November 8, 2006

Why America now wants to save Saddam from hanging

Posted in International Economy · 10 comments ·

The other night on ‘Questions and Answers’ on RTE, the audience – in a show of hands – decreed that Saddam was a bad man but not bad enough to hang.

This is the mainstream view in this country. The subtext is that if Ireland were the occupier, we would lock him up for life, but those blood-thirsty Americans will hang him simply for electoral advantage.

You could be mistaken for concluding that the Americans – Ireland’s greatest allies – are a uniquely brutal people and in the scales of moral equivalence so beloved of many of us, there’s not much difference between the US and Hussein.

This argument is for another day and your position on this is normally so entrenched that no amount of argument or counter-argument will shift you, but there is one thing which is certain in Iraq: everyone has changed sides. Old certainties are gone. As opposed to three years ago, it is no longer in the US’s interest to see Saddam Hussein hanging naked from a lamppost in Martyrs Square. The reason is very simple: the US has changed sides and so, too, have many Iraqis.

When the Americans went into Iraq first, the enemy was Saddam, the Baath Party apparatus, the secular Arab nationalists who ran the country, the loyal army and the infrastructure of Iraq’s government. After the ousting of Saddam, the attention turned to the rump of what were described as “Saddam loyalists”. These people were mainly Sunni Muslims, mainly secular and more likely to be familiar with the writings of Nasser than Bin Laden. Much of the fighting, you will remember, occurred in a place dubbed the ‘Sunni triangle’ of which Saddam’s home town of Tikrit was the epicentre.

The Shia in the south and in the ghettos of Baghdad were regarded as America allies. These were the people whose rebellion had been savagely put down by Saddam in 1991. The Shia, despite being religious brothers of America’s sworn enemy Iran, were seen as the ballast in the new American project.

The Shia had the added advantage of being the people al-Qa’ida hated too. Al-Qa’ida is drawn from extreme Sunni Muslim elements. They regard the Shia as enemies and have spent the past two years trying to drag Iraq into an inter-Muslim ethnic civil war. To this end, they have carried out not only mass carnage and murder, but have symbolically targeted Shia Holy Shrines, trying to goad the Shia into retaliation.

So the Americans regard the Shia as a barrier against Saddam’s loyalists and the al-Qa’ida fighters under Al Zarquari.

Up north, the Kurds were onside from the start – so they could also be counted on. The game was simple: disarm the Sunnis, create a constitution which addressed the ethnic spread of the country; and with peace and oil-based prosperity, Iraq would recover and America would have a bulwark against both Iran and a potentially problematic Saudi Arabia in the South.

Everything has flipped. The Americans are now fighting the Shia, who have rebelled against them. The Shia, who control the much of Iraq’s oil, are proposing the break-up of the country into its ethnic constituents and are in open revolt against the Americans. The Kurds, who also have their oil, want to get as far away as possible from the carnage in Baghdad and are not against breaking away, if they must.

The disintegration of Iraq would be a disaster for America and for the region. Iran would emerge as the top dog, prompting (as it did last week) the Arabs in the region to seek nuclear warheads in an effort to stop Iran being the only Muslim nuclear power in the region. A disintegrating Iraq would also threaten the stability of Israel by making Syria jittery and it would embolden Hezbollah to goad the Israelis into another scrap in Lebanon.

So who wants to keep Iraq together? Ironically, only the Americans and its former foes, the mainstream Sunnis. The Sunnis have no oil and would end up living in a landlocked, oil-less State. This would be quite a comedown for the people who up to a few years ago saw themselves as the leaders-elect of the modern Arab world. So the Americans and their old enemies are clinging together like drowning men. They desperately need each other.

This brings us to Saddam. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim and still seen by many as the real leader of Iraq. If his potency has evaporated, his symbolism has not. Hanging him publicly would delight the Shia – America’s new enemies. Simultaneously, it would be a slap in the face for the Sunnis, their new best friends.

So it is not in America’s interest to inflame Sunni opinion further by allowing him to hang soon. So don’t be surprised if the Americans now begin to lobby for clemency for Saddam. Far from it being in their interests to kill him, it would be much better for them if the appeals process went on and on. This would give them more time to bed down with their new mates, the Sunnis.

Saddam is now the US’s key ally in the fight to keep Iraq intact. And an intact Iraq is the cornerstone of the US’s Middle East policy. Strange the way things turn out. The Butcher of Baghdad may well have one final, unexpected card to play.

