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January 15, 2007

The Death of a Tyrant: Douglas Murray reflects upon what has been forgotten about Saddam Hussein in all the condemnation of the manner of his execution

Posted by Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray - author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - argues that too much energy has been expended on examining the manner of Saddam Hussein's execution, too little on considering why he was executed.

One of the things it has been most common and paining to hear over the last four years has been, "I know Saddam was a bad man, but…". Sometimes one has been treated to the addition of a "probably".

The phrase has been the reliable standby of those who condemned the invasion of Iraq, believed that Saddam Hussein "kept a lid on things", or are attempting to gloss over ignorance. Formally, something of the attitude lingered when assorted international voices declared Hussein's trial unsatisfactory (should it have been needlessly longer? Should he have got off?) Informally it has long been the most common trope of proud anti-warriors and sheepish ex-hawks.

The repetition of that sentence long ago blunted the effect of any other than the most specific, little known stories of what Iraq under Hussein was like. In the wake of his overdue demise, and the distasteful speculation over his behaviour at the end, it seems to me useful to recall some things about him which are now forgotten. Whatever else can be said about Iraq today at present, as things stand the terrorists are not running the country. The current enemy in Iraq aims to run the country. The last one ran it.

Beyond the "bad man" phrase-making, it is worth considering just a couple of the aspects of Hussein's genocidal criminality which have failed to find their way into the papers since his hanging on 30th December.

Firstly we might reflect on his penchant for riding roughshod over the territorial integrity of other nations. Not just his military crossings over the borders of Kuwait and Iran. But his ignoring of the borders of countries like Great Britain, which he saw as absolutely no halt-sign to the furthering of personal vendettas or the pursuit of Ba'ath-party business. In 1978 London was the location for the assassination by Ba'athist agents of the former Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Razak Al-Naif. Following that assassination, eleven Iraqi diplomats were expelled from Britain. But it didn't stop the Ba'athists.

To give another little-remembered example - between 1980 and 1981 alone, Iraqi Ba'ath agents attacked students on university campuses across the United Kingdom. Students were attacked on campuses as far apart as Manchester, Strathclyde, Birmingham, London, Swansea and Cardiff, with in some cases spectacular brutality.

Among other cases, London resident Ali Abdullah Rahim Sharif was poisoned by Iraqi agents in a Kensington restaurant on 20th January 1988, dying of Thallium poisoning in a London hospital five days later.

And the tentacles of Hussein's regime stretched to even more unlikely places than Kensington. On 25th January 1988, an attempt was made on the life of political exile Ahmad Al-Nahar in Norway. Mr Al-Nahar's wife was killed in the attack on his house in Oslo.

On 30th July 1980 two Iraqi diplomats were expelled from Austria after a bomb intended for the Iranian embassy exploded prematurely, injuring eight people. At the same time, police in West Berlin arrested the first secretary of the Iraqi embassy in East Berlin and a member of his staff after they were caught with a suitcase of explosives intended to blow up a youth centre which was holding a conference for Kurdish students.

There are of course those who say in response to this, "Yes bad things happened, but that was a long time ago". Apart from the fact that there should be no statutes of limitations on such crimes of genocide and international terror, you don't have to stray too far from the present day to arrive at the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, which, as Laurie Mylroie demonstrates in her book The War Against America, was an Iraqi intelligence operation.

During the 1990s, when Iraq's terror is now often said to have been dormant, just about every network of regional terror had a working relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime: the Ramzi Yousef network, the Abu Abbas network, the Abu Nidal network - not to mention every suicide murderer who sought (and whose families won) sponsorship from Baghdad.

The terror continued right up to the end. In early 2003 I spoke with Iraqi women whose families had been murdered by Hussein. They had political sanctuary in Britain, and told me that even then, just days before the start of the war, they were getting messages from Iraqi agents on their phones in London threatening them with death if they continued speaking out against Hussein.

I mention these things because they have been mentioned so little elsewhere. The list could go on. Yet it sometimes seems that, in the West, the crimes of Hussein are not held to have been that serious. Usually one finds on investigation that people simply do not know about them. I have never been greeted with anything other than astonishment and a peevish sense of "Well no one told me!" when I have mentioned such things to Brits or Americans.

Of course one could recite with even greater ease a list of the abuses within Iraq itself. In 1980 Saddam Hussein said, "The national socialist revolution could go on with three million less people", and while he had his time ruling Iraq, Hussein did his best to reach that mark. For three decades he put more of his country's people into the ground than any other dictator of recent times. Which is, again, why when people fix on the rightness or otherwise of removing Saddam Hussein from power and repeat the "I know he was a bad man" argument, it's worth requesting just one detailed example of how bad he was. If the person cannot provide even one then we are dealing with fraudulence.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people of Iraq to remember victims like the three hundred children taken from Suleimaniya in 1985. The bodies of many of them, when returned to their families, betrayed the marks of torture, and in many cases these children had at some point before or after death had their eyes gouged out. It is hard to give voice to the "Saddam kept the lid on it" argument, or be in any way glib about Hussein's rule over Iraq when you get into such specifics.

The commentariat in the West are to date still discussing the manner and behaviour of the despot's dispatch. At times you would be forgiven for thinking we had stumbled on some murky out-take from Newsnight Review in which panellists regularly debate the behaviour of various dictators in their final snuff-movies. This angle of reporting has been a disgrace. Once again the tyrant himself has been the centre of attention, his daughters fawningly interviewed, his last stand even openly praised.

Ghada Karmi used the pages of The Guardian to explain that Hussein's hanging had "humiliated the Arab world". Yet if there were any humiliation for the Arab world, it should have been felt not at Hussein's death, but at his life, not at the manner of his passing, but in the facts of his existence.

Having finally passed the day when Hussein has exited through the trap-door of history, it would display an elementary sense of decency to remember the hundreds of thousands of people who that man sent to their deaths without record, without pity, without dignity and without cause. There exist no "Buts" in his legacy.

Douglas Murray is the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.


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Much as it goes against the grain to agree with a Neocon, it strikes me that here Douglas Murray is right. Since 1972, when I entered into university employment, I have enjoyed the company of overseas students and senior visitors from six continents (my way of travelling!). In the 1970’s, our university Arab society organized coach trips to various parts of Britain, which I would join. It is not generally appreciated how jolly the Arabs can be once you get to know them, and in particular the Iraqis were the life and soul of the party. But from the time that Douglas Murray mentions, namely 1980 and 1981, a blight was cast over them, and they became morose and unapproachable.

The problem, though, is not the removal of Saddam, but the by whom and the how. The whole business seems to have been planned according to the interests of “Crassus” Cheney and his associates. And I strongly suspect that the MBA from Harvard Business School did no good for the outlook of President George W. Bush


Posted by: Robert H. Olley at January 15, 2007 10:13 PM
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