April 20, 2005
That Saddam was a ruthless ruler is hardly debatable. That he was genocidal and a reveler in evil is convenient propaganda that is aimed primarily at the "left" to confuse the anti-war movement and blur the nature of the conflict.
He was just as dictatorial as all his neighbors and many others, but perhaps more ruthless in suppressing active opposition. However, he was also a true revolutionary and achieved much that is positive for Iraq, and provided support to revolutionary movements in the Arab world and Africa. He reclaimed his country's resources, embarked on serious development, and became an obstacle to imperial designs on the region. This is the basic reason why he was singled out for demonization by imperialism as well as the oil booty that lay in wait there. And he could not be bought.
That he also committed grave errors is also a fact of life. The more democratically inclined of Iraqis naturally preferred a more tolerant political life and thought they deserved better. This is however no excuse for serving foreign imperialist interests and abetting the occupation of the country. Never shall occupation be better to the people than national rule. There are many expatriate Iraqis who opposed Saddam from their safer sanctuaries but opposed the invasion just as well, and continue to oppose the occupation vehemently. They can tell of much that is wrong with his dictatorial attitude but no atrocities. The atrocities of the occupier are very REAL and continue unabated.
When Saddam is compared to foreign occupation, there is simply no comparison. Most of the alleged atrocities are successively being shown for the pretexts they were, and by the most unlikely people, if one cares to look for evidence. Stephen C. Pelletiere, main CIA political analyst on Iraq during the 1980s, has much to tell on who gassed the Kurds in Halabja and the nature of the so-called uprising of 1991. Jude Wanniski, the conservative American journalist and commentator, offers information on those infamous mass graves. Here is a convenient starter search location covering the aforementioned and other references on those same and similar stories: http://amsam.org/2003/12/people-vs-saddam-hussein.html
We now know there were no WMDs, no Al-Qaeda ties, and no 9/11 link. Were they the only premeditated lies to pave the way though? When was the campaign of lies started and did it ever end? Let me tell the story chronologically.
Roots of conflict
In 1972-1973, Iraq nationalized its oil resources out of foreign hands. It was the first time historically that this succeeded too. The revenue was put to good public use. By 1980, Iraq reached the most advanced rank regionally in terms of social services and modernization in every respect. Not all of this is attributable to Saddam or the Baath regime naturally, but is rather a natural accumulative development process. However, one cannot deny the role of the ruler and policy makers in goal planning and achievement.
This is exactly why he was not left alone. A "double containment" policy succeeded in tying up Iraq and Iran in a protracted war 1980-1988. Surprisingly, Iraq managed to emerge strong out of the conflict. Something else was thus needed.
One could justifiably be reluctant to support Saddam for the undemocratic nature of the regime, rather than ideology or social implementation. The true nature of the conflict became increasingly clearer though the 1990s. The invasion of 2003 is simply the consummation of a carefully prepared plan.
Incidentally, one should not confuse the Baath movement with its last leader in Iraq. When some hear of its nationalist-socialist line, images of 19th and 20th century European fascism come naturally to mind. There is a cultural gap involved here. Baath was formed as a pan-Arab movement about 1940, when much of the Arab world was to varying degrees much underdeveloped and subject to colonial occupations or influences.
The situation was hardly conducive to "Uber Alles" type of calls. Nationalism was a revolutionary force to awaken the people to their rights, to unite them across traditional ties, and to struggle for independence. Socialism was the way to rid society of reactionary feudal ruling class elements who collaborated with the Sahib for their privileges over the people. Baath was not Arab in a racist sense but a geographic sense to encompass the Arab region with all its minorities. Baath movements are still alive and well in most Arab countries.
In Iraq, Saddam's leadership of the movement had its many positive aspects, but with his entourage also degraded the democratic nature of political process and inter-party apparatus, thus contributing significant credibility damage. While the Baath era began in coalition with other progressive elements, it digressed into one-party rule then one-man rule, primarily driven by Saddam's characteristic response to confront gradually mounting external threats and pressures. Nevertheless, Baath is still the strongest pan-national political force in Iraq even today, cutting across all forms of divisive factors.
This is precisely why Bremer dismantled and outlawed the Baath party as soon as he stepped on Iraqi soil. In the former communist block, a smooth transition to democracy was made by removing the top leadership without dismantling the parties, abolishing essential government structures and security apparatus, or removing competent communists from public office. In Iraq, the object was different. The state was destroyed, and the nation is being divided in all possible ways, in order to facilitate the occupation. Baath or any substitute nationalist movement is clearly to be crushed for that purpose.
However, if Saddam still had the good sense to conduct a truly democratic election in 1990, it's a dead certainty that he would have won hands down. His popularity was tremendous. Throughout the 1980s, he acted more than Castro of Cuba in visiting homes in every village, schools, organizations, societies, etc. He would converse with ordinary people almost daily all over Iraq, and maintain contact with all kinds of people. He acted the benevolent dictator part, but it struck true with the people.
