Saddam or Iraq?


To understand what gives with Saddam, Iraq and the region, a short walk down the region’s history lane is necessary. Succeeding the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO), created after World War 2 by US and UK to provide a protective shield for the Middle East, the Kingdom of Iraq and the Republic of Turkey signed the Baghdad Pact on Feb 24, 1955 as a mutual defence and security treaty. Subsequently, Great Britain, Iran and Pakistan joined the Pact. The Ba’athists stage-managing of bloody riots deterred Jordan’s young King Hussain from joining in late 1955, the street uprising was crushed by the “Arab Legion” under Lt Gen John Bagot Glubb, popularly known by the King’s Bedouin troops as “Glubb Pasha”. Brig Abdul Karim Kassem overthrew the Iraqi monarchy in 1958, executing young King Faisal and the entire royal family in cold blood. With Iraq opting out of the Baghdad Pact, the alliance moved to Ankara in Turkey, adopting a new name, Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), a regional anti-Communist grouping on the pattern of the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This alliance was of no help to Pakistan in 1965 or 1971 against India, both Iran and Turkey giving succour only because of their traditional ties with Pakistan. With the overthrow of Shah of Iran in 1979 and Iran’s subsequent withdrawal, Pakistan also pulled out, maintaining that without Iran CENTO had become meaningless. Meantime, Kassem had been assassinated brutally in 1963, with Saddam Hussain, who remained on the run during Kassem’s rule and then again briefly thereafter because of internal Ba’athist faction quarrels, rising through the Ba’ath Party ranks to Vice President of Iraq in early 70s, becoming President in 1977 by dispatching his mentor, ailing President Hassan Al Bakr, into early retirement. Within hours of his accession almost all the other members of the ruling council were executed.

The woes of Palestinian refugees became the breeding ground of terrorism, funded by competing muslim nations, each with its own agenda. To disastrous consequences for the stability of the region, and eventually for the world, the Soviets entered Afghanistan in 1979, to exit in inglorious fashion almost a decade later. Even without the now defunct CENTO, Pakistan came good for the US, becoming the “free world’s front-line State”. However, with the Soviet departure all US aid ceased, the Mujhahideen who had become battle-inoculated and hardened fighting the Soviets with generous US military assistance now became a law into themselves, some of the well-trained “freedom fighters” choosing terrorism to project their viewpoint the world over. Pakistan in its naivety had become willing hosts to the largest concentration of refugees ever in the world, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from various muslim countries using Pakistan as a conduit and staging post to funnel money and arms to the Mujhahideen groups. Many of them stayed on, becoming a “holy” albatross around Pakistan’s neck. Some muslim “foreign legionnaires” did try returning to their own countries but their radicalized Islamic ideas caused the incumbent governments considerable heartache. Persecuted, many went underground, persona non gratas like Osama Bin Laden escaping to friendly foreign lands like Sudan. Eventually, making it to the safety of Afghanistan, people like Osama Bin Laden remained as guests of Ahmed Shah Masoud since 1994 till Afghanistan became fully “Talibaan-ized” in 1996 (except for the Panjsheeri Tajiks who led by Masoud kept fighting the Talibaan). With the tacit support of those in the west alarmed at Iran’s “Islamic” revolution creation of the first Islamic terrorists, the Hizbollahs, Iraq had attacked Iran in 1982, fighting a bloody eight-year war to a stalemate. Frustrated in his quest for expansion in an oil-rich non-Arab land and almost bankrupt, Saddam invaded another oil-rich “brother” muslim country in less than a decade, not giving Kuwait even the sop of a convenient pretext.

