You Got Him? Get Out!


The capture of Saddam Hussein looked like one more reason for Bush sweeping the 2004 presidential election. Led by the happy and feisty Joe Lieberman, the Democratic candidates stepped up their bashing of Howard Dean as a sort of latter-day Chamberlain—when in fact, Dean’s foreign policy is in the centrist mode of the others, save, of course, Sharpton, Moseley Braun, and Kucinich, who have been straightforwardly opposed to the war from the beginning.

It is certainly true that Lieberman has the most
deliberately worked out plan to reconstruct and get
out of Iraq. And Clark rises in stature, although
sadly not in the polls, as he demonstrates his mastery
of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia in his testimony (most of it behind closed
doors) this week before the Hague court. When it comes
to international affairs, he is one candidate who
appears to actually know what he is talking about. On
Monday he said in a conference call from the
Netherlands that Saddam should face execution. “All
punishments should be on the table,” Clark said. “But
the U.S. is going to have to work with Iraqi
representatives . . . to determine the proper venue.”

Most importantly, however, November 2004 is a long way
off. Saddam could be ancient history by then, his
capture superseded by any number of events that occur

To take just one of them, which barely made the back
pages Monday: Just as the U.S. launched its PR blitz
on the capture of Saddam, a bomb on a bridge just
outside Rawalpindi, Pakistan, came close to killing
Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president. Over the
preceding few days Musharraf had come down hard on
jihadi groups and had made peace overtures to India,
which really enrages the jihadists. Ayman al-Zawahiri,
the No. 2 man in Al Qaeda, in a taped message
broadcast on Al Jazeera, called for Musharraf’s

Meanwhile, as the U.S. military closed in on Saddam’s
hideout, the resistance continued. On Saturday, one
American soldier was killed and three wounded in a
roadside bomb attack at Ramadi. Two Polish soldiers
had been wounded Friday in a similar attack. Four
American soldiers were wounded in Kuwait on Sunday,
probably by Al Qaeda, according to Reuters. Twenty
Iraqis were killed at an Iraqi police station in
Khaldiya, west of Baghdad, Sunday morning. The
pallbearers for one cop chanted, “America is the enemy
of God.” And on Monday eight people were killed in
bombings at two Baghdad police stations.

While many believe the Baathist party is gone as any
sort of force in Iraq, nationalist rhetoric lives on.
By the time of his capture, Saddam had become
“irrelevant,” wrote Juan Cole, a University of
Michigan Mideast expert, in an early Monday morning
e-mail. “The Sunni Arab resisters to U.S. occupation
in the country’s heartland had long since jettisoned
Saddam and the Baath as symbols. They are fighting for
local reasons. Some are Sunni fundamentalists who
despised the Baath. Others are Arab nationalists who
weep at the idea of their country being occupied. Some
had relatives killed or humiliated by U.S. troops and
are pursuing a clan vendetta. Some fear a Shiite- and
Kurdish-dominated Iraq will reduce them to
second-class citizens. They will fight on.”

With the U.S. and the Iraqi council apparently against
an international tribunal (like the one trying
Milosevic), it looks as if Saddam will be dispatched
before an Iraqi war crimes tribunal—even though Iraq
still has no criminal-justice system. One of the
reasons the U.S. opposes an international tribunal is
that such a court probably wouldn’t sentence Saddam to
death. Besides, European countries were recently
humiliated once again by the Pentagon’s neocon brigade
by being denied Iraq contracts, and jurists from those
countries might try to dig into the “black files” of
past friendly dealings between the U.S. and Iraq.

The Reagan-Bush government assisted both sides during
the agonizing Iran-Iraq war of the ’80s, trying to
keep the playing field even by doling out intelligence
and providing special aid to Saddam. Talk about war
crimes. The Iraqis suffered 375,000 dead; 60,000 more
were taken prisoner. Iran had a million people killed
or maimed. It was no World War I, in which 1.7 million
Germans and 1.3 million French were killed, but it
certainly goes down as one of the most horrific
conflicts of modern times. Saddam was said to use
poison gas against the Kurds and on the front lines
against Iran.

