Release Date: December 21, 2003
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Saddam Captured: The Man Who Knew Too Much

by Eric Margolis

Saddam Hussein's capture is being feted in Washington as a political and personal triumph for President George W. Bush that further increases his chances of winning re-election next year.

Many Americans, misled by the administration and its media allies into believing Saddam was somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, are lustily cheering Sheriff Bush and his posse. They are unaware the demonized Iraqi leader used to be Washington's man in Mesopotamia.

Nor do they understand the astounding price of this manhunt: a war costing over $160 billion US that violated international law and America's democratic and moral traditions; surging hatred of the U.S. abroad; over 3,000 American military casualties and many thousands of Iraqis; and the ongoing burden of colonial occupation.

But catching outlaw Saddam - which was inevitable - and stringing him up may not make U.S. pacification of Iraq any easier, as Washington hopes, nor the U.S. any safer. In fact, it may make occupation more difficult.

First, until Saddam's capture, Iraq's Shia majority (60% of the population) remained quiescent, grudgingly accepting foreign occupation for fear Saddam might otherwise return to power.

But with Saddam locked up, Shias are free to forcefully express their pent-up demands for real political power and an Islamic republic. This will bring a head-on clash with U.S. authorities, who are determined to thwart any Iranian-style government. Radical Shia elements have been calling for months for guerrilla war against the American occupation. This is a storm waiting to break, unless Washington can find a way of satisfying Shias' long-repressed thirst for power.

Second, during the invasion of Iraq last spring, the elite elements of Iraq's army scattered into small units in the face of overwhelming U.S. firepower and mobility, adopting a long-standing plan to resort to guerrilla war. Hence the surprisingly short Iraq invasion campaign and light resistance in Baghdad.

Iraqi forces were following the example of Afghanistan's Taliban, which abandoned the capital and dissolved into small units fighting from the mountains. In both cases, claims of decisive victory by the U.S. military and pro-war pundits were mistaken.

Nine of the 12 Iraqi resistance groups are either anti-Saddam secular nationalists or Islamists who were savagely repressed by the former regime. They are fighting against foreign occupation, not for Saddam. The coming month will determine if the resistance is merely "Saddam Hussein diehards" or genuine national insurgency. Many suicide bombers are newly arrived freelance foreign jihadists inspired by al-Qaida.

Third, U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer's decision to disband Iraq's army was a colossal error. Unemployed soldiers are a volatile, dangerous mass and a source of resistance fighters. The Iraqi military and police forces the U.S. is trying to cobble together will mostly prove unreliable, unwarlike and treacherous.

Interestingly, many Sunni Iraqis believe Saddam did not abjectly surrender but was captured unconscious after being gassed by U.S. forces in the course of a major battle. However undeserving, he may yet become a martyr.

Still, the elimination of Saddam and his sons opens the way for the emergence of a new generation of Iraqi nationalist leaders who may prove far more clever and popular than the widely hated old regime.

Saddam is to face a kangaroo court in Baghdad.

Such hang-'em-high injustice, propelled by Bush's unwise call for the death penalty, is worthy of Saddam's regime, not the United States.

There are no fair courts in the Arab world.

Saddam should be sent for trial before the UN's war crimes tribunal at the Hague. The U.S. engineered Serb tyrant Slobodan Milosevic's delivery there; why should Saddam be different?

A UN trial could improve America's negative reputation around the globe, and at least buttress Bush's lame, ex post facto claim the invasion of Iraq was all about human rights.

The greatest crime for which Saddam should be tried was his aggression against Iran in 1980. Iran suffered 500,000 casualties, 10% from Iraqi chemical weapons. The U.S. and Britain encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, helped bankroll Iraq's war effort, and supplied him technicians and intelligence plus conventional, chemical, and biological weapons.

If allowed a fair, open trial, Saddam would surely divulge how the CIA helped his Ba'ath party into power, his role as obedient servant of the West during the era of his worst internal and external crimes, and explosive revelations about his relations during the 1980s with Donald Rumsfeld, and senior CIA and U.S. military officials. Plus embarrassing dirt about other U.S.-backed Arab autocrats.

So it's unlikely the Bush administration will allow an open trial for the rogue dictator. He knows far too much. Better to bury Saddam in prison like another petty despot who dared mock the Bush family - Panama's former general, and now U.S. prisoner, Manuel Noriega.

Israeli commentator Ze'ev Schiff suggests the White House might offer Saddam a deal: a life prison sentence in exchange for a false confession that he had indeed made and hidden weapons of mass destruction, thus absolving Bush and VP Dick Cheney of the accusation of having made extravagant lies to whip up war against Iraq.

This would inflict mass political destruction on Bush's leading presidential rival, the anti-war Democrat Howard Dean.

Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000

Pepe Escobar, "A tale of two tyrants," Asia Times, December 16, 2003

[ . . . despite the complete absence of evidence, 53 percent of Americans believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, up from 43 percent before his capture. The administration's long campaign of guilt by innuendo, it seems, is still working.--Paul Krugman, "Telling It Right," New York Times, December 19, 2003]

"Saddam Was Held by Kurdish Forces, Drugged and Left For U.S. Troops," Agence France-Presse, December 20, 2003

David Pratt, " mi_qn4156/is_20031221/ai_n12585181/," Sunday Herald (Scotland), December 21, 2003

Noam Chomsky, "Selective Memory and a Dishonest Doctrine," Toronto Star, December 21, 2003

Paul McGeough, "We got him: Kurds say they caught Saddam," Sydney Morning Herald, December 22, 2003

Matthew Clark, "Was it really the US that 'got him'?," Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2003

[The United States was quick to catch Saddam Hussein, but appears to see no profit in bringing Radovan Karadzic to justice.--Ed Vulliamy, "A Tale Of Two Tyrants," IWPR, January 22, 2004]

"Saddam betrayed by bodyguard," BBC News, March 28, 2004

Jonathan Steele, "Red Cross ultimatum to US on Saddam: Release him, charge him or break international law, Bush told," Guardian, June 14, 2004

"Ex-Marine Says Public Version of Saddam Capture Fiction," UPI, March 10, 2005

Copyright © 2003 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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