LA Times & The Independent & InterPress Service – 2006-12-31 21:25:42
So Long to ‘Our’ Tyrant
Andrew Cockburn / The Los Angeles Times
(December 30, 2006) — Among the many ironies of Saddam Hussein’s execution is that, although his death seems certain to boost sectarian bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, he always posed as an Iraqi and Arab nationalist who could unite the rivalrous sects in his country — an attribute that initially recommended him to Washington.
Other qualities of the Iraqi dictator that appealed to US policymakers included his sterling record in eliminating communists and his readiness to confront the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the militant Shiite leader of Iran.
Today of all days, the administration has no desire to be reminded of the era when the US actively intervened on Iraq’s side in the Iran-Iraq war, supplying credit, intelligence, helicopters and, finally, active combat assistance from the US Navy.
But that is indeed what happened. Something of the flavor of the relationship is summed up in a March 1984 cable from Secretary of State George Shultz to Donald Rumsfeld, who was about to visit Baghdad for the second time as President Reagan’s Middle East envoy.
Although the US had just publicly condemned Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, Shultz told Rumsfeld that the condemnation had been more or less pro forma and that “our interests in 1) preventing an Iranian victory and 2) continuing to improve bilateral relations with Iraq, at a pace of Iraq’s choosing, remain undiminished…. This message bears reinforcing during your discussions.”
The key to the relationship between the US and Hussein over the years was that they shared the same enemies. Hussein’s early political career was as a hit man for the Baath party. In 1961, he fled into exile in Egypt after botching an assassination attempt against the then-leader of Iraq, Abdul Karim Qassim. Qassim, a leftist general who ruled with the support of the Communist Party, was regarded with extreme disfavor in Washington.
In fact, Hussein’s exile ended in 1963, when his Baathist colleagues seized power with covert US assistance. “We rode to power on a CIA train,” the party’s secretary general, Ali Saleh Saadi, admitted later.
Once in power, Hussein and his party pursued a nationalist agenda that sometimes irked Washington — as when he masterminded the full nationalization of Iraq’s oil assets. In the mid-1970s, the US got so irritated with him that it briefly gave covert assistance to Kurdish insurgents. But the triumph of militant Shiism in Iran a few years later guaranteed Hussein a place among Washington’s allies once again.
Initially, it wasn’t clear that Hussein would have to go to war against Khomeini’s Iran. That’s because the Shiite religious leadership in Iraq posed little threat to Hussein’s rule. But that began to change when the communists — who had commanded the allegiance of the Shiite masses — were crushed and liquidated. The Shiite religious hierarchy, encouraged by the success of the Islamic Revolution next door, then began asserting itself politically.
Panicked by this internal threat, Hussein decided on a preemptive attack against Iran in 1980, a move that came with covert US encouragement.
Apart from the eccentric deviation of the Iran-Contra affair, Washington’s support for Iraq against the militant Iranian Shiite regime remained firm during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, despite Hussein’s well-publicized use of poison gas against, as President Bush likes to remind us, his own people.
That consistent support, in fact, appears to have deluded Hussein into thinking that the US would grant him concessions in return for withdrawing from Kuwait after his 1990 invasion of that country. Had he any experience of the outside world beyond his exile in Egypt and brief arms-shopping trips to Moscow and Paris — or had his advisors not been too frightened to tell him the truth — he might have understood that, with the Soviet Union’s defeat in the Cold War, Third World dictators could no longer defy the US and escape unpunished.
Though he was expelled from Kuwait and his economy wrecked by sanctions, Hussein was allowed to survive because Washington for a time continued to believe that he was useful as a bulwark against Iran abroad and militant Shiism at home in Iraq. When that policy was discarded by the neoconservatives after the 9/11 attacks, the dictator’s days were numbered.
Hussein was for a period the prime example of the traditional US means of control in the Middle East: quiet support for a repressive leader respectful of US interests. That approach has now apparently been replaced by one that induces civil discord and breakdown (deliberately or otherwise), as evidenced by recent events in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
In his final hours, Saddam Hussein may have derived some satisfaction from the unpleasant surprises this change has produced for his former friends in Washington.
>Andrew Coburn is the author of Rumsfeld, His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy, to be published by Simon & Schuster in February.
A Dictator Created then Destroyed by America
Robert Fisk / The Indepoendent
BAGHDAD (December 30, 2006) — Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold — that crack of the neck at the end of a rope — than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies?
Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a “great day” for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed — by the Iraqi “government”, but on behalf of the Americans — on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.
But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers — what about the other guilty men?
