Columns » Ernest Dumas

Iraq: Deep foreboding

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When was a critical world initiative undertaken under such a pall of despair as President Bush’s latest and final strategy to “win” Iraq? He will plunge tens of thousands more troops into Baghdad’s sullen boroughs to clear out the radicals and then spend billions on a government jobs program to buy the affections of the rest.


Even Republican stalwarts now wonder what rough beast shuffles toward that ancient city to be born.


There is reason for the deep foreboding. All that the United States has now achieved there, including the signposts toward democracy that the president celebrates, mock our values and our history. Who can be cheerful when the beast we vanquished is now a martyr and those whom our government once reviled are now our surrogates and our only hope? After four years, it has come down to that.


The hanging of Saddam Hussein, whose toppling is the lone accomplishment of the U. S. invasion and occupation, illustrates the perversity of the situation. By showing courage and dignity for just once in his diabolical life, the butcher who was once the pariah of the entire Muslim world became a martyr and a rallying symbol. He went to the gallows stoic, tormented and taunted by hooded thugs belonging to the Shi’ite warlord Muqtada al-Sadr who then presumably went back to their daytime jobs of taunting and killing Iraqis and American soldiers.


In any system of punitive justice, Saddam Hussein did not deserve to die with a shred of dignity under the creeds of international law and democracy, but the hundreds of thousands of Americans who fought in the name of those principles deserved that they be honored.


President Bush hailed the execution as a milestone toward democracy and said Saddam was punished after a fair trial and appeal. Not even a Texas court would call it fair when your attorneys are murdered, those who remain have no way of effectively questioning witnesses and effective appeal is denied.


But Saddam himself deserved no sympathy. He was executed for the deaths 148 Shi’ite men and boys in the town of Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him. It was the least of his offenses and he was surely guilty of that, having acknowledged that he signed the document authorizing the executions because their party was allied with Iran, with whom Iraq, backed by the United States, was then at war.


His far more heinous crimes, documented in fastidious detail by Human Rights Watch, Saddam was spared facing, thanks to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who arranged his hasty execution in violation of the Iraq constitution. It was done for al-Sadr, the powerful American-hating warlord whose father and brother he believes were slain at Saddam’s direction.


In the face of a rising tide of rage in the region and internationally over the manner of the execution, the Bush administration was left with leaking accounts of how the administration, the military and the U.S. embassy actually tried desperately to prevent the hanging. In the end, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Bush’s national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley reluctantly ordered the U.S. command to give in to al-Maliki’s demands and turn him over for hanging.


Al-Maliki enjoys the luxury of being the puppet simultaneously of Bush and of al-Sadr, whose parliamentary bloc gave him the job. It surely was unnerving for the administration to learn whose interests were paramount.


The eternal silencing of Saddam does carry one small benefit for the administration. His old prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Saddam expected, if he got the chance to testify, to raise in his defense the support he had enjoyed from key men in the Bush administration — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell — and of the president’s father. They had played down Saddam’s use of poison gas in the ’80s against Iran and, in Powell’s case, against the Kurds. They lobbied to prevent sanctions by the Democratic American Congress or went to Baghdad to assure Saddam of U.S. support.


After the 1988 attacks on the Kurds, backed by Defense Secretary Cheney, the elder Bush doubled U.S. financial assistance to Saddam. Now, with Saddam dead, all of that really is water under the bridge.


So what is the highest hope for Bush’s new initiative of a troop surge and a jobs program? Time for al-Maliki’s regime to consolidate Shi’ite power over the Sunni minority.


That at least is realizable. Al-Sadr’s and other Shi’ite militia brigades are eliminating the minority Sunnis in droves. More than a million have fled to neighboring Sunni countries. If that revolution is not complete, it soon should be. If justice is revenge, then a rough justice will be achieved when the Shi’ites are in charge for good. And that is what more Americans will be dying for.




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