On his excellent ‘In the Axis’ blog (http://www.readingeagle.com/blog/syria/) Brian Anthony complains about the Sunni Arab world and international organisations protesting the execution of Saddam Hussain. Quite rightly, Brian objects to the tendency of many Sunnis to turn a blind eye to Saddam’s crimes. He also suggests that Sunnis may actively support repression of Shia in Iraq.
Saddam was certainly a murderous tyrant. He was helped to power by the CIA first in order to destroy the powerful Iraqi Communist Party, and then funded and armed by the US, Europe and the Gulf regimes to attack revolutionary Iran. He poisoned Iranian cities and Kurdish villages (Iraqi Kurdish militias were in alliance with Iran at the time) with gas. After falling into the American trap and invading Kuwait, he dealt with the 1991 intifada in the south and north of Iraq by annihilating whole clans and villages. This is when the sectarian horror really began to take a grip on Iraq. Tanks painted with the slogan ‘No Shia after Today’ moved into southern cities, and provided ample filling for mass graves. The aunt of one of my friends was driven insane when her sons were tortured to death by Saddam’s mukhabarat: just one story from very many. Saddam didn’t only build the worst secret police state in the Middle East, he actually organised rape squads, and special rape rooms, to destroy Iraqi women and Iraqi family honour. His victims number in the hundreds of thousands, and millions if you include the wars he started.
I still think it is legitimate to oppose his execution for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, I oppose the death penalty. Sure, if anyone deserves it, Saddam does, but I still oppose the death penalty for a range of political and moral (and Islamic) reasons, and in every circumstance. My opposition to capital punishment requires a posting by itself, but in brief: I don’t believe the state should ever be given the ‘right’ to kill; I don’t believe that impartial justice has ever been practised by any state; I don’t believe the death penalty has a deterrent effect; although capital punishment was practised by the first Muslims (who didn’t have prisons, and who were seeking to stop tribal feuding), the detail of Sharia law suggests that it is better not to kill a criminal if an acceptable alternative punishment can be found.
Secondly, the execution was carried out in a nasty sectarian manner. Inasmuch as I support any ‘side’ in Iraq I support the Shia, and I know they have very good reason to want revenge. But for the sake of Iraq, if we had to have taunting of Saddam in his last moments, we should have had a speech read out about his crimes to Shias and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds. Although Shias suffered disproportionately under the Baathist regime, Sunnis were also persecuted, and the regime included Shia ministers and generals. Chanting ‘Moqtada’ at the execution, while a civil war is raging, does not help bring peace to Iraq, and Iraqi peace is more important than Saddam the individual.
Thirdly, carrying out the execution at the time of Eid prayers seems like a calculated insult to the sentiments of Muslims. Eid is supposed to be a time of peace and reconciliation, and it falls in the months when bloodshed is prohibited. Of course, Saddam did worse things against Islam, and Muslims have spilled plenty of blood in the holy months, but that’s no justification. I resented spending the Eid days fielding questions from my children about the famous man who was choked to death, just as any Christian would feel uncomfortable talking about the electric chair on Christmas morning.
Fourthly, and most importantly, Saddam should have been kept alive to face charges for his major crimes (not just the local and relatively small scale crime of Dujail) in a properly transparent trial. The US, Europe and Gulf regimes didn’t want this because it would have exposed their complicity in his repression of Communists and Shia and his gas attacks on Iranian cities and Kurdish villages. But the Iraqi government should have insisted on a real trial, which would have shown Sunni Arabs (whether they wanted to listen or not) the extent to which Saddam was a brutal puppet rather than a nationalist leader.
If it is simple revenge that was sought (and, yes, I think the majority of Iraqis burned for revenge against Saddam), I would have preferred to this partially-transparent, American-run trial, of which bits were televised but the sound was cut whenever anyone said anything controversial, and during which defense lawyers were assassinated, that Saddam had been released into the streets of Basra or Kirkuk. We’d have got the blood, without the farce.
Compare the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa to this ugly charade of justice. Compare the cultural and economic success of new South Africa (albeit marred by crime) to the sectarian, criminal, bloody chaos of occupied Iraq.