During Iraq’s war with Iran, Saddam used merciless brutality, matching if not surpassing anything that other barbarians earlier in history had used to decimate populations. He gassed the Kurds and Iraqi dissidents in 1988 with some ferocity, using “Sarin” gas, thereafter, on the Iranians in the Fao Peninsula, decimating the better part of an Iranian military corps. The west turned a blind eye to these atrocities, as did all of Iraq’s muslim friends in the region apprehensive of Khomeini’s Iran. The west competed with the Soviets in selling Saddam state-of-the-art weapons and equipment. The present US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld journeyed to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussain, presumably to assess what other military goodies the US could give the Iraqi leader. One is inclined to believe Rumsfeld when he vehemently denies that US had anything to do with Saddam’s acquisition of chemical weapons potential. If nothing else Saddam would have loved to make any such secret public property to embarrass the Americans. In occupying Kuwait, Saddam miscalculated the US determination to draw a line in the sand as to how vital oil was to US interests in the region. President Bush Sr, built up a strong coalition of countries, including most of Iraq’s muslim neighbours. Instead of fighting “the mother of all battles” as Saddam promised the world, discretion overcame valour. One of history’s greatest mistakes was the Coalition’s decision in its moment of victory in 1991 to leave this tyrant in place, he kept on with his empty boasts, increasingly making his country a living hell for its citizens, recanting every condition imposed on him. Frustrated, the UN inspectors monitoring Iraq’s disarmament of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) walked out in 1998. An example of his ruthlessness, he did not spare even his two sons-in-law who had escaped to Amman with their families. Sending his wife to lure them back by feigning forgiveness, Saddam had his daughters’ husbands killed in front of their families in their own houses.

The muslim world criticized the precision Israeli pre-emptive air attack on the Osirik nuclear reactor that destroyed Saddam’s developing nuclear potential. Even though we in Pakistan have been subject to repeated aerial scares of a joint Indian-Israeli operation to take out Pakistani nuclear facilities, one feels that Israel did the muslim nations a favour by obliterating Osirik. Given Saddam’s murderous psychological profile, he was more than likely to use his nuclear bombs on fellow muslims rather than on Israel. A bully will seldom attack anyone who can hurt him right back, and even then his assault will be by surreptitious means so that the blame cannot be laid at his doorstep. There is no “smoking gun” about Saddam and the World Trade Centre but given his sadistic streak, US National Security Council Advisor Ms Condeleeza Rice becomes credible when she theorises a possible nexus between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. An enemy of an enemy is a friend is not Chanakhya’s philosophy alone, it holds true the world over.

Is the US right in wanting Saddam out of power in Iraq? One must confess without any hesitation that they are, this man is menace to civilization and cannot be permitted to continue threatening the lives of innocents in pursuit of his megalomania policies. Agreeing with the US objective, one must disagree with the modus operandi. There is growing anti-US animosity among the muslims and the US must exercise caution, even those who have no love lost for Iraq do not want the US to declare war on Iraq, with or without UN sanction. Saddam is taking full advantage of the Bush rhetoric and the deteriorating situation in Palestine to inflame muslims the world over. As the most generous nation on the face of this Earth, it is a tragedy that the US has become so reviled in the muslim world. We value the same democratic freedoms that Islam embodied as a religion as far back as the 6th century, much earlier than democracy became sacrosanct in the making of the US in the late 18th century. Iraq is no friend of Pakistan, has not been for over 40 years, yet Pakistan cannot countenance war on Iraq. The dangers the sadistic tyrant poses to the world cannot be erased by subjecting the hapless Iraqi people to further misery and privation. What is required is an international warrant from the UN Court in Hague for Saddam Hussain and his close associates for “crimes against humanity”. A war may cost several billion US dollars, why not agree on a binding UN resolution which puts a bounty of US $ 100 million on him? A surgical operation that excises Saddam from his Baghdad palatial hole while inflicting the minimum possible collateral damage on the Iraqi people must be the only option. Otherwise the rising suspicion among muslims about the west’s penchant to control Middle East oil will spill over. Almost fifty years to the day Baghdad Pact has come a full circle. The crucial difference is that the US does not need to protect Iraq from communists or other interlopers, but requires a mandate from the muslim world to free the Iraqi people from its own brutal and sadistic captor.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).