What did the U.S. do during this war? Ronald Reagan
sent Don Rumsfeld (then chair of drug giant G.D.
Searle and a former Defense secretary under Gerald
Ford) to be a special envoy to Saddam Hussein. Rummy
reportedly got along well with Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s
foreign minister, and cozied up to Saddam himself,
whom Secretary Strangelove now wants to kill. In
reports of Rummy’s chats with Saddam, the special
envoy doesn’t discuss torture or the miseries of the
local population. But during that era, Reagan
officials talked often with Iraqi officials, and the
U.S. removed Iraq from terrorist status, freed up
loans for agriculture, encouraged arms trading, and
helped out Iraqi nuclear development. U.S. policy on
Iraq’s use of poison gas was to condemn it formally
but cultivate a relationship with Saddam, a
counterweight to Iran’s mad mullahs. American and
European firms, meanwhile, sold Saddam equipment that
may have contributed to the manufacture of the gas.
According to U.S. government communiqués, Rumsfeld and
Tariq Aziz agreed in December 1983 that “the U.S. and
Iraq shared many common interests.” And Rumsfeld
expressed “our willingness to do more” for Iraq in its
war with Iran. When the Iranians tried to get the UN
to pass a resolution against the use of gas, Reagan
told Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to stall or, if
necessary, abstain.

Another issue that the U.S. would not care to discuss
is just how it came to be that when George Bush Sr.
was winding down the first Gulf War, he sat by while
Saddam killed at least 30,000 Shiites in southern Iraq
who had risen up against his rule. Bush Senior could
have called in U.S. planes, but he did nothing.

Saddam was widely known even back then for his bloody
rule. Michigan professor Cole recited part of the
dirty laundry list: “I remembered the innocent Jews
brutally hung cq per source in downtown Baghdad when
the Baath came to power in 1968; the fencing with the
shah and the Kurds in the early 1970s; the vicious
repression of the Shiites of East Baghdad, Najaf, and
Karbala in 1977-1980; the internal Baath putsch of
1979, when perhaps a third of the party’s high
officials were taken out and shot, so that Saddam
could become president; the bloody invasion of Iran in
1980 and the destruction of a whole generation of
Iraqi and Iranian young men in the 1980s (at least
500,000 dead, perhaps even more); the Anfal poison-gas
campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88; Halabja, a city
of 70,000 where 5,000 died where they stood, their
blood boiling with toxic gases, little children lying
in heaps in the street; the rape of Kuwait in 1990-91;
the genocide against the Shiites that began in spring
of 1991 and continued intermittently thereafter; the
destruction of the Marsh Arabs; the assassinations . .
. ”

But while many experts estimate that Saddam killed at
least 300,000 to 400,000 of his own citizens, the
evidence to make these charges stick may turn out to
be on the thin side. Graves have been found, one with
more than 4,000 bodies. There were doubtless more.
Where are the others? “After taking control of Iraq,
coalition forces failed to secure mass gravesites, and
substantial evidence was destroyed,” says Human Rights
Watch. In the looting, “numerous documents were
pilfered or ruined.”

An international tribunal would give the U.S.
credibility, and such a tribunal might also ease
another war that is fast taking shape: the growing
economic battle between Europe and the U.S.—a war that
the U.S., with its enormous trade deficit and sinking
dollar, may well find difficult to win. But Bush,
Rumsfeld, and their neocon A-team couldn’t care less
what the Europeans think.

As for Iraq, here’s “a best-case scenario” from Chris
Toensing, editor of the MERIP Report, an excellent
magazine on the region: “I envision Iraq as Lebanon:
an elaborate, precarious political bargain between the
parties representing the sects and ethnic groups,
propped up for an indefinite period by a foreign
military presence.”

For how long exactly? “You can count on America
remaining until the job is done,” Bush said at his
Monday press conference.

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Alicia Ng

Most Popular