And there you have it. After all those endless speeches about freedom and democracy, and the supposed surge of a new dawn for a new Iraq where the rule of law reigns supreme. After the elections and the crowds fearlessly queuing in line to cast their votes with that legendary blue-inked finger. After all that, Saddam Hussein faced the exact same fate meted out to several of his predecessors in the unforgiving history of twentieth century Iraq.
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After all, there he was, surrounded by hooded men, who seemed to have escaped from the set of Godfather IV, chanting biased religious slogans, and being taunted by his executioners. Saddam was delivered to a den of darkness seemingly populated by the foot soldiers of the Mahdi Army. And just like Abdul Karim Qassim, the Iraqi President executed in 1963, his dead body had to be show-cased on television, to prove to the disbelieving masses that the King is indeed dead. And, lest it be forgotten, Abdul Karim Qassim also faced a kangaroo court before being sentenced to death.
Max Manus divx Nothing has changed. And nothing can be sadder than that conclusion.
Nothing can be sadder than the fact that the Iraqi Government and the US administration managed to alienate people like me at this crucial moment in Iraqi and Arab history. If there was some competition for Arabs who most disliked Saddam Hussein and his policies, then I would definitely stand a chance of winning the big prize. And yet, the whole manner in which Saddam was tried, in that pathetic excuse of a legal process in which anonymous witnesses gave testimonies and judges screamed at the accused like cattle, and the way in which he was killed, it all still managed to fill me with sadness and dismay. I called several of my friends who have long stood against Saddam Hussein in every way. And they, like me, were outraged. If Saddam’s greatest despisers were infuriated, one shudders to imagine how the rest of the Arabs who blindly supported him must have felt on viewing the sights and sounds of the Eid Al Adha sacrificial slaughter in Baghdad.
What a missed opportunity by the new Iraq Government and the Bush administration. They had a chance, a glorious chance at that, to show that things were now different in Iraq and the region. They had the opportunity to present a court trial that would have been held as a beacon of justice in the Arab world. They could have given all Arabs a front seat view of how justice works in a true democracy. But instead, they opted for a trial that will be long remembered in the same vein as Stalinist trials, and they executed Saddam in a horrific manner. The grimness of the scene, and the image of the hooded executioners, presented the Arab world and beyond with a vision of hate and vengeance. No one was left in any doubt after witnessing this spectacle: There is a new band of brothers in the Iraqi Government and they are intent on carrying out vengeance in a Mafiosi style.
A great deal has been said all over the world about the ridiculous timing of the execution, on the first day of Eid Al Adha, an occasion on which even the most ruthless Arab dictators free their enemies. There are only two possible ways to view this. On the one hand, one can see this as yet another example of the litany of mistakes, misjudgements and missed opportunities that have characterized the Bush administration’s handling, or mishandling to be more precise, of Iraq. On the other hand, the sheer preposterousness of the timing points to a terrifying conclusion, supported by various other seemingly implausible decisions by the US and their allies in Iraq: There is a powerful group of people in charge who are hell bent on provoking a massive civil war in Iraq, at any cost. It seems there are powerful vested interests in the creation of a state of chaos in this regionally crucial Arab state. The latter explanation seems more and more inescapable. How on earth can one justify the decision to execute Saddam at one of the most sensitive moments in the Islamic calendar? Could anyone in the Iraqi or US Government genuinely explain that they did not anticipate the outrage that this is causing in the Arab and Muslim worlds?
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Rudyard Kipling, in his famously poetic advice to his son, urged him to “Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” And in the midst of all this insanity in the Arab world, it is crucial that we all keep our head and not get swept away by one of the various waves of irrationality and mindlessness that is gaining ground all around us. Therefore, at this “milestone” as the man in White House calls it, let us remain calm and collected. Most importantly, given the highly suspect timing of the Baghdad slaughter, we must all resist this ridiculous notion that there is some form of conflict going on between Sunnis and Shias. I simply cannot stop shaking my head in disbelief when I hear erstwhile rational Arab thinkers talking of the Sunni / Shia tensions. Of Iran and the Arab Shias on the one side, and the Sunnis and the majority of Arab countries on the other. I beg anyone who reads this article not to get drawn into this insanity. This is one of the most fictionally created conflicts of our time. Almost every Arab and Iraqi I speak to tells me that they have never thought in terms of Sunni vs. Shia. This is a smokescreen. This is a farce. And we must remain highly vigilant against all attempts to create this tension and to analyze with great care the interests that lie behind creating this division from thin air.
Secondly, as we witness the demise of Saddam, let us not confuse our anger against the circumstances of his execution with a rational analysis of his legacy. A legacy that will surely stand the test of time as an utter, blood-drenched and dark failure. From a pure humanist perspective, Saddam had more innocent blood on his hand than any Arab leader of the modern age. On the political side, one can only conclude that his presidency was probably the worst presidency of any Arab state since the days of the wasteful and wasted Caliphs of the last years of the declining Abbasid Empire in Baghdad. In fact, as we look around us at all the trouble brewing in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, it is not too difficult to trace much of these issues to the chain of events unleashed by Saddam’s terrible decisions: An inexplicable war against Iran that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Iranians in a vicious and aimless cycle of war lasting eight precious years, followed almost immediately by the mad invasion of Kuwait, setting in motion a chain of events and crisis that engulf our region to this day. In judging Saddam’s skills as a tactician, let alone as a political visionary, it suffices to say that the man who declared as his greatest mission the liberation of Palestine actually spent his time as President fighting the Kuwaitis and the Iranians!
I spoke to an Arab man in his eighties. A man who has witnessed and followed closely all the main developments and misfortunes of our region since the 1930s. When I asked him for his views on the Saddam execution, he concluded by saying: “The saddest thing of all is that we never seem to change.”