By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 12, 2006
Focussing on a minuscule subset of victims selected from the vast multitude of Iraqi citizens (conservatively estimated at half a million) who during the two and half decades of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship were brutally murdered, a five-judge court has pronounced a sentence of death on the deposed dictator. Though the conduct of the trial could scarcely be described as faultless if judged by the standards governing western courts, its pursuit of justice (despite assassinations of attorneys and witnesses and judges) compares very favorably with the modus agendi of courts throughout the Muslim Middle East, and it surpassed by light years the kind of "justice" that was standard under Saddarn's regime The sentence, moreover, will be reviewed by a nine-judge court of appeal. All in all, the machinery of justice is functioning essentially as it should in Iraqi law courts, despite the chaos prevailing on the streets of Baghdad and of so many other cities in Iraq's Arab provinces, where far too many of the Sunni Arabs hope to subvert democracy through indiscriminate violence, thus to regain for a small minority the political primacy it had once enjoyed, and where Shiite militias have committed themselves to a savage war of reprisal.
In stark contrast with Iraq's chaotic Arab sectors, where internecine battles between Shiites and Shiites and between Sunnis and Sunnis complicate matters, even further, topped off by suicide bombers shouting "Allah is great!" as they blow themselves to kingdom come together with scores of the innocent, the comparatively stable Kurdish north shows how things can sometimes turn out well even in today's Middle East, given a modicum of good will and commitment to a common good. Having long enjoyed a de facto autonomy thanks to the "no fly" zone imposed upon Saddmn by American forces in the wake of the first Gulf War, an autonomy happily blessed with ethnic, linguistic and religious cohesion, the non-Arab and decidedly pro-American Kurds have made impressive progress towards achieving stability thanks to the agreement of rival Kurdish leaders to compose their differences in the common interest of the Kurdish people. Kurdistan is the one bright hope emerging in Iraq today.
All of which suggests that perhaps some kind of partition is the ultimate solution for a state that was artificial right from the start when its arbitrary boundaries were drawn on a British map of the Middle East shortly after World War I. The considerable political disadvantages that would accrue from a division of Iraq into three large sectors (dominated respectively by Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the west and Shiite Arabs in the south and east) could be reduced if the three major groups would accept a loose federal union centered in Baghdad, authorized both to distribute with some effort at fairness the profits from Iraqi oil and to provide a foreign policy pursued in common by the three groups. But given such long entrenched hostilities perhaps even a loose federal union is too much to expect. Time will tell, and probably fairly soon.
In any event America's intervention has at least dethroned one of the most monstrously blood-drenched regimes in Islamic history---Genghis Khan's was admittedly worse- and we have given the people of Iraq at least the opportunity to achieve democratic self-rule, something ordinary Iraqis seem to have earnestly desired when despite massive threats of violent retribution they trooped to the voting stations in astonishing numbers not so very long ago to elect a government that would draft a democratic constitution. If only the Iraqis can muster and sustain the collective will to establish an army that will actually defend that new constitution, their experiment in self-rule might just succeed. But such collective will to serve a common good will have to emerge soon. Whether it will is the million dollar question, and for the answer to that question we cannot be expected to wait forever. At some point not too far down the road the Iraqis will have to start depending on themselves to put their house in order.
In the meantime America at this moment is more secure for having overthrown Saddam Hussein. The protest raised just this past week by nuclear physicists and security officials against the unfortunate publication of certain official Iraqi documents captured in the wake of the invasion of 2003, Iraqi documents that have been described as constituting a veritable "guide to building an atomic bomb," demonstrates that Saddarn had progressed much further down the road towards gaining the know-how to produce atomic weapons than the media's grand high panjandrums and sundry politicians would lead us to believe. And, thanks to the efforts of one of his scientists, Ahmed Obeidi, who describes in his book, The Bomb in My Garden, how he secured the design and produced the pilot model for the ultra-high speed centrifuge that is essential for isolating the uranium isotopes that are adaptable for employment in weapons, Saddam could have resumed his earlier well attested quest for an actual bomb the moment the U. N. sanctions were lifted. And almost certainly they would have been lifted, given the pressure exerted to that very end by Russia, China and France. With those sanctions lifted, so Professor Obeidi observes, the active pursuit of the bomb awaited only "the snap of Mr. Hussein's finger."