Things began to turn sour in 1990 when he was cajoled into invading Kuwait, which acted upon orders to provoke Iraq. Saddam knew this, but still he made his gravest blunder. He was not the sort to swallow provocation easily or back down. That is his nature – unequivocally confrontational. He invaded Kuwait as a reciprocated act of defiance. He lost politically before he was defeated militarily, because his political arrangements and alliances fell through. He was conned by the rulers of the region, who allowed the military buildup against him. If Bush I had decided to march to Baghdad then, he would have enjoyed a much more widespread popular resistance on his hands than is the case now, because the people were united and the nation was strong.
The period of 1991-2003 was thus a preparative spell. UN sanctions weakened the economy and gradually turned more of the people enduring a life of hardship away from the regime. Available opportunist Iraqi expatriates of the Allawi and Chalabi types were enlisted to undermine the unity of the people before an impending threat to the nation, and tell lies for their masters' justification purposes.
Disinformation of two kinds
There is much disinformation on Iraq, and it's unfortunate that even those who support the Iraqi cause cannot avoid some of the open traps. There are two facets to this; namely the assumptive and the malicious.
First, there's the natural unawareness of the intricacies of a far land and a different culture. Errors of this sort are understandable, but it is sometimes infuriating to find writers filling gaps with fancy, and in such a matter-of-factly manner too. Let me give an example:
"Abu Ghraib prison, built by Saddam Hussein, where torture was routine… etc"
Such a statement sounds quite logical, doesn't it? We skim over to the subsequent blah without a thought. Actually, someone hasn't been doing his homework and is carelessly perpetuating a fallacy. Abu Ghraib was built in the 1950s (long before Saddam was heard of) as the central prison of Baghdad for holding ordinary convicts. I doubt that much torture was carried out there during the Saddam era, because other facilities for holding political opponents were by no means lacking. My correction may not be very significant as such, but it goes to show that there is so much pure fantasy out there masquerading as factual knowledge.
The second and more important aspect of disinformation is due to the deeply entrenched effects of deliberate imperialist propaganda through 1990-2003 in preparation and justification for the invasion. That Saddam was a ruthless dictator must not in any way be used to nullify the achievements of a people and a nation through a long journey of development. By the late 1970s, Iraq had practically eradicated illiteracy, and achieved levels of education, health, social services, women rights, minorities' rights, and industrialization that were the highest in the region and close to international standards, by testimony of relevant UN organizations.
It is pitiful to hail the reconstruction work under occupation for painting a school building or fixing a water station. Iraq has the expertise and the resources to do all it takes. It took the Iraqis a few months to restore electricity generation after 90% destruction in the 1991 war. It's now taking forever.
All that the occupation has managed to do is to destruct, continue the destruction on a daily basis, and continue to lie about what's happening to the world. The occupation has managed more importantly to dismantle the state civil machinery serving society, and to fracture Iraq's social fabric. The set of collaborators brought in on the invading tanks cannot be more meticulously selected for incompetence and corruption, and they call installing them a political process and democracy. There's a mountain of lies, and it sometimes feels practically hopeless to chisel at it. Then again, we must.
Let's consider another exemplary paragraph by a good reporter, who has traveled the region extensively. Nevertheless, he can be just as duped by the atrocities line as the majority who haven't ever been there. Many still suffer the patronizing colonialist syndrome advocating the need to stay and fix.
"Wives were forced to watch their husbands hanged before being placed in the electric chair, were burned with acid, tied naked to ceiling fans, sexually abused. In several cases, women were poisoned or used as guinea pigs for chemical substances at a plant near Samarra believed to be making chemical weapons."
Methods of torture involving electric shocks, burns, and tying to ceiling fans are unfortunately mundane in the region and long before Saddam. These are to be expected. However, sexual abuse was practically unheard of before the occupation, so please don't ask if things are better now, unless you wish to add insult.
The second sentence is preposterous. During the 1990s, all Iraqi facilities were declared, inspected and ransacked by UN inspection teams. There can no longer be any shadow of doubt that there was simply NO chemical weapon plant near Samarra. There was a harmless pharmaceutical factory, which produced very little during that period, because it lacked raw materials under the sanctions. It was inspected scores of times during that period, and was under constant video monitoring.
Was it an uprising?
One exemplary case of malicious disinformation is the so-called Shiite uprising affair. These are my personal observations as an Iraqi citizen who was right there:
1. I maintain strongly that the "uprising" was no home-brew affair at all. It was an Iranian incursion that attempted to take advantage of the situation in the immediate aftermath of Iraq's retreat from Kuwait, and the disarray the country was in because of 40 days of heavy US bombing of its infrastructure.
