Juan Cole: Saddam ... The death of a dictator





... As Iraq spiraled down into a brutal civil war with massive killing and ethnic cleansing, many Iraqis began to yearn for the oppressive security of the Saddam period. After the destruction of the golden dome of the Shiite Askariya mosque in Samarra last February, Iraqis fell into an orgy of sectarian reprisal killings.

By the time of Saddam's trial, sectarian strife was widespread, and the trial simply made it worse. It was not just the inherent bias of a judicial system dominated by his political enemies. Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy. Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982. This Shiite town had been a hotbed of activism by the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, which was founded in the late 1950s and modeled on the Communist Party. In the wake of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, Saddam conceived a profound fear of Dawa and similar parties, banning them and making membership a capital crime. Young Dawa leaders such as al-Maliki fled to Tehran, Iran, or Damascus, Syria.

When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

Passions did not subside with time. When the death verdict was announced against Saddam in November, Sunni Arabs in Baquba, to the northeast of the capital, staged a big pro-Saddam demonstration. They were attacked by the Shiite police that dominate that mixed city, who killed 20 demonstrators and wounded a similar number. There were also pro-Saddam demonstrations in Fallujah and Mosul. Baghdad had to be put under curfew.

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar....

In his death, as in his life, Saddam Hussein is managing to divide Iraqis and condemn them to further violence and brutality. But the Americans and the Shiite- and Kurd-dominated government bear some blame for the way they botched his trial and gave him this last opportunity to play the spoiler.

Iraq is on high alert, in expectation of protests and guerrilla reprisals. Leaves have been canceled for Iraqi soldiers, though in the past they have seldom paid much attention to such orders. But perhaps the death of Saddam, who once haunted the nightmares of a nation, will soon come to seem insignificant. In Iraq, guerrilla and criminal violence executes as many as 500 persons a day. Saddam's hanging is just one more occasion for a blood feud in a country that now has thousands of them.

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network