Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 November 2006
Issue No. 819
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

Mere Happenstance?

By Salama A Salama

In what cannot be a coincidence, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death one day before the United States congressional mid-term elections were held, the elections in which the Republicans were heading to a certain defeat. The world watched with baited breath as the sentence sent ripples of excitement across Iraq and the US. Israel, as usual, used the diversion to launch a brutal attack on Gaza, killing over 80 Palestinians in a few hours.

We are witnessing the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. The era of Saddam has ended, and we're now faced with a new era that's even worse in terms of despotism and brutality. Let's brace ourselves for sectarian divisions and political chaos in Iraq, and for many Saddams to appear on the scene. We're likely to see chieftains monopolising power in each and every province of Iraq. As expected, the news of Saddam's sentencing was greeted with joy in some parts of Iraq and anger in others. The US occupation has succeeded in one thing. It has sown the seeds of hatred and bigotry in the country.

Saddam deserves his sentence. He has to pay for the crimes he committed and the crimes he allowed to be committed in his watch. He deserves no sympathy from those who believe in freedom and democracy. And yet one has to wonder about the climate that creates such a tyrant. How would the Arabs regain the right to hold their rulers accountable? Do we have to wait for a military coup, a popular uprising, or a foreign invasion?

People will speak out against the sentence. Some will argue that the court was illegitimate, created by the Americans, and failed to uphold due procedure. The defence lawyers, it will be pointed out, have been threatened and some were assaulted or killed. The reason the US has refused to refer Saddam to an international court is that it feared that such a trial would bring to light the extent of US involvement in backing Saddam and covering up for his crimes.

Saddam should take the blame for what is happening in Iraq today. But so should Bush, whose short-sighted policy brought Iraq to a fate worse than anything it experienced under Saddam. Since the occupation started, some 600,000 Iraqis were killed, along with 3,000 US soldiers. Iraq has been so traumatised that it may need decades to get back on its feet, if ever.

Saddam has found someone to try him for his crimes. But who will try Bush and his administration for the lives that have been lost, the resources that have been wasted, and the atrocities that have been committed?

The mid-term elections are likely to cost the Republicans control of the Congress, leaving Bush as a lame duck president, hemmed in by a Democratic majority. The signs of mutiny against the president are already surfacing. Even the US military establishment is speaking out. US papers have asked for Rumsfeld to go. And some of the neo-conservatives are turning against the president.

The US occupation forces timed the sentence to help out Bush in the congressional elections. Bush has been telling the Americans that he was winning the war in Iraq, stamping out terror, defending US security, standing up to Al-Qaeda, and keeping pariah states at bay. But Saddam's death is not going to help Bush out. And the Americans cannot find their way out of the Iraqi morass.

The only positive thing about Iraq's tragedy is that US democracy has a fighting chance. At present, America looks like a banana republic, as Thomas Friedman said. America has lost its credibility both at home and abroad. And it can no longer pose as a defender of freedom and human rights.

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