Say Goodbye to the Bad Guy
Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)
by Shelton Hull
The execution of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was originally slated for the end of January 2007, or later. Odds were favorable that Hussein might have celebrated his 70th birthday that April 28th, but it was not to be. After the mid-term election ended the old course on Iraq policy, the urgency of “closure” was amplified by a rising sentiment that an accelerated downsizing of the effort there was the right thing. The execution was fast-tracked at the insistence of unknown parties, for unknown reasons.
The idea that the execution was done at the behest of the US was immediately spread through Arabic and European media. Other theories were that breaking the Baath was seen as intrinsic to halting the insurgency, or that it was a gift to the Shia, who bore so much heat from that regime (including a massacre after the first Gulf War). Frankly, I would assume that President Bush is really, really pissed that Hussein hung (for 149 killed in retaliation for an assassination attempt in Dujail in 1981) before allocuting to the most notorious crimes of his regime. These crimes– including the gassing of over 5,000 Kurdish peasants during the Anfal campaign of 1987-88, the invasion of Kuwait, the gassing of Iranian troops and civilians throughout the 1980s and the attempted murder of at least one US President– have formed the basis of Saddam’s reputation, which made that war so compelling that anyone who spoke out against it was blackballed by both parties and the establishment media, if they didn’t go out like Paul Wellstone.
We forget those days, not so long ago, 2002 and ’03, when this war was not yet fact, and millions of people all over the world were marching to say it might not be the best move at this moment. It was a colossal abnegation of the media’s most fundamental responsibility to its audience: to warn us of trouble. Every single person you see on TV today criticizing the war was laughing at them. They questioned their patriotism, their guts, their honor, their self-respect. When NGOs were predicting 3-5,000 US dead in the march to Baghdad (in other words, all the casualties sustained these three years), who gave them air time? Who quoted them on record? Nobody. Typical imperial hubris.
Until almost the end, Saddam thought that the US would stop the execution in exchange for Saddam using his influence to stop the insurgency and induce a political solution that would permit an honorable end to the war, but the western line was that he was “broken,” powerless. Who was right? History will likely record that, once regime change in Iraq was made the official policy of Washington and London in 1998 (a crucial year in US history), Saddam and/or any number of other parties began prepping the country for invasion- that is, physical and psychological strategies to boobytrap it against the overwhelming military power we brought to bear there in 1990-91 and 2003-present.
The first step was to propagate the notion in and out of Iraq that US/UN sanctions were the cause of the Iraqi people’s food shortages, when in fact Saddam and his circle were making billions off the books and in violation of the sanctions by bootlegging Iraqi oil to multiple countries that were, in fact, signatories of the very sanctions they were violating. Every member (including the US) of the UN Security Council had individuals or corporations doing backdoor deals with Iraq, in flagrant violation of their own rules, even after those violations were being used to sell the war to an otherwise reluctant population. All of this went on quite openly around the world, and Saddam used the information to poison perceptions of US credibility in the region.
The second step was to assemble a stockpile. Much of the illicit funds obtained by skirting the sanctions was used to build up Iraq’s supply of small arms; heavy artillery, planes, tanks and such were smartly eschewed. Early reports from the march to Baghdad held that weapons caches had been stashed throughout the country, with perhaps as little as ten miles between sufficient arms for three. US officials, who found extensive bunker facilities underground and at least one airplane buried in the desert, speculated early on that WMD material had been buried as well. But we may never know.
The third step was manpower. Saddam’s army was decimated by aerial bombing in 1991, with nearly 100,000 killed in a single day. “Shock and Awe” did similar damage in 2003. Perhaps the smartest thing our adversaries did was to offer minimal resistance as the monolith of American power roared into Baghdad. It’s unclear whether it happened that way because there was no organized insurgency yet, or if it was deliberate strategy on their part. It is currently unclear whether Saddam had anything to do with any of the attacks on coalition forces following his capture in December 2003; just as it’s unclear what his role was in the period between his leaving Baghdad in April 2003 and his capture, or indeed what role he ever played in developing any of the insurgency in play today. These are all things US interests compelled knowledge of, in vain.
We may never know if the current moves by Syria, Iran and al-Qaeda to reinforce aspects of the Iraqi insurgency, with its high number of foreign fighters, occurred with the prior consent of Saddam, who may have anticipated a need for reinforcements. It’s well-known that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who built the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq before his own death in a 2006 US airstrike, operated out of Iraq well before the invasion, with full knowledge of Saddam’s regime, which also housed the infamous Abu Nidal.
The US could not leave Iraq while Saddam drew breath, because he could well have taken the country back without the outstanding security provided by coalition forces to prevent a) a jailbreak from a facility that Saddam himself helped design, or b) a move by Baath loyalists to ransom folks for the dictator’s freedom. It was probably not until the noose was around his neck that he realized that no, he wasn’t going to resume control of Iraq. No one- not the Baath, not the insurgent Sunni, Shia or Kurds (all of whom have their own interest in Saddam), not Iran or Syria, no one made any attempt to bust the guy out. Not once, ever, as far as the record indicates. Not even al-Qaeda tried. A low ebb end for one who fancied himself the new Saladin. More like Bugsy Siegel.
Saddam, a man once worth billions, fell to his death from a gallows in a women’s prison in Baghdad, where countless hundreds had hung before. Still and video cameras caught it all, and the footage will come out incrementally. Personally, I see no reason to doubt the proposition that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the deaths of as many as two million people. Capital crimes? Of course. But his end negated the most pressing interest of all, which is the American interest in knowing the truth about what happened under his watch. Who else could provide definitive testimony as to the WMD question, which remains unresolved despite its centrality in the larger debate. If there were no WMD, then where did insurgents get nerve gas shells to use in improvised bombs? Where did the 2001 anthrax come from? Who helped him dodge sanctions?
It’s been alleged that, at some point during his three years in US custody, Saddam was shown the South Park movie, apparently on a continuous loop. All other issues aside, I’d like to know what he thought about that. Perhaps it could be re-released with alternate commentary by Saddam. Well, not anymore, huh? No?his time is over. A year defined by death ends with the death of the most prolific killer of our time.
One can hope that Allah shows him more mercy and compassion than he showed his victims, and further hope his dark legacy does not linger any longer than it must. Watching that master propagandist raging against the dying of his light, in a trial rigged against him like so many thousands of show trials and summary executions given men, women, children, old people, dissidents and intellectuals, too many decent peaceful people, was like watching Tony Montana being carried out of that restaurant in Scarface. “Say goodbye to the bad guy,” he said, “There will never be another like him.” In the case of Saddam Hussein, that is certainly true. Assuming, of course, that he is actually dead. That, too, we may never know. R.I.P.