by Austin Bay
April 13, 2004
Poison. That's the word. "A lot of poison in Iraqi society built up over the years of Saddam's rule, a poison in the body politic," Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer said in a recent televised interview. "And we're going to have to deal with that. ... It's got to come out."
Bremer's right. Saddam's Baath fascist regime not only poisoned Iraqi society, its cruelty embedded, en masse, the human emotional poisons of bitterness, distrust and constant fear.
Other toxins churn and sicken Iraq. Syria and Iran pump death into Iraqi streets, as they arm and finance Baath fascists and extremist militias. Al Qaeda, behind the mask of Ansar al Islam, adds another terrible venom.
The defeat of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia crimps Iran's attempt to ignite a proxy war in Iraq. Democracy -- the antidote to Iraq's, and for that matter, Iran's systemic illness -- frightens Iran's theocratic dictators. Some day, Iran's clerical and Syria's secular tyrants will be held responsible for the destruction they have brought to their own people.
But Iraq must heal first.
In order to heal, Iraq must have courageous? Iraqi? leadership. It is no surprise that Iraq, at the moment, has no unifying political leader. Saddam used fear to fragment his opposition. The break goes beyond the ethnic and religious cleavages. The Shia, Kurd and Sunni communities are all split internally, for Saddam and his secret police pitted Sunni against Sunni and Kurd against Kurd. Other factions --Turkomen, Arab Christians, Yazidis -- further complicate the broken kaleidoscope.
The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has undertaken several leadership initiatives, including nurturing bilateral foreign relationships. These are the first steps in developing a foreign policy for "New Iraq." IGC involvement with the Fallujah ceasefire discussions is another step forward.
Ironically, there is one unifying figure in New Iraq, a man who reminds everyone of tyranny and its consequences: Saddam Hussein.
It's a bitter paradox. The divided Iraqi people share the common scars of suffering from Saddam's cruelty, theft and barbarism. Baathist corruption and theft impoverished a country rich in natural resources and human talent. Kurds and Shias got the worst of it, but the Baathists oppressed Sunnis, as well. Moreover, two generations of Sunni intellectuals and technocrats were either jailed or corrupted by the Baath regime. Like East European intellectuals in the Cold War, educated Sunni Arabs entered "internal exile" in order to stay alive. They kept their mouths shut and eyes averted -- morally damning compromises, but the life or death choice made by all but an exceptional few trapped in dictatorships.
So perhaps it is time to put Saddam on trial, sooner instead of later.
Saddam in the dock -- in an Iraqi court, not an international forum -- pinpoints the central source of poison, and begins the process of reconciling cure.
Saddam's trial would open up common wounds, reminding the Iraqi people of the hell they shared and have escaped. Mass murder of Shias, the destruction of mosques in Najaf, chemical weapons used on Kurds, for that matter, chemical weapons used on Iranians -- public trial addresses these crimes and their lingering effects.
Other subjects of common interest would receive a global airing, such as the United Nations' thoroughly corrupted Oil For Food program. If the trial exposes a slew of anti-American politicians and critics as being little more than paid flacks for Saddam, so be it. France's sweetheart oil deal with Saddam, the details of which remain murky, will also interest Iraqi prosecutors. Iraqis paid for the oil fiascoes with their blood -- that's the poisonous "blood for oil" scandal a trial will examine.
In fact, New Iraq and the CPA should have moved on the internal "judicial front" much more quickly. Democratic judicial processes provide a stark, confidence-raising contrast with Saddam's? ancien regime? and the violent whims of Fallujah's thugs.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in an essay for The Observer that a democratic Iraq would deal a blow "to the poisonous propaganda of the extremists."
Saddam's public trial, under the rule of democratic law, would help treat the effects of the anti-American and anti-Western lies spread in Islamo-fascist-funded madrassas, that global source of poison.