The misguided execution of Saddam Hussein


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)

Saddam Hussein has been put to death. The execution of a head of state, even if a toppled one, is an unusual event and is bound to provoke a strong reaction.

The trial of the Iraqi dictator became an important signal to all heads of state, a warning that sooner or later they will be called to account for their actions. Nobody will get away with crimes like the ones for which Saddam was tried. Heads of state are not immune and will have to answer for their deeds. However, extremists can now exploit his execution at a time of total chaos in Iraq to escalate the violence in the country and throughout the Middle East.

Moreover, the legitimacy of the verdict is questionable.

Hussein is definitely guilty of crimes against his own people, which is why hundreds of Iraqis crowded around the government building demanding that they be allowed to carry out the court's ruling. They wanted to avenge the deaths of their relatives during Hussein's rule.

Iraq's Kurds and Shias, Hussein's political opponents irrespective of nationality and religion, and the people of Iran and Kuwait can say that justice has been done.

This may be so, but it has left a bitter aftertaste. The situation reminds me of the recent death of another dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who, although charged with crimes against humanity, was never tried. The trial was called off because of the dictator's old age. When he died, hundreds of his opponents said they were sorry Pinochet had died without a trial and a sentence. They wanted a legal punishment rather than his death.

Unlike Pinochet, Hussein was sentenced to death, yet not all of his crimes have been proven in court.

Hussein was charged with crimes committed during more than a dozen incidents but only sentenced to death for the massacre of 148 Shias in the village of Dujail in 1982. After handing down this sentence, the court began proceedings against Saddam and his accomplices for the genocide of 182,000 Kurds in Al-Anfal, where chemical weapons were used during an army operation in 1988. Other cases have not yet gone to court.

These trials can still be held after the dictator's execution, but we may never know what happened during his rule.

Hussein is definitely guilty of the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and of the wars against Iran and Kuwait launched on his orders or with his silent approval. But his actions were in some cases part of a greater regional game involving other players.

For example, during the Anfal trial in late December, the court read out the orders from Nazzar Abdel Karim Feysal, then chief of the Iraqi general staff, to the commanders of the 1st and 5th corps of the Iraqi army, in which he instructed the Iraqi officers to "cooperate with Turkey in accordance with the cooperation protocol."

The details of the protocol were not made public, and the alleged cooperation of Iraq and Turkey in the genocide of the Kurds has not been officially proven. If it is, the consequences could be tremendous.

The trial of Hussein could have revealed many more secrets.

For example, the media often write that on July 25, 1990, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, was summoned to the dictator's office for "comprehensive political discussions" before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. Glaspie allegedly told Hussein: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

The "border disagreement" later turned out into a full-scale aggression and became the beginning of the end for Hussein. The Iraqi dictator became the arch-enemy of the United States, although American-Iraqi relations had seemingly been on the rise before the Kuwaiti campaign.

Several weeks before the war, a delegation of U.S. senators visited Baghdad to assure the Iraqi authorities of Washington's goodwill. This visit took place after the Dujail massacre and the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in Anfal. Or didn't Washington know about that?

Not surprisingly, this was only one example of the international community turning a blind eye to suspect events in the interests of big-time politics. There are dozens of such examples in Iraqi history. Iraq's Kurds suffered most and have been let down by the Untied States more than once.

In short, as is the case with any leader, many people in Iraq and outside it might have shared the responsibility for Hussein's crimes. But this does not matter now that he has been executed, for he has taken many of his secrets to the grave.

The world could have learned many lessons from Hussein's trial. Washington now says that a new era will begin in Iraq after the dictator's death, and that the Iraqis will be able to replace the rules established by Hussein with the rule of law. Is this really possible?

Many human rights organizations and prominent lawyers have questioned the legitimacy of the sentence. Hussein's trial, which was held during a foreign occupation of Iraq, can hardly be called impartial. A trial that should have served justice and been fair turned into a banal settling of accounts. A democratic society cannot be built on this foundation, and those who want to rewrite history - there are always such people - will have a chance to turn Hussein from a tyrant into a hero.

Saddam Hussein said he was a martyr and his impending death was a sacrifice. I wouldn't be surprised if Iraqis, whose feelings have been mixed and distorted by chaos, will remember the dictator with nostalgia. The world has seen such things before.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.
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