Jan 3, 2007
By Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar
Last Saturday at approximately 6:05 am, former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was executed by hanging at the former headquarters of Saddam's military intelligence where many of his victims were executed on the same gallows.
Shortly after the execution, the Iraqi government released a short film of the execution which showed the former dictator, very composed, declaring his faith and refusing the hood, walking to the trapdoor where a noose was placed around his neck. Here the sound track was either cleaned and/or missing. Shortly after, a new video, supposedly taken by a mobile phone by one of those present at the scene, was circulating around the world. This film showed all the gruesome details of the execution and, most importantly, recorded the sounds in the gallows chamber. In this film, one can hear Saddam Hussein declaring his faith (similar to the last rites) while a person shouted “Moqtada is alive” (referring to the Shi’ite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr) and “you are going to hell.”
The trial and execution of Saddam raise important questions: why was he tried and executed for only one incident: ordering the 1982 killings of 148 Shiite Muslims in Dujail, (“small” as compared to other horrific atrocities committed during his reign of terror); why was he executed at such a (religiously) sensitive time; why were the videos were released; and finally why did the authorities allowed his body to be buried in Tikrit, his home town?
Why was he tried and executed for one incident
The list of crimes attributed to Saddam Hussein and his regime is indeed a lengthily one, but to show that there were much more serious crimes than the massacre of Shi’ites in Dujail, I shall just list a few of them here.
Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against both military (Iran) and against civilians (both Iranian and Iraqis) is well documented. One of the most horrifying acts of Saddam was his ordering of chemical attack on Kurdish civilians in the town of Halabja. In this incident, more than 5,000 Iraqis (men, women and children) were killed in a few hours.
In his book, “Eastern Gate Ruins," General Wafiq Al Samarae, the former director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, admits that Saddam’s government used chemical weapons against Iraqi people in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to crush the popular uprising of March 1991, which followed the defeat of Saddam in invading Kuwait. Saddam also used chemical weapons against citizens in the marshes of southern Iraq.
Among thousands of executions and assassinations, he was also responsible for the killing of Sunni religious leaders, such as Abdul Aziz Al Badri the Imam of Dragh district mosque in Baghdad; Al Shaikh Nadhum Al Asi from Ubaid tribe in Northern Iraq; Al Shiakh Al Shahrazori, Al Shaikh Umar Shaqlawa, Al Shiakh Rami Al Kirkukly, Al Shiakh Mohamad Shafeeq Al Badri, Abdul Ghani Shindala, etc., etc.
Invasions of Iran and Kuwait also resulted in deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention Iranians and Kuwaitis. When one considers the number of people killed and the magnitude of Saddam’s crimes, one wonders why he was tried and executed for killing 148 Shi’ites in 1982? Considering the extensive documentation that exists, surely it was not difficult to prove the use of chemical weapons on Halabja.
Keeping the accomplices hidden
The problem with trying Saddam Hussein for really big atrocities, such as use of chemical weapons on civilians was that many enablers of Saddam’s regime, including Western companies and both Western and Middle Eastern governments, would have been implicated. During the 1980s, 29 countries supplied him with weapons, while nine others fronted for him whenever a cover was needed. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia (just to name a few) had to be named and their complicity explained.
For example, it is a well-known fact that it was Saudi Arabian money that helped underwrite Iraq’s eight year war with Iran. It was Saudi Arabia’s encouragement and guarantees of financial support that finally persuaded Saddam Hussein to attack Iran. By the end of 1981, Saudi Arabia had “officially” loaned over $10 billion to Iraq . This financial help was in addition to producing and selling 1 million barrels of oil per day on behalf of Iraq. But Saudi Arabia, although the chief financier, was not the only Arab country that wholeheartedly assisted Saddam Hussein. The so-called moderate Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait, were also heavily involved in assisting Saddam.
But while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were providing the money, it was the West that was supplying the weaponry and the technical assistance that enabled Saddam Hussein to carry out some of his most horrific crimes against humanity. “The Blue prints for the construction of the first chemical weapons plant were provided by Pfaulder Corporation of Rochester, New York.”  German, French, Italian and British companies were all heavily involved in arming Saddam Hussein. Even after Saddam’s heavy use of chemical weapons against Iranian targets and his own people, the relationship continued unabated. By 1989 the whole world knew about the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein. After all, it was on 16 March 1988 that Iraqi forces gassed the town of Halabja, killing 5,000 and injuring 7,000 Kurds. Yet even this atrocity did not affect the US or British relationship with Saddam’s regime.
“In 1989 the United States supplied Iraq with helicopter engines, vacuum pumps for a nuclear plant, sophisticated communications equipment, computers, bacteria strains and hundreds of tons of unrefined Sarin.
"Furthermore, the pro-Iraq activities of the US-Iraq business Forum, led as it was by former diplomats with solid connections with the State Department, were augmented by the work of Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Representing companies such as Volvo, Fiat and Hunt Oil, this firm was staffed by other insiders who took their signal from the government. Two of the insiders, Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, were to join the Bush administration in the spring of 1989, the former as National Security Adviser.” 
