SAN FRANCISCO – On my first visit to Iraq in 1976, `Israeli spies’ were being hanged in front of my Baghdad hotel. While covering Iraq just before the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s secret police threatened to hang me as an American/Israeli spy.
I always considered President Hussein, who was hanged on Friday, a sadistic bully and a loathsome megalomaniac. He liked to call himself `the Arab Stalin.’ But he was no Stalin. Just a horrid Arab dictator.
No one can accuse me of sympathy for Saddam or his fellow thugs who terrorized Iraq. But I was thoroughly disgusted and ashamed by the kangaroo court created and stage managed by the US that condemned Saddam. It was a disgraceful farrago of Soviet-style show trial and judicial circus. Washington, which claimed to be bringing the fruits of democracy to the benighted Arab World, put on a sinister legal farce worthy of…Saddam’s courts.
Iraq’s deposed president, whom Osama bin Laden called `the worst Arab despot,’ should have faced real justice at an international legal tribunal like the UN Hague Court. That would have served warning to other despots who violated human rights and committed aggression. The United States did right to hand over Serb tyrant Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague. But Saddam had to be quickly silenced before he told the world about his long collusion with the United States. Dead men tell no tales.
Saddam’s biggest crime was not killing rebellious Kurds or Shia. As ruler of the unnatural, British-created Frankenstein state Iraq, Saddam was forced to keep putting down rebellions.
When the sainted Winston Churchill was a British government minister, he authorized the RAF to bomb Iraq’s rebellious Kurdish tribesmen with poison gas – exactly as Saddam later did. Saddam’s most brutal repression of Kurds and Shia occurred when they revolted during Iraq’s wars with Iran, then the US.
President Hussein should have faced trial for his unprovoked 1980 aggression against Iran that ended up causing one million dead and wounded.
But in this crime, Saddam was covertly backed by his principal accomplices, the US and Britain. Donald Rumsfeld even went to Baghdad to offer Saddam arms, finance and intelligence. Hanging Saddam would eliminate the main witness.
Saddam was helped into power by CIA which was delighted to see him slaughter Iraqi communists and Nasserites. The US and Britain, as I discovered in Baghdad in 1990, supplied Saddam with poison gas and germs to make battlefield weapons (these were not `weapons of mass destruction.’ The germs were never successfully weaponized).
So long as Saddam was killing and torturing people America and Britain did not like, he was `our SOB.’ But when President Hussein grew too big for his britches and invaded Kuwait, he went from being the west’s regional bullboy to devil number one. Once he touched the west’s oil in Kuwait, he was marked for death.
The tame US media has been spinning Saddam’s execution as a justification for the Bush/Cheney Administration’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq, without ever asking why Saddam was an ally in 1988 yet a devil in 1991.
Nor has media reporting that under Saddam, Iraq became the Arab World’s most industrialized nation, a leader in women’s rights, medical care, education, and public projects.
Back in 2003, I predicted that once the US got rid of old pal Saddam, it would look for another Saddam-clone to replace him. The mutant state of Iraq and its feuding peoples can only be ruled by an iron fist. Saddam’s greatest error was believing he had frightened Iraqis into national unity that would support invasions of his neighbors. He was dead wrong.
There are plenty of other brutal regimes across the Mideast and Central Asia that rival Saddam’s Iraq for nastiness. Most are close US allies. As Henry Kissinger once quipped, being America’s ally is far more dangerous than being its enemy.
After jubilation among Shia and Kurds over Saddam’s execution subsides, Iraq will return to its daily bloody chaos. Saddam called himself a martyr. In years to come, many Arabs will forget his many crimes and remember him as a flawed hero and martyr who dared challenge the United States and Israel, and paid the price of his audacity.