Whatever the future may hold, America is faced at this moment with only intensely hostile Islamic government-the "mullocracy" of Iran-that is seemingly on the verge of becoming a nuclear power instead of being faced with onetwo such governments, or even three. (Chastened by what he saw happen to Saddam, Libya's Muammar Khadafi voluntarily surrendered to American and British authorities his fairly advanced facilities for the production of atomic weapons together with a considerable quantity of uranium). America is thus significantly more secure today than we were before the invasion of March of 2003.
*****As a timely reminder of just how vicious was the regime that we overthrew, may I share with you a few passages from an op-ed essay written by L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq before the holding of elections and the drafting of a constitution. This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal for November 6, 2006. I reprint parts of the essay here, as our restrictions of space permit.
Criminal Against Humanity
By L. Paul BremerThe decision by Iraq's Special Tribunal to convict Saddam Hussein of some 150 murders is a welcome step on Iraq's painful journey toward its more hopeful future .... The verdict should be seen as a necessary, though not sufficient. step in helping, Iraq's persecuted majority put behind them the awful years of Saddam's brutal rule....
The strong Iraqi urge to redress Saddam's crimes was made clear on the first day of Iraq's governing Council - Julv 13. 2003. The very first decree the Council passed that dav. wiith unanimous support from its Shiite, Kurdish. and Sunni members. was to demand the establishment of the Special Tribunal to punish Saddam and his top Baath party officials. This step (which took the Coalition bv surprise, given the lack of any prior discussion) showed how deep the scars were from Saddam's rule.
It is impossible to overstate the psychological and physical damage that Saddam inflicted on his countrymen.
In May. 2003, the Coalition found the first of Saddam's mass graves. After the 1991 Gulf War. the Shiites. representing some 60% of Iraq's population, rose up to try to throw off his dictatorship. Saddam ordered his armv to savagely crush this uprising. Iraqi army units went into Shiite towns south of Baghdad and rounded up men, women and children indiscriminately, threw them onto flat bed trucks, drove them into nearby fields and machine-gunned them to death. Their bodies were thrown into common graves and covered over.
I visited that first mass grave a few days after I arrived in Iraq. It made a searing impression on me. as it did on all who visited it. In an area about the size of three football feilds, bones and clothing had been collected into little piles. Women in black robes, ignoring the sweltering heat. were scrabbling titrouoh the dirt and bones with their fingers, desperate to find a scrap of clothing, a faded ID, or a piece of jewelry, which would identify the remains as those of their mother, or husband or daughter. Uncounted thousands of bodies were in that grave alone. By the time I left Iraq 14 months later, we dadfound over 300 mass graves.
Saddam's brutality was not limited to the Shiites. He is also standing trial for the crime of genocide against the Kurds, another 20% of the population. For a decade. Saddam's army tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurdish men, women, and children. On the sunny morning of March 16, 1988, the armv used chemical weapons on the peaceful Kurdish town of Halabja, killing, 5,000 civilians in onlv a few hours. A few months after I arrived, Secretarv of State Colin Powell and I visited this village and spoke with the horribly scarred survivors of this chemical attack They were living proof that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction, and had been prepared to use them, even against his own countrymen.
Visiting police stations in towns all over Iraq, I saw that each one had a torture chamber because under Saddam torture was legal. Most stations, including the Central Police Academy in Baghdad which was responsible for training Iraqi police, also had a rape room. I saw human shredding machines into which Saddam ordered his enemies to be thrown.
Nor did the Sunnis go unscathed under Saddam. Though Sunnis dominated the Baath Party and its vicious securitv and intelligence forces, they too, were tortured and killed when it suited Saddam's purposes. Sunnis, Kurds, Shiites, Christians, Turkomen - no Iraqi group escaped his brutality. The most conservative estimate is that during his regime, Saddam killed over a half-million of his countrymen, though since more than a million and half Iraqis are still unaccounted, for the actual is, no doubt, far higher....
L. Paul Bremer