Saddam Hussein been a private citizen of Iraq, I would
not have hesitated for an instant in asking that he be
hanged for the crimes he has committed. In 1961 the man
was a hired assassin for the CIA, who narrowly failed
to kill the then Iraqi President, Gen Abdul Karim Kassem.
The way in which he ordered the execution of 60 of his
closest associates in the Baath party in 1979, immediately
after he came to power, has become part of the folklore
of Iraq. And I personally heard a vivid account of the
massacre at Dujail in 1990 from an Indian railway engineer
who had worked in Iraq in the '80s.
Saddam Hussein was not an ordinary citizen of Iraq. He
was its Head of State. And this raises several issues
that can not simply be swept aside because they do not
fit the grand plan of an imperial power that aspires to
rule the world.
In any country, the purpose, perhaps the overriding purpose,
of the state is to create a stable and secure environment
for its citizens to live in. This requires it to use both
coercion and accommodation, or cooptation with different
groups, to maintain a political equilibrium. The exact
form of coercion and accommodation, and the balance between
them has differed from epoch to epoch and country to country.
But the use of coercive power by the state against the
individual has never been absent. It is in fact an essential
attribute of the state itself.
In a well governed and stable state, its use of force
is constrained by law. In an ideal state, that law is
not handed down to the people by the ruler but decided
by the people themselves. Democracy, however fractured
or creaky it may be in some countries, comes close to
that ideal. But democracy itself grew out of a fortuitous
balance of power between the crown, the landed aristocracy
and a powerful new mercantile elite in a single country,
England, that forced all three to cooperate in governance
for the nation to survive. But it took 140 years of mounting
strife, a civil war and the beheading of a king to establish
that all three needed each other.
the three hundred and thirty nine years since that happened,
democracy has been adopted by more than a hundred and
twenty countries but taken firm root in barely two dozen.
In the 90 states that joined the UN after 1951, not even
half a dozen have managed to maintain unbroken democratic
rule. Even India, which is counted among them, suffered
a temporary lapse during the Emergency.
In the rest of the world, authoritarianism has been the
norm rather than the exception. And correspondingly, the
use of force by the state against its citizens has been
less bridled. When we judge the heads of states of these
countries, the principle of equality before the law demands
that we apply a common set of criteria to judge whether
the use of force was excessive or not.
is not all. We also need to ask what purpose the use of
force was designed to serve. Was it pure personal vendetta
or was it intended to restore and maintain order, so that
ordinary citizens who were not challenging the state or
government could continue to live secure lives. Force
used for the second purpose, even if excessive, needs
to be judged differently from force used for the first.
we need to ask whether trying and executing a former Head
of State will enhance or cripple the capacity of the existing
government of that state to meet its central obligation
to its people. In short, will Saddam's trial and execution
bring peace or civil war to Iraq?
by these yardsticks, the case against Saddam, especially
over Dujail, begins to look a great deal weaker than it
sounds. I believe that Saddam Hussein does need to be
tried. But he must be tried by a dispassionate international
court, like the International Court of Justice or the
newly established International War Crimes Tribunal, that
is capable of taking all of the above complex issues into
account when giving its verdict. The present kangaroo
court, cowering behind a wall of American steel, will
neither render justice nor bring peace to Iraq.
begin with, Saddam's use of force cannot be judged by
the yardsticks of a democracy because Iraq not only was
not one, but was never given the chance to be one. It
was carved out of three Ottoman provinces after the First
World War as one of three protectorates to be ruled by
Britain and France. The arbitrary drawing of borders where
previously there had been none, left Iraq with parts of
three major ethnic and religious groups. Since this happened
in the heyday of the nation state, any assertion of ethnic
consciousness in these groups had to be crushed. Iraqi
regimes therefore had no option but to be authoritarian
did not mean that Saddam had no option but to be the brutal
ruler that he was. It meant that only brutal men like
Saddam, who did not shrink from using excessive force
in the first place, could rise to the top in Iraq. In
short, Saddam did not create his Iraq; Iraq created Saddam.
is a classic case of the dilemma that authoritarian power
in an extremely fragile state faces. Iraq was at war with
Iran in 1982, a war that the US and UK were not only supporting
but which the US had, in all probability, instigated Iraq
to launch. Shia men from the village planned an ambush
but failed to kill him. They had to be punished but who,
in a shia village would bear witness against his own kin
for a Baathist state that had declared war on Khomeini's
had only two choices - to ignore the attack or impose
a collective punishment. In a violent state like Iraq,
then at war, he chose the latter course. Killing 143 persons
was excessive but was it a crime against humanity?
Can we compare this with the holocaust, the genocide against
the Armenians in Turkey or the genocide against the Tutsi
in Rwanda? Do we not trivialise the very notion of a crime
against humanity by applying it to what happened in Dujail?
we apply the principle of equality before the law then
the charge becomes even less tenable. Collective punishment
was common not only in some 'barbarian' countries, but
was extensively used by the British in India. They reached
a height when entire villages were slaughtered after the
1857 revolt. Should the British government not be held
to account ? There is, after all, no statute of limitation
on murder. As for the US and its friends in Latin America
and Asia, the less said the better!
Iraqi government claims to have another 11 cases against
Saddam. The fact that they started with Dujail shows that
these may be even weaker. One perhaps the worst
is, in any case, a complete fabrication by Washington.
This is Saddam's gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in March
May 1990 the American government has been in possession
of a US army report on the effect of chemical warfare
on troops, which shows conclusively that the majority
of the Kurds who were killed in Halabja and elsewhere
fell victim to cyanide gas, which was being used by the
Iranians, and not mustard gas which is what the Iraqi
army was using.
This was revealed for the third time by the author of
the report, Steven Pelletiere, in an article in the
New York Times on January 31, 2003. But like a million
other inconvenient facts this too has been buried deep
by the Bush administration and the supposedly independent
case for taking Saddam's trial out of Iraq becomes even
stronger when we look at its consequences. A civil war
is steadily gathering momentum in Iraq. The insurgency
is out of control and, as an American general told Time
magazine, 'We have realised that the Sunnis
are the wolves the warriors and the Shias
are the sheep'. When the Americans leave as they eventually
must, Iraq will explode and Turkey and Iran will probably
be drawn into the war. Is this the way America wants to
govern the world?
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former
editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic
Times and The Financial Express,
and a former information adviser to the prime minister
of India. He is the author of several books including,
The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy
of Reform in Russia, India and China, and
Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a
regular columnist with several leading publications.