Transforming Saddam Hussain from a monster to a martyr might seem an impossible feat; but that is what the Iraqi authorities have achieved by bungling his execution so appallingly. The haste with which the hanging was carried out on the day some Muslims were celebrating Eid al-Adha, the insulting taunts to which he was subjected, and Saddam’s composure just before his execution, captured on a cell phone and seen globally on the internet, have all turned one of the vilest creatures of the last century into a martyr for millions of people around the world.
The Iraqis’ blunders started with their decision to try Saddam for the killing of 148 people in the town of Dujail for their alleged part in an attempt on his life in 1982. While the cold-blooded murder of 148 innocent people, some of them children, was ghastly, there were far greater crimes Saddam had perpetrated. One could start with his illegal invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980, with the connivance of the West and his fellow Arab potentates. Revolutionary Iran would be defeated in a few weeks, it was believed. The Iranians, inspired by Islamic Revolutionary zeal, proved far more resilient. When the Revolutionary resistance stretched into years, Saddam resorted to the use of chemical weapons, ingredients for which were supplied by the US, Britain and Germany. The British even built a factory to manufacture nerve and poison gases; Canada and the USprovided billions in aid. The French, not to be outdone, lent Super Etendard planes to Saddam’s air force. The UN finally acknowledged the use of chemical weapons and nerve gases in mid-1985 but Crescent International had reported their use as early as October 1983 after a visit to the warfront by its correspondent a few weeks before. Iranian soldiers and Revolutionary Guards with horribly blistered skins and coughing blood were seen being transported from the warfront.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), famous for expending much hot air on minor issues, did not acknowledge these crimes until 1984. As an annual ritual the Security Council passed resolutions between 1984 and 1987 condemning the use of chemical weapons, but did not have the courage to name the guilty party although the victims of these attacks were all Iranians. Before each resolution, a delegation from the UN would visit both Iran and Iraq and duly report their findings, yet the Security Council, dominated by the US and its European allies Britain and France, refused to allow any mention of the party responsible for these crimes against humanity.
The reason for such hypocrisy was obvious: it would have exposed the suppliers’ culpability in the manufacture and use of such weapons byIraq. The Americans outdid them all in hypocrisy; while publicly proclaiming neutrality in the war, Donald Rumsfeld, the recently disgraced US defence secretary, visited Baghdad thrice in 1983 and 1984 as special envoy of then president Ronald Reagan to offer support and coordinate strategy. The aim was to help Iraq to destroy the Islamic government in Iran. As part of the US’s help, the Pentagon provided intelligence data on Iranian troop positions and movements and also advanced US$5 billion in aid to the Iraqi regime. In May 1987, when an Iraqi air force bomber attacked the Stark, a US frigate in the Persian Gulf, using an Exocet missile, killing 37 sailors, Reagan immediately accepted Saddam’s excuse that it was a “mistake”. The cowboy president of the US then unleashed a torrent of abuse against the Islamic Republic as if it, not Iraq, had carried out the attack.
the locust-like invasion of Iraq in January 1991 under the codename Desert Storm, which was rightly labelled “desert slaughter” because an estimated 300,000 Iraqis were butchered by the Americans and their allies.
Saddam perpetrated further crimes in 1987 and 1988 in the Anfal campaign and in the poison-gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988. In both, thousands of Kurds were poisoned to death. Even after such crimes, there was not a whisper of protest from the US or the Western media, which only discovered Saddam’s crimes after he invaded and occupied Kuwait in August 1990. Almost instantly, Saddam was projected as such a great threat that he had to be neutralized. This sudden transformation of Saddam from a loyal Western ally to “worse than Hitler” was the direct result of the manner in which the Western-backed and -financed Iraq war against Iran had ended in August 1988. Although Saddam failed to destroy the Islamic State, he ended up with massive stockpiles of weapons and a battle-hardened army that was perceived as a threat to Israel. This could not be tolerated:Israel’s pre-eminent military position in the Middle East had to be maintained; hence the locust-like invasion of Iraq in January 1991 under the codename Desert Storm, which was rightly labelled “desert slaughter” because an estimated 300,000 Iraqis were butchered by the Americans and their allies. Saddam’s army was driven back to Iraq but his elite Republican Guards were allowed to escape unscathed. Saddam was bottled up in a small part of central Iraq while the Kurds were given a large measure of autonomy in the North and the Shi’as likewise in the South under a US-British plan that did not maintain even the fiction of UN approval. Through UN-imposed economic sanctions, an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi civilians, nearly 500,000 children among them, were done to death between 1991 and 2003, before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq under the totally spurious pretext thatIraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction”.
Despite the not unexpected defeat of the Iraqi army, Saddam managed to escape but was finally captured in December 2003. The decision to put him on trial in January 2005 was carefully framed; he was to be tried for the rather less politically sensitive murder of 148 civilians in Dujail, rather than for the wholesale use of banned chemical and biological weapons against Iran and the Kurds that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Had he been tried for the latter crimes, the role of his Western accomplices would surely have been brought to light. That the Iraqis went along with the US suggestion to try Saddam for the relatively less significant crime played straight into the hands of the US. While there was little prospect of anyone apprehending George Bush Senior, Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney or a host of other American and British officials who had been partners in Saddam’s crimes, they were not prepared to take any risk at all.
Even the trial was so riddled with inconsistencies that it quickly became a farce enacted to exact revenge. Three defence lawyers were murdered; one judge resigned in protest; another was dismissed because he was accused of showing too much deference to Saddam. True, during his rule, Saddam did not extend any such courtesy to his victims but this trial was televised. Saddam used it as a platform to project himself as a patriot standing up to the Americans. He successfully played to the cameras and his accusers were unable to neutralize his theatrics. The trial was also tainted by the fact that three US-appointed lawyers made sure the proceedings did not go anywhere near the role played by the US or other Western countries in Saddam’s crimes.
With Saddam’s hasty execution, the international outlaws and mass murderers that masquerade as leaders of the civilized world can sleep easy. He has taken his dirty secrets about their crimes with him to his grave.