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Saddam Hussein rushed to the gallows
The dictator the U.S. propped up and took down

January 5, 2007 | Page 3

SADDAM HUSSEIN was rushed to the gallows as 2006 ended--a former dictator put to death under instructions from his one-time supporters in the U.S. government.

George W. Bush predictably declared it yet another "milestone" on "Iraq's course to becoming a democracy." But Hussein's hanging exposes--yet again--the corrupt, hypocritical and criminal character of the U.S. war on Iraq.

For years, the U.S. and other Western governments propped up Saddam Hussein. They supported his wars against neighboring countries, and they supported his war on any and all Iraqis who dared to oppose him. Then, Hussein stepped out of line--and he suddenly became reviled in the West as a "modern-day Hitler," bent on violence and responsible for terrible repression.

Little of this squalid history made it into the mainstream media's accounts of Hussein's life.

Neither did the question that looms most obviously over the execution as far as Socialist Worker is concerned: If Saddam Hussein deserved to be hung, then what about the leaders of the U.S. government, who ordered two barbaric onslaughts on Iraq, linked by more than a decade of the strictest economic blockade in history?

When will George Bush--Junior or Senior--or Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice or Tony Blair or Bill Clinton and Al Gore stand trial?

Saddam Hussein is accused of responsibility in the deaths of many thousands. The Iraqi victims of the U.S. war machine number in the millions.

When Baghdad fell in 2003, the media filled the airwaves with images of Hussein's palaces and the luxuries he enjoyed amid a devastated and impoverished country. The U.S. occupiers moved into those palaces--and almost four years later, the lives of most Iraqis have grown more impoverished.

Abu Ghraib prison was infamous in Iraq as the site of the former regime's torture chambers. Now, Abu Ghraib is infamous the world over, because of the crimes of its new jailers.

So the question remains: Why are some war crimes punished, but not others?

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WITH A contempt typical of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Hussein was sent to the gallows at the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha--on what is considered a day of forgiveness and feasting in the Islamic world. Even the Saudi Arabian regime, staunch allies of the U.S., condemned the timing.

The trial that came before the hanging was a U.S.-engineered farce, from start to finish. "Judge after judge was brought in because the ones in court were seen as too fair," commented Riverbend, the Iraqi woman who has written an Internet blog since the U.S. invasion. "The piece de resistance was the final judge they brought in...a well-known thief and murderer who ran away to Iran to escape not political condemnation, but his father's wrath after he stole from the restaurant his father ran."

The verdict against Hussein came in November, his appeal was rejected in December, and in less than a week, he was dead. But the U.S. had its reasons for rushing. It avoided further trials in which Hussein would have to answer for crimes committed with tacit or open U.S. support--specifically, the gassing of the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988, killing thousands.

"Given a chance to defend himself," wrote left-wing Iraq expert Michael Schwartz, "Saddam made it clear that his defense would include fully documenting American complicity in his use of chemical weapons, the tacit (or maybe explicit) endorsement by the Bush Sr. administration of his invasion of Kuwait, and the general complicity of all manner of foreign governments in his various crimes."

Most Americans know little of the long and vile relationship between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein. It goes back almost half a century--to 1959, when the CIA enlisted Hussein's help in undermining the government of radical nationalist Abdul Karim Qasim.

When Hussein's Baath Party came to power permanently in 1968, the CIA showed its support by fingering Iraqi Communist Party members and other dissidents, who were rounded up, tortured and killed.

A decade later, Hussein launched a war on Iran that would last most of the 1980s. The U.S. claimed to be neutral, but quietly backed Iraq with money, intelligence and weapons, seeing an opportunity to recover--at a cost of more than 1 million Iraqi and Iranian lives--the influence it lost over the Persian Gulf region after its strongman, the Shah of Iran, was toppled in 1979.

One of George Bush's favorite accusations against Hussein is that he used "chemical weapons against his own people." Those weapons were first used against Iran, and the components for them came straight from the stockpiles of the U.S. and other Western nations.

U.S. support for Saddam Hussein continued after the war ended--up to the eve of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990--at which point, overnight, he went from being an ally to a "modern-day Hitler." But Hussein hadn't changed. The U.S. government's assessment of his reliability had, so he became an enemy.

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AFTER HUSSEIN'S execution, the Bush administration warned darkly of stepped-up attacks in Iraq. But the horrible reality is that the violence stoked by the U.S. occupation has reached such an intensity that any of it directly related to the execution will make little difference.

Some--though not all--groups of the Hussein regime's former victims celebrated his hanging. But the execution doesn't change the stark fact that almost every Iraqi feels they were better off under Hussein's government, before the U.S. invaded.

According to interviews conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, only 5 percent of Iraqis believe the country is better off today than in 2003. Some 89 percent said the political situation had deteriorated, 79 percent said economic conditions had declined, and 95 percent said the security situation was worse.

And these are the opinions of those who remain in Iraq. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country--amounting to one in every 14 people in the population--and the exodus continues at a rate of 100,000 a month.

"These are refugees that do not excite the sympathy of Western public opinion, since the U.S. (and European Union-backed) occupation is the cause," veteran antiwar activist Tariq Ali wrote in the Guardian. "Perhaps it was these statistics (and the estimates of a million Iraqi dead) that necessitated the execution of Saddam Hussein?"

Hussein was a hated dictator, and many Iraqis certainly wished to see him brought to justice. But instead of being held accountable by Iraqis for his real crimes, he was put to death by a U.S. puppet government--for nothing more than the fact that he stopped obeying the orders of his masters in Washington, D.C.

His trial and execution were a travesty, and will only contribute to the bitterness described by Riverbend--the feeling that "the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will."

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THE EXECUTION took place within days of another grisly "milestone" of the U.S. occupation--the 3,000th American soldier killed in Iraq.

A few weeks before, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice--echoing the words of her Clinton administration predecessor, Madeleine Albright--told reporters that this "investment" was "worth it."

That is the kind of sick calculation that U.S. imperialism makes at each turn--whether the question is supporting a thug like Saddam Hussein who can be counted on to advance American interests, or going to war to topple a dictator it propped up, or continuing an occupation that the majority of people in this country and around the world want to end.

George Bush has said he will reveal his "new plan" for Iraq this month, and it is expected to be more of the same old one--a "surge" of U.S. troops to Iraq to finally win the "victory" he talks about.

He needs to be met with a loud and clear message of opposition. Everyone who opposes the Bush administration war criminals, who wants to see U.S. soldiers brought home now, and who believes Iraqis have the right to determine their own future should begin organizing now for the largest possible turnout at the January 27 antiwar demonstrations in Washington, San Francisco and other cities.

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