No, Tony Blair is not Saddam. We don’t gas our enemies. George W Bush is not Saddam. He didn’t invade Iran or Kuwait. He only invaded Iraq. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead — and thousands of Western troops are dead — because Messrs Bush and Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality.
In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent — we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam’s shame at Abu Ghraib — and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.
Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls?
And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam’s weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.
And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our “bunker buster” bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our “victory” — our “mission accomplished” — who will be found guilty of this? Such expiation as we might expect will come, no doubt, in the self-serving memoirs of Blair and Bush, written in comfortable and wealthy retirement.
Hours before Saddam’s death sentence, his family — his first wife, Sajida, and Saddam’s daughter and their other relatives — had given up hope.
“Whatever could be done has been done — we can only wait for time to take its course,” one of them said last night. But Saddam knew, and had already announced his own “martyrdom”: he was still the president of Iraq and he would die for Iraq. All condemned men face a decision: to die with a last, grovelling plea for mercy or to die with whatever dignity they can wrap around themselves in their last hours on earth. His last trial appearance — that wan smile that spread over the mass-murderer’s face — showed us which path Saddam intended to walk to the noose.
I have catalogued his monstrous crimes over the years. I have talked to the Kurdish survivors of Halabja and the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us — and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam’s executioners.
I have walked round the execution chamber of Abu Ghraib — only months, it later transpired, after we had been using the same prison for a few tortures and killings of our own — and I have watched Iraqis pull thousands of their dead relatives from the mass graves of Hilla. One of them has a newly-inserted artificial hip and a medical identification number on his arm. He had been taken directly from hospital to his place of execution. Like Donald Rumsfeld, I have even shaken the dictator’s soft, damp hand. Yet the old war criminal finished his days in power writing romantic novels.
It was my colleague, Tom Friedman — now a messianic columnist for The New York Times — who perfectly caught Saddam’s character just before the 2003 invasion: Saddam was, he wrote, “part Don Corleone, part Donald Duck”. And, in this unique definition, Friedman caught the horror of all dictators; their sadistic attraction and the grotesque, unbelievable nature of their barbarity.
But that is not how the Arab world will see him. At first, those who suffered from Saddam’s cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman’s lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end.
But they — and millions of other Muslims — will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails.
“Handed over to the Iraqi authorities,” he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down — correctly — as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this — that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a “martyr” to the will of the new “Crusaders”.
When he was captured in November of 2003, the insurgency against American troops increased in ferocity. After his death, it will redouble in intensity again. Freed from the remotest possibility of Saddam’s return by his execution, the West’s enemies in Iraq have no reason to fear the return of his Baathist regime. Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair. And there’s a thought. So many crimes avenged.
But we will have got away with it.
Saddam: The Questions that Will Live On
Andrew Buncombe / The Independent
WASHINGTON (December 31, 2006) — So why did George Bush decide to invade Iraq? Nearly four years and hundreds of thousands of casualties later, the reasons appear both as obvious and as elusive as they were in the spring of 2003.
The official reasoning was always straightforward. Key among the claims included in the so-called Iraq War Resolution passed by Congress in October 2002 was that Iraq “poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region”. It added that Saddam’s regime harbored chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to develop a nuclear arsenal.
In an address to the nation just three days before the invasion, Mr Bush declared: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
It quickly became clear that central claim was not true, and it became equally clear the administration had been manipulating uncertain and “caveated” intelligence to make the case for a war that had been decided on long before. The famous Downing Street memo suggests that as early as July 2002 ” intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. Indeed, within hours of the attacks of 9/11, senior elements within the administration were seeking for a strike against Iraq even though there was no evidence it was involved.
But if the alleged threat of WMD was based on “manipulated intelligence” some provided by Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress — what else motivated the US? Many remain convinced the overwhelming factor was a desire to control Iraq’s oil supplies, the second largest proven reserves in the world.
Such a view has been reinforced by recent recommendations of Iraq Study Group which said: ” The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganise the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability.”
Veteran dissident Noam Chomsky said: “It is glaringly obvious that Iraq is estimated to have the second largest energy reserves in the world and is right at the heart of the world’s major energy producing region, and that establishing a client state in Iraq would considerably enhance policies that go back to the dawn of the oil age, and in particular to the post-war period when the US was taking over global domination, and established as a very high and natural policy principle the need to control this stupendous source of strategic power’.”
He added: “It takes remarkable obedience to authority to believe that the US would have ‘liberated’ Iraq — or taken revenge — if its main exports were lettuce and pickles, and the major petroleum resources were in the South Pacific.”
