Hollow victory: The hanging of Saddam
By Ehsan Ahrari
The verdict on Saddam Hussein is in. He is guilty of "crimes against humanity"
and is sentenced to death by hanging. His trial was generally regarded as
devoid of fairness and was highly political. Even the timing of the
announcement of the verdict was driven by the US mid-term elections.
The administration of US President George W Bush clearly hopes to reap benefit
from the news for Republican candidates in Tuesday's election. The depth of the
internal divisions in Iraq was
underscored by the fact that the Shi'ites started celebrating the news of the
verdict, and the Sunnis became angry. Saddam may be hanged, but that is not
going to make Iraq a livable place. The future of political stability,
democracy and civility in Iraq is as bleak today as it was a few weeks ago.
The "war on terrorism" was triggered as a result of the manifestation of
intense hatred by al-Qaeda of Americans and all that the lone superpower
represented. Everything about the "war on terror" - real as well as imaginable
- was about hate and about getting even. The US invasion of Afghanistan was a
genuine expression of anger.
But the toppling of Saddam was about getting even. It had no relevance to the
fiction that the Iraqi dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction or that
he had connections with al-Qaeda. The Bush administration was never forgiven by
the international community for manufacturing those grand fictions.
When Saddam was captured, it was widely believed that he would be hanged after
a semblance of a fair trail. The question that was never asked was why Slobodan
Milosevic, another brutal dictator and a perpetrator of equally bloody ethnic
cleansing, was tried in the International Court of Justice but Saddam was not.
Everyone took for granted that the United States wanted to hang Saddam by
orchestrating a public trial under its hand-picked judges inside Iraq. Even the
notion of fairness toward him was pooh-poohed in the US. The argument was that
the US-controlled Iraqi officials would be fair to him. No one really said it,
but it is possible that the notion of fairness toward a brutal dictator was
itself unambiguously unfair.
But that sort of frame of mind, even if it does not take away the humanity from
those who were in charge of trying him, certainly diminishes them. And the
highly questionable trial of the Iraqi dictator seems to have diminished all
the concerned parties, the US government as well as the Iraqi government. Even
the international community, by not insisting on a fair trial for the Iraqi
tyrant, is no less responsible for the charade of justice in the Iraqi court.
As one US source observed:
The trial, or circus as it sometimes seemed,
transfixed Iraqis as controversy swirled around every twist: its opening day
when an imperious Hussein declared that he was still president and challenged
the legitimacy of "this so-called court", the slayings of two defense lawyers,
the resignation of the chief judge and the naming of a successor and a hunger
strike that led to Hussein's hospitalization for several days as the end
President Bush could not contain his delight at the
news of hearing Saddam's death sentence. He called the verdict "a milestone"
and a success of the Iraqi people "to replace the rule of a tyrant with the
rule of law". Iran and Kuwait also expressed their satisfaction with the
verdict. These two countries had suffered most because of Saddam Hussein's
adventurism in the 1980s and early 1990s.
When Saddam is hanged, the Shi'ites and the Kurds will have avenged the
enormous number of atrocities that his regime committed against them. The
Sunnis will sulk and will get even more bitter than they are today. They are
likely to see the development as just another example of their unremitting
"humiliation" as a religious sect.
They are likely to hate the Shi'ites and the Kurds as well as their occupiers,
the Americans, even more severely. The Sunni insurgency is likely to intensify
its pace, if that is possible given what is already happening in Iraq.
However, the hanging of Saddam is not likely to resolve the internal strife
that is tearing apart Iraq as a society and as a polity. He has been utterly
irrelevant to the future of his country for a long time. Now Iraq is a place
where the United States is battling with Islamists, global jihadis,
pan-Arabists and even the Shi'ites. This battle has far-reaching consequences
for the Middle East as a region and for the US itself.
If the US is forced to withdraw from Iraq, its prestige is likely to suffer
irreparable damage. The spillover effect of such a potential withdrawal is
likely to be felt in Afghanistan, where the battle between the International
Security Assistance Forces and the forces of al-Qaeda and the Taliban is
And Afghanistan is already a place, according to a US Central Intelligence
Agency report leaked to the New York Times on Saturday, where President Hamid
Karzai "has been significantly weakened by rising popular frustration with the
American-backed government". The sad part is that most American politicians are
pretty much oblivious to that ominous development.
Inside the United States, Iraq has become the ultimate symbol of the hubris of
the neo-conservatives to establish America's hegemony. But some of their
prominent members are already washing their hands of the original
responsibility and ebullience with which they pushed for the toppling of Saddam
Richard Perle, pejoratively referred to inside a number of circles in
Washington as the "prince of darkness", is now placing the blame for failure in
Iraq on the Bush administration. In an interview with the magazine Vanity Fair,
he said that that the chief blame for this unfolding catastrophe should be
placed on the devastating dysfunction within the administration.
He added, "The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't
get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly ...
At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible ... I don't
think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration,
and the disloyalty."
Before Saddam is hanged come the charades of appeals and counter-appeals. But
his fate was sealed the day he was captured. He had known it all along. That
might be one reason he was putting up the show of defiance and utter contempt
for his jailers and for the Iraqi government. Now the only purpose the former
dictator seems to have is to go down as a defiant nationalist or even a martyr
in the eyes of Iraqi Sunnis.
Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria,
Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or email@example.com. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times
Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.