Execution: the date, the films and the burial place
Muslims celebrate two Eids (Arabic: festival): One is called Eid ul-Fitr that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and the other is Eid ul-Adha or in Persian Eid-e Qurban which is celebrated to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Eid Al Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja of the lunar Islamic calendar, after the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This festival is four days long, starting the day after the pilgrims (during their ceremony) descend from the mount Arafat (Saudi Arabia). During this festival lambs are slaughtered and the regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished Muslim is left without sacrificial food during these days. In other words, these four days of festivals are to be the time of charity and good deeds. This year’s Eid Al Adhais began on 30 December, the very day that Saddam Hussein was executed.
The timing indicates that the Iraqi government was under pressure to remove Saddam from the scene before the Gregorian calendar New Year. But why? Does this have something to do with the Bush’s new Iraq strategy? On its own, executing Saddam on that day did not make any sense except angering the Sunni Muslims of Iraq even more than they are already.
Videoing of the execution and releasing it to the public was also a propaganda victory for Saddam Hussein. He went to his death with dignity and courage. The Sunnis, especially the Ba'athists, will remember him for his defiance to the very end. So, why release the video in the first place? And why release the second video? This video with sound track was shot by a mobile phone. It was clear that all present were aware that this person was filming them. We know that everyone was there by invitation and everyone was thoroughly searched. So it was not an accident, nor the work of a freelance journalist to shoot the video and release it to the public. Both the central government and the Americans would have had to okay the release. So why was it released?
If you watch the second video, you hear one of the executioners (guards) shouting the name of Muqtada al-Sadr. This video connects the execution directly to al-Sadr. It is no secret that Muqtada al-Sadr is an Arab nationalist and the one that could pose the greatest threat to the Americans. He has considerable influence in the Shi’ia community and has several people in the parliament. He also has a large militia in Baghdad and elsewhere in southern Iraq. He is also the one that can easily make common cause with the Sunni insurgents against the occupation forces. This video tried to portray al-Sadr people as the ones responsible for the taunting and, in the minds of some, the execution of Saddam.
Then we have the burial place: Awja, near Tikrit. Why did the government not send the body to Jordan where most of Saddam’s family live? Or why wasn’t it sent to Yemen for burial as one of his daughters, Raghad wished ?
By sending Saddam’s body to Awja, the government and the Americans are ensuring that the Sunnis will have a nationalist shrine right at the heart of the Sunni triangle. The Ba'athists and the Sunni nationalists will have a shrine dedicated to what they believe was a national hero, killed at the hands of Shi’ites and the Americans.
Stupidity or design
By all legal standards, the trial of Saddam Hussein was unfair and farcical to say the least. It was a show trial for the public. His hasty execution was also a disgrace. Those who had suffered most at his hands did not get justice, for their voices were never heard or their sufferings acknowledged; while those who supported him did not see a proper legal trial for their leader.
The farcical trial and hasty execution only achieved one thing: silencing the man that could expose the hypocrisy and complicity of both the so-called moderate Arab governments and the major Western powers.
Some may think that by executing him, the Sunni insurgents will be disheartened and become more amiable in dealing with the US. This is, of course, an illusion. The existing Iraqi Ba'ath Party has already appointed Saddam’s former general and number two party member Ezat Irahim Al Dawri as the new leader and the “president of Iraq." Al Dawri has been in hiding since 2003 and is believed to be directing some attacks against the occupation forces. However, it is just possible that given enough power in the Al-Maliki’s government, some Sunni elements may join the governing group. But this can only be achieved if Muqtada al-Sadr is neutralised.
This is the most likely reason behind the release of the second film. If the US attacks Al-Sadr, it is hoped, it will show Sunnis that the US is attacking a hated Shi’ia who was taunting Saddam on the gallows. So far, the US has had an uneasy truce with al-Sadr, something that the US is no longer is interested in. It is evident that the United States will, in the near future, attack Al-Sadr forces in Baghdad and will try to crush and disband his militia, the Mahdi Army. This attack will result in the resignation of al-Sadr’s supporters in the parliament, creating a vacuum which can then be filled with the Sunnis. In this way, a new Shi’ia government can be constructed with enhanced Sunni representation which can then embark on a new pacification campaign of the Sunni Triangle.
All this, of course, is based on the assumption that Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr is swiftly defeated and that it does not spread to other parts of Southern Iraq. Considering the popularity and strength of al-Sadr, it is highly unlikely that this can be accomplished easily or swiftly. Most likely the situation will deteriorate fast and southern Iraq will turn into another hotbed of anti-American insurgents.
In its campaign in Iraq, the United States has made many mistakes, but attacking Al-Sadr will be one move that will either make or break the US in Iraq.
1. Dilip Hiro, “The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict,” Paladin, 1990. pp.76
2. Abdel Darwish and Gregory Alexander, “Unholy Babylon: The Secret History of Saddam’s War,” Gollancz, 1991, pp. 104
3. Said K. Aburish, “Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge,” Bloomsbury, 2000, pp.269.
4. The Age, “Saddam’s daughter wants Yemen burial,” December 30, 2006
Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a management consultant and a contributing writer for many online journals. He's a former associate professor of Nordland University, Norway. Contact him at Bakhtiarspacefirstname.lastname@example.org.