq enjoyed pastoral
calm post-war but were ignored by the liberal media was always a fiction.
None of the neocons who claim that the good news from Iraq was being
suppressed ever made any effort to visit those Iraqi provinces which
they claimed were at peace.
Saddam should not have been
a hard act to follow. It was not inevitable that the country should
revert to Hobbesian anarchy. At first the US and Britain did not care
what Iraqis thought. Their victory over the Iraqi army - and earlier
over the Taliban in Afghanistan - had been too easy. They installed
a semi-colonial regime. By the time they realised that the guerrilla
war was serious it was too late.
It could get worse yet. The
so-called "surge" in US troop levels by 20,000 to 30,000 men
on top of the 145,000 soldiers already in the country is unlikely to
produce many dividends. It seems primarily designed so that President
George Bush does not have to admit defeat or take hard choices about
talking to Iran and Syria. But these reinforcements might tempt the
US to assault the Mehdi Army.
Somehow many senior US officials
have convinced themselves that it is Mr Sadr, revered by millions of
Shia, who is the obstacle to a moderate Iraqi government. In fact his
legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Shia Iraqis, the great majority of
the population, is far greater than the "moderate" politicians
whom the US has in its pocket and who seldom venture out of the Green
Zone. Mr Sadr is a supporter of Mr Maliki, whose relations with Washington
An attack on the Shia militia
men of the Mehdi Army could finally lead to the collapse of Iraq into
total anarchy. Saddam must already be laughing in his grave.
is the author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, which is
published by Verso
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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