Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam Hussein isn't Lumumba or Allende

No one much sympathises with Saddam Hussein, the deposed dictator of Iraq. But his execution caused a revulsion among the critics of the Iraqi dictator. The newly-elected Iraqi government, which is dominated by the majority Shias, could have shown greater restraint. They could have set a good example by keeping him in prison for life. But the Shia leaders would argue, as former Pakistan president Zia-ul Haq would have argued in the case of Zulifqar Ali Bhutto. Zia would have said that if he were to show leniency towards Bhutto, Bhutto would not show any leniency towards him. It is true in the case of Saddam as well. The Ba'ath dictator would not have spared members of the Shia regime. So, he had to go to his death. But Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's government could have shown a little more grace than they did. They now stand exposed as mere stooges of the Americans, and not as legitimate rulers of the Iraqi people. It is a bad sign for the Iraqis.

Many Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- would have liked to hang Saddam for his ruthless rule of two decades. But they would have done it on their own terms. Not at the bidding of the Americans.
When the hated Cenral Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked from behind the scenes in getting the leftist prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, killed in 1961, and when they worked around the Chilean army under Auguste Pinochet to overthrow President Allende in Chile in 1973, the undemocratic character of the foreign policy of the democratic United States of America was quite evident. There was no need for any further denunciation. The US government had condemned itself every time they conspired against democracies in Asia, Africa and South America.

In the case of Saddam, the machiavellian twist in American perfidy is murkier than ever. Washngton had actively supported Saddam during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. The crime for which he was hanged -- the massacre of 182 Shias in Dujail in 1982 -- was at a time when the Americans were tangoing with Saddam.

Without denying Saddam's excesses, it needs to be pointed out that he acted against Shia rebellion and Kurdish separatists to defend the state of Iraq, something which any government would do at any time. But he lacked the political skills to win over the majority of Shias and Kurds while dealing with the political rebels. Saddam was not acting from private motives against political Shias and Kurds.

The Shia and Kurd dissidents could also argue that under a dictatorial regime they did not have any other option but to take up arms against Saddam, a honourable path glorifiied in political philosophy literature from ancient times.

Saddam is a crude dictator, but he is a product of his polity. Iraq failed to be a democracy, and it cannot blame Saddam for it. There is a similar tendency on the part of Pakistani liberals to blame the Americans for undermining democracy in their country. Iraqis have to ask themselves critical questions about their political failure. Out of this questioning will emerge a future democratic state in Iraq.

It is true that Saddam did create a modern society of sorts. And when he had to deal with intransigent political opponents like Shias and Kurds, he had to resort to cruel methods. There is a deep flaw in the Iraqi polity, which allows dictators like Saddam to flourish.

Saddam is a political hero like some tyrant of ancient Rome or Greece. Neither more, nor less.

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