SAN FRANCISCO, California (IPS) Iraqi-Americans reacted with sadness
to the execution of Saddam Hussein Saturday, calling the former Iraqi president's
death by hanging early this morning Baghdad time a missed opportunity for justice.
An Iraqi tribunal set up by the U.S. government had convicted Hussein of murder
in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from the Iraqi town of Dujail, where assassins
had tried to kill Hussein in 1982.
The crime, while severe, is actually one of his smaller-scale atrocities. In
1988, Hussein's government began the Anfal campaign of ethnic cleansing against
the Kurds of northern Iraq. More than 100,000 Kurds were killed, many of them
lined up and stripped before being machine gunned and dumped into trenches.
"As a Kurd, I don't think Saddam should have been executed right now,"
Kani Xulam, founder of the Washington-based American Kurdish Information Network,
"They say suffering brings about compassion," he said, "but
if suffering is not validated, is not honored, is not heard, then people turn
into cynics. Those are the issues that the Kurds feel, that I as a Kurdish activist
In death, Xulam said, Hussein will escape justice for gassing Kurdish civilians
with chemical weapons, as well as the brutal murders of thousands of Shiites
who rose up against his regime at George Bush Sr.'s urging after the 1991 Gulf
War. Those killings, taken together, account for most of those buried in mass
graves unearthed after the US military invaded Iraq and toppled the regime in
Xulam said he was hoping that the public airing of evidence of Hussein's crimes
would bring closure to his victims and greater understanding to Iraqi society
as a whole. Now, he said, such closure may be impossible.
"Justice is not being served as far as I can see," he said. "There's
a miscarriage of justice; 142 killings is a tiny speck in the larger crimes
that he has committed. Imagine if Hitler were alive to be prosecuted. A lot
of details of his crimes would have come out. Hitler committed suicide, but
Saddam was captured and I think this trial should have continued."
Shakir Mustafa, a Baghdad-born professor at Boston University, agreed with
"During the trial, Saddam sounded really ready to provide such details,"
Dr. Mustafa said. "For the Dujail case, for example, Saddam said 'Yes,
I wanted these men executed because they committed a crime. They wanted to assassinate
me.' He volunteered these and other details and I think the Iraqi people would
be interested in hearing about what he says he had done for Iraq's security."
Another reason Hussein's hanging is unlikely to bring closure to his victims,
Mustafa said, is the fact that his trial was carried out under an unpopular
US occupation. The trial "lacks legitimacy," he said.
"[It's] being done by an occupying force and government that very much
lacks legitimacy itself, so that closure, I don't think its coming," he
>From the beginning, observers note, Hussein's trial had been directly supervised
by US officials. It was funded by a 138-million-dollar grant from Congress and
by a large staff of foreigners working out of the US Embassy in Baghdad called
the Regimes Crime Unit.
Previous key moments of Hussein's trial had coincided closely with the needs
of the George W. Bush administration. In August, the trial recessed only to
reconvene on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the al Qaeda terror attacks on the
United States. And Hussein was sentenced to death shortly before the US midterm
congressional elections in November.
Scott Horton, the chair of the International Law Committee of the New York
City Bar Association, who worked on the trial, told IPS there was little doubt
that the death sentence was intentionally handed down on the eve of the elections.
He said Washington exercised especially tight control over the tribunal's schedule.
"Access to the courtroom is controlled by the Americans, security is controlled
by the Americans, and the Americans have custody over the defendants who must
be produced before the trial can go forward, so whether they have the trial
on day x or day y depends on the Americans giving their okay," he said.
"What is really being presented here is the narrative of people in power,
the victors not the victims," Professor Mustafa said. "The Americans,
not the Iraqis. Not people like me and my relatives who lost loved ones, but
people who are deciding things in Iraq now."
Some observers believe Washington closely managed the trial in order to avoid
having Hussein reveal damaging secrets about his past relations with US presidents,
especially Ronald Reagan.
In November 1983, Reagan removed Iraq from the US government's official list
of nations that "support international terrorism." That opened the
door to full diplomatic and economic cooperation between Iraq and the United
The next month, Reagan he sent an emissary to Baghdad