  1. Dan Hayes

    David & Co.:

    While it may be in America’s best interests to save Saddam and thereby prevent the break-up of Iraq, it is not in the interests of the real instigators of this debacle: Israel and its American acolytes. Iraq broken up into 3 or more separate entities would ensure that these statelets would never pose a threat to Israel, the Neoconservative’s Home of Return. And Israel’s perceived imterests will determine the outcome.

    Another point. Whenever you hear about the Kurds (America’s brave ally in democracy), remember that these are the very same people who butchered the Armenians. Nice show!

  2. Aesop

    Very interesting article, really enjoyed it. On a not so minor point, if Ireland was the occupying force in Iraq our judicary would make him a free man after a few years spent in a minimum security facility. Maybe we should look to solving our own injustices before waving hatchets at American warplanes?

  3. Garry

    Interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My money is on him swinging after a short appeal…..

    but I know sfa about Iraq and apart from a natural sympathy for the ordinary iraquis and for the kurds (from a shared history of having more powerful neighbours) dont really have the interest to work out the details of the various sides. So I havent got a clue as to what is happening, just a gut feeling from the way it was reported.

    this is measurable though, if there is a long drawn out complicated appeal process or some deal is done for him to serve time in the US………. if not……
    care to look at it again on Paddys day?

  4. Glen Quinn

    There is no need for dictators in this World. Every country in the World has to have a Parliment system. It is too much for one person to have the power to run a country. Dictators are bad for a country since they use up all the countrys revenue for themselves and not for there citizens.

    We should get rid of all dictators from this World either by force or by peaceful means.

    Is peace worth fighting for?

  5. Ronan

    America has the death penalty. The Iraqis are the ones putting him on trial. Personally I hope that they do give him life. I think Saddam understands the situation pretty well. He started to make calls for conciliation.

    If he can be effective in that respect and can be shown to have reduced the violence in Iraq then there may well be a strong case for clemency.

    Since such an outcome would be the best of both worlds I know it’s not going to happen. Iraq seems to confound every attempt towards peace and stability by degenerating further.

  6. Ian

    Prosperity is the key to a lasting settlement – it is hard to rouse people with full stomachs. The changes on Capitol Hill give the opportunity of a change of approach – the promise of investment if the protagonists allow a reduction in the presence of the armed forces.

  7. Nick R.

    Saddam is quite frankly irrelevant to Iraq’s future. If the US had any brains they’d have installed him back into power a year ago so that he could recall the resistance forces from the field (mostly ex-Iraqi army, well trained, well funded, unlikely to be defeated cos they fight the hated American enemy) but of course the pro-Israeli media have been demonising the man for 16 odd years now so putting him back into power was never going to happen. Saddam was the only man capable of uniting Iraq and keeping it relatively pro-Western, despite it being a dictatorship. But he’s going to hang thats for sure and the US/Israel will get closer to their desired goal (ignore the current crocodile tears about ‘civil war’ etc) of breaking Iraq up. Perhaps the only man capable of leading a united Iraq is someone like al-Sadr. He is an Iraqi nationalist, does not seem to be anti-Sunni and has also played a part in military resistance to the Americans (so he has street cred). But the US will not give him power quelle surprise! The current puppets in power certainly have no future, hiding behind American tanks and concrete blast walls in Baghdad.

  8. Let them all kill each other; the last man standing wins. It is not the problem of the American people. It never was.

  9. The greatest empires in history could not directly or indirectly govern the states of the middle east. Surely we are obtuse in thinking that our liberty and our economic freedom will solve anything. Saddam could have a useful future role to play in any attempt to stabalize iraq… but he will hang. Instead of forming a puppet government, We should back a religious dictatorship… its the only way for them and its actually their preference of ruling law. Church and state as one. Saddam had to rule with an iron fist and so will the next succsesful leader of iraq.

  10. Sean R.

    It’s certainly interesting that Saddam was executed so quickly, however one wonders in retrospect if he could have mounted a credible defence based on admission that he did order the mass executions, but had to rule with an iron fist to prevent civil war- the evidence of a weak central government is apparent for some time now. The Americans (and British) have a moral obligation to help pacify Iraq (a seemingly impossible task) and history will judge the entire war harshly- there is much worse genocide in other parts of the world which is ignored (but also have no oil) and Bush has displayed appalling judgement- the entire mess is a case study for poor planning and terrible management from the outset! Lastly, Pakistan are already a nuclear power in the region and an ally (of sorts) to the US government. Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a certainty, the only questions are over what time period and what state will set off the first one! If all the players are getting guns, its inevitable that someone will eventually get shot!

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