Some point out that a desire among some in government to oust Saddam predated 9/11, and suggest in the aftermath of those attacks, a climate existed in which it was easier to pursue an invasion. Indeed, among the signatories to the 1998 letter from the neo-con Project for the New American Century calling on President Clinton to take on Saddam were former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.
Mr Wolfowitz later said Saddam’s alleged possession of WMD was just one of many reasons for invading. “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,” he said.
David Swanson, a founder of afterdowningstreet.org, a coalition of peace and activist groups, said: “The one thing we know is that the reasons they told us were false. [I think] they wanted an Iraq that looked free but isn’t and they wanted to control it. They wanted the oil and the power that comes with controlling that oil and making profits for British and US oil companies.”
Did other factors influence Mr Bush? Was he seeking revenge against “the guy who tried to kill my dad” — a reference to an alleged plot to kill the president’s father during a visit to Kuwait in 1993 or was there even a broader strategic rationale, one that would benefit Israel — something claimed by peace activist Cindy Sheehan.
What does seem certain is that there was a confluence of factors and interests coming together in the aftermath of 9/11 that allowed Mr Bush to proceed to war with little opposition from the Congress, or indeed, the media.
Execution Begins to Deepen Divisions
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily / InterPress Service
BAGHDAD (December 30, 2006) — New divisions appear to be opening up between Iraqi political and religious leaders following the execution of Saddam Hussein Saturday.*
Former president Saddam Hussein was hanged at an army base in the predominantly Shia district of Khadamiya in northern Baghdad outside of Baghdad’s Green Zone just before 6am local time.
The execution of the 69-year-old former dictator was witnessed by a representative of Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki and a Muslim cleric among others.
The execution appears already to be generating more sectarianism, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives in the war-torn country. Sectarian divisions have opened up primarily between Shias and Sunnis, who follow different belief systems within Islam.
Several Shia leaders, particularly those of Iranian origin, say the execution would be a blow to resistance against the Iraqi government by Saddam loyalists. In Baghdad’s sprawling Shia slum, the Sadr City, where most of the three million inhabitants are loyal to the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, people danced in the streets while others fired in the air to celebrate the execution.
National security advisor Mouaffaq al-Rubaii, a Shia, declared that “we wanted him to be executed on a special day.”
Celebrations in Kurdish areas were no expression of unmixed joy, even though Kurds were persecuted more than any other group under Saddam’s regime.
“The world ignored Saddam’s crimes when he committed them,” Azad Bakir, a 35-year-old engineer in the northern Kurdish city Arbil told IPS on phone. “But we are committing the same crime again by executing him like this.”
And few Sunnis were cheering Saddam’s death. A senior member of the Islamic Party who asked not to be named said the timing of the execution at the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha would prove a grave mistake. The festival marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muhammad Ayash, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni group, said Saddam had served his country well, and had been punished for the wrong reasons.
“He was executed for the good things he did such as fighting the U S aggression against the Arab nation,” Ayash told IPS. “He stopped the dark Iranian plans in the area, and helped Palestinians survive the continuous Israeli crimes.”
In predominantly Sunni cities like Beji, Ramadi and Saddam’s hometown Tikrit, people fired shots in protest and swore to avenge the execution of the “legitimate president” of Iraq.
The execution may not bring the end to violence across Iraq that some Iraqi government leaders expect. At least 68 people were killed in bombings after the execution Saturday.
So far 2,998 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, including 109 just
this month, according to the website Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
The resistance to occupation is expected to continue. A spokesman for the Al-Mujahideen Army resistance group in Ramadi told IPS that his group saw Saddam Hussein simply as the leader of the Ba’ath Party who was “a helpless man in jail when we conducted our heroic operations against invaders.”
The spokesman, who refused to give his name, added: “We praise his bravery in facing death, but his death will not increase or decrease our carefully planned actions until the US invaders and their allies leave our country.”
Across Iraq, Saddam seems to have won respect for the calm with which he went to his execution. And that could increase sympathy for him and his family.
A close friend of Saddam Hussein’s daughters in Amman in Jordan spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity. She said that when the daughters got news of the execution, “they cried of course, but then they praised God for having such a great father who faced death with such courage and faith.”
A friend of Saddam’s oldest daughter Raghad told IPS: “The family’s only concern now is to receive the body for burial in a dignified way suitable for a martyr and a national hero.”
(c)2006 Dahr Jamail. More writing, commentary, photography, pictures and images at http://dahrjamailiraq.com
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.