Friday, February 5, 2010


Chemical Ali is dead. Saddam Hussein's former spy chief and defense minister hanged last month after receiving death sentences for ordering the gassing of a Kurdish village, crushing a Shia uprising at the end of the Gulf War, liquidating Shiites from Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood in 1999, and presiding over the al-Anfal campaign in which upwards of 100,000 ethnic Kurds were massacred. Serious crimes, but not the one for which Ali hanged, a difference most immediately apparent in the treatment of his accomplice in the Al-Anfal campaign, Gen. Sultan Hashem Ahmad al-Ta.

A trusted subordinate of Saddam, Hashem was charged with implementing Ali's orders in the Al-Anfal campaign. He signed a report to the deposed Iraqi leader as "General, Sultan Hashen Ahmed, Leader of the Al-Anfal Operation." He personally directed the systematic killing of hundreds of thousands of Kurds before going on to become defense minister in 1995, a post he held until the American invasion. Hashem was Ali's co-defendant at the al-Anfal trial, the court sentenced him to die, and the government set an execution date; September 11, 2007. Hashem was never executed. The Americans refused to turn him over.

U.S officials who boast of bringing justice to Saddam's victims are typically remiss to mention Hashem publicly. David Petraeus was not. In a letter to the Iraqi General following the invasion, the American commander addressed him as "a man of honor and integrity," and reflected philosophically on the camaraderie and shared values linking such men. "Although we find ourselves on different sides of this war," mused Petraeus, "we do share common traits. As military men, we follow the orders of our superiors. We may not necessarily agree with the politics and bureaucracy, but we understand unity of command and supporting our leaders in a common and just cause." Hashem was an assecory to Saddam's crimes, but he also collaborated with the U.S authorities, who credit him with helping to prevent large scale resistance from the army. Sending a collaborator to the gallows would send a bad message. What is being judged, the act or the actor? The justice of the victor overlooks the crimes of his accomplices.

But there were many accomplices to Saddam's crimes. The same officials who deposed him after he became hostile to American interests embraced him when he served them, as he did for most of his carer. The connections run deep. At age twenty-two Saddam became a CIA operative and was tasked with liquidating Iraq's recalcitrant Prime Minister Abd al-Kassem Quassim. When the plot failed American operatives helped Saddam flee to Lebanon and later Egypt where the U.S government put him up in a hotel and provided training. Four years later the U.S succeeded in ousting Quassim, whom the Ba'ath Party replaced in power. The new government was inaugurated with blood. The CIA presented it a list of enemies to be liquidated; hundreds of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals suspected of leftist sympathies. The exact toll of the killing spree, in which Saddam is thought to have participated, remains unknown.

In the 1960's the British embassy described Saddam as "the recognized heir-apparent,. . .a formidable, single-minded and hard-headed member of the Ba'athist hierarchy, but one with whom, if only one could see more of him, it would be possible to do business." By the time he formally assumed the Presidency in July, 1979 the West was more than ready to do business. Earlier that year a popular revolution in Iran overthrew the western backed dictatorship of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Shah, who had ruled with an iron fist since coming to power in a 1953 CIA coup against the elected government. When U.S policy makers failed to oust the new government they turned to Saddam for support. At the behest of the U.S Iraq launched a devastating eight year war on Iran. President Ronald Reagan quickly removed the nation from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, reestablished diplomatic relations, and offered economic aid, diplomatic support, security training, intelligence sharing, and military equipment. Saddam Hussein even became an honorary citizen of Detroit.

The support continued through the Iraqi leader's worst crimes. The Reagan and Bush administrations approved 80 direct sales to the Iraqi military. Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad on two separate occasions as the President's special envoy to meet Saddam and supply him weapons and intelligence. When Iraq deployed poison gas against Kurdish civilians in the town of Halabja the State Department instructed its diplomats to falsely imply Iranian culpability and blocked international condemnation. Reflecting on U.S involvment in Iraq during this period journalist Ted Koppel noted "George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam's Iraq." Then there was a problem; Saddam's first real crime.

Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war Saddam turned his attention westward towards the small oil rich emirate of Kuwait. Exploiting an ongoing border dispute, Saddam invaded and announced he had annexed Kuwait. The west was jittery. Saddam now added Kuwiat's oil fields to his control and the Saudi fields, just over the border, seemed vulnerable as well. Left unchecked, Saddam's control of these resources would give him tremendous leverage over U.S policy; an unacceptable scenario. In a move President Bush conceded was motivated by oil the U.S invaded and quickly crushed the Iraqi forces.

Believing the U.S would support them, Iraq's Shiite majority revolted. Without air support Saddam's forces would be powerless to prevent the rebellion from toppling his government, but the U.S still controlled Iraq's airspace and could block any move against the rebels. When the Iraqis approached U.S Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose father had been instrumental in overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953, to ask for permission though, he approved their operation. Saddam had disobeyed orders, but he was still preferable to a government that reflected the views of the Iraqi people. The rebels were quickly slaughtered.

Following the war the U.S severed relations with Saddam, but its torment of Iraq continued. Such disobedience had to be punished and the U.S and U.K imposed a devastating sanctions program which, according to a U.N report starved 500,000 children to death. The two heads of the U.N oil for food program both resigned in protest, describing the sanctions as "genocidal", infuriating the White House, which remained unconcerned by the humanitarian implications of their policy. When an interviewer told U.S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima." and asked "is the price worth it?" Albright answered in the affirmative, "we think the price is worth it."

American officials are fond of gloating about the justice done to those monsters of the Ba'athist regime. There is an easy way to test the sincerity of these claims. How are American officials and their Iraqi collaborators such as Hashem judged for crimes in Iraq? Were Donald Rumsfeld, Madeleine Albright, or George Bush tried and executed along Saddam? Of course not, no one who advances U.S interests is subject to judgment, and neither was Saddam when he was content presiding over an American satellite.

1 comment:

Don Emmerich said...

An excellent article. Thank you.