Veteran Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan argues that Iraq would have been better off had Saddam Hussein remained in power.
With the tenth anniversary of the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the senior CIA intelligence analyst tasked with interrogating him after his capture by US forces has gone public about his experiences and impressions.
In his book Debriefing The President, John Nixon writes that Saddam was among the most charismatic and complex individuals he ever met. He was often “charming, nice, funny and polite,” but when provoked could be “rude, arrogant, narcissistic and mean-spirited.”
Whatever he thought of Saddam’s personality, the ex-inquisitor had no doubts at all on one point: if he had remained in power, Iraq and the Middle East would be better off than they are today.
Letters from Saddam
I never met Saddam Hussein in my life, other than for a fleeting handshake when I was among a group of reporters covering the Arab summit in Tunis in December 1979.
But I will never forget that years later, when I was editor of the then-independent pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi – which was a leading voice of opposition to the US invasion and occupation — he arranged for five hand-written letters to be delivered to me.
The first was in April 2003, shortly after the invasion. Saying he was writing by candlelight, he used the letter to address “the proud men and women of Iraq and the entire Arab nation,” proclaiming the start of resistance to the American occupation, recalling the people’s heroic history of resistance to foreign conquerors and promising that they would defeat the occupation sooner or later.
The letters caused quite a stir at the time and their authenticity was repeatedly challenged. Concerted campaigns to discredit them and the paper were launched in the Arab media by clients of the US occupation based in London and elsewhere – resembling the work of the hired trolls and regime-recruited “electronic armies” that plague Arab social media these days.
Eventually, an investigation was conducted by the mass-circulation British newspaper The Sunday Times, involving handwriting experts and others, which concluded that the letters were indeed genuine and written in Saddam’s hand.
We did not need Mr Nixon, the former CIA operative, to tell us that Iraq and the region would have been in better shape had Saddam survived. This is blindingly obvious.
His overthrow and execution in the way we all witnessed, after a travesty of a trial, were key elements of the American-Israeli scheme to plunge the region into bloody anarchy and ignite the fires of sectarian and ethnic discord in order to weaken, divide and dismember its countries.
The plan to subjugate the Arab world to US and Israeli hegemony entailed exhausting or destroying its countries’ national armies and reshaping their internal affairs through military intervention.
It could never succeed in the presence of a strong Iraq with a powerful military, where ethnic and religious co-existence was the norm and which espoused pan-Arab goals, foremost of which was resisting Israeli occupation. It is no coincidence that the countries targeted after Iraq — Syria, Libya and Yemen – had also fought against neo-colonial domination and achieved a high degree of inter-communal harmony.
I recently met with an old Iraqi friend just returned from Baghdad – who, although a committed pan-Arabist, was never a supporter of Saddam Hussein and was and remains more sympathetic to the Iranian revolution.
He lamented the fact that Iraq’s post-invasion rulers have not built a single dam, bridge, university, theatre or cinema, and the way that hate-filled sectarianism has become their prevalent discourse, determining all their policies and behavior. And he swore that he had heard leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces – not to mention ordinary people — expressing nostalgia for Saddam’s days.
To his mind Iraq’s current rulers are incapable of building an inclusive national identity or running a country like Iraq: they are not statesmen, but products of religious parties who spent all their lives in opposition groups and are now fighting among each other for the spoils of government — patronage, jobs and more – while wallowing in corruption on a breathtaking scale.
Another question could be asked: if Saddam Hussein were in power, could the seeds of ISIS have found fertile ground to germinate and grow in Iraq and overrun half of the country’s territory, turning it into an inferno of bombings, killings and destruction?
Saddam Hussein may have been a tyrant who ruled ruthlessly and killed thousands of his opponents, but he was not in the least sectarian. And he showed what he was made of in his dignified stand at the scaffold, when he shamed his persecutors, recited the articles of faith, and chanted “long live” to Iraq, the Arab nation and Palestine.
His executioners sought to demean him but ended up demeaning themselves, and have continued to do so ever since.
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