2. There was extremely low local support at the time. It was wary at best, and it was based on despair and ignorance of the actual status of the regime in Baghdad. This might sound surprising to many but let me elucidate:
a. Each town was almost totally isolated, with no communications, transport, electricity, or access to media.
b. The people had not much reason to rise against Saddam at the time, as his slate had been mainly positive thus far.
c. Iraq had been recently at war with Iran for a decade, so mistrust was more natural.
3. The incursion by Iranian revolutionary guards, assisted by the collaborator Badr brigades formed in Iran during the 1980s war, resulted in seemingly lawless haphazard destruction, while it was (by hindsight) apparently a preplanned attack to confuse Iraqi identity with Iranian infiltrators, and thus facilitate Iranian control of Iraq. It caused material destruction of Iraqi property and seemingly indiscriminate loss of human life. It required to be dealt with swiftly.
4. The destruction particularly targeted local government offices holding documentation of civil data, identification and passports, school records, police records, hospital records, financial transactions, and property ownership deeds. The Iranian mullas who took charge ordered
summary executions of ordinary army soldiers, policemen, and local government employees, as well as Baathists and whoever protested. They were dispensed with in mass… holes. Some years later, some 300 Iranian intelligence operatives detained in the counter operations were exchanged for Iraqi prisoners of the Iraq-Iran war.
5. Whatever little local support there was, it can only be regarded as an act of treason under the circumstances. In times of collective danger and external threat, one should act to close ranks. In my opinion, dissent can only be justifiable, and necessary, after external threats to the integrity of the nation are thwarted. Shiites in unaffected areas of Baghdad, Diyala, and rural areas of Hilla, Kut, and other places (roughly about 5 million or 40% of all
Shiites) showed no support. Of the remaining 60% in the affected areas, it is difficult to assess the actual percentage of support, but active elements were very limited in numbers, which facilitated the subsequent swift crushing by the small demoralized and disarrayed army force available under the circumstances.
6. Saddam was a ruthless ruler. He was also innately anti-imperialist and a nationalist leader. He crushed the incursion/insurrection as a danger to Iraq with characteristic force, similar in style to the Falluja event of 2004, though incomparably much lesser in degree of collective destruction. Bodies were collected off the streets of Falluja and buried in "mass graves". Do you see the picture? That's exactly what happened then too. Saddam is guilty of crimes of ruthlessness, which punished the guilty, with or without due process, and took some innocents too that happened to be in the way. But, he was no mass murderer, and had no reason to be.
7. Popular opinion was vastly with Saddam up to 1990. It began to drop under the increased hardships caused by sanctions and external plots. Also, Saddam became gradually weaker in public support and resources, which he tried to compensate for by increased clamp-down. It was more marked relatively in Shiite ranks for understandable reasons, though not as much as to suggest a landslide majority against yet.
8. Those who peddled the "uprising" story are but those expatriates who called on Bush to invade their country to "liberate" it. One such creature had the audacity to say "the sounds of bombs falling on Baghdad ring in my ears as sweet music". They are the same people who collaborate with the occupation now and profiteer out of the misery of the Iraqi people. The "uprising" story is only one of the many pretexts. It's just a tool in a master scheme. The true opposition to Saddam, the true democracy seekers, opposed the invasion, and continued to oppose the occupation.
9. I maintain that the majority of the Shiites didn't really turn against Saddam until after they were presented with the "mass graves" show after the invasion. It's funny how some minds can be swayed after the fact under propaganda. The figure of 400,000 was simply too horrendous to be dismissed. People only then started wondering if it wasn't an uprising after all!!!! It eventually simmered down to the more realistic figure of 4500 according to Blair's office, which is more in keeping with the given version of events.
Bury Caesar or praise him?
I might have sounded, more than once, much like Anthony with his "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." However, this is exactly where I have come along with rabble-rouser Anthony to depart on our very separate ways now.
As Saddam is a divisive issue in Iraq now, I prefer to leave him aside. He is still the legitimate president of Iraq, but he is also part of its history. He can be judged by History. He can be judged by the Iraqi people, but to be fair, only after an independent Iraq and normal life there is restored. It is both impractical to call for his return as indeed non-conducive to the growth of a wider national resistance. The future of the whole nation is at stake and thus far more important.
So why did I write all this? No man is all good, BUT the man is no Satan either. The pile of lies and exaggerations are simply too much to accept with a sense of fair play to the man. There is a much more important reason however.
Why should a non-Iraqi care to learn the truth about Saddam? He needn't really. Whatever good and bad he did is the concern of the Iraqis primarily, but not so with anti-war activists in my opinion though. The more one knows the realities of the various aspects of the struggle, the more consistent is one's stance. How many beautiful anti-war people do we hear saying "but we did rid them of Saddam", "the Iraqis are certainly better off without him", and "let's stay the course to build a democracy there". All Bull. It's all colonialist Rudyard Kipling stuff. The real and only viable solution is to leave the Iraqis to handle their affairs by themselves.
But will that do with Halliburton et al?
This is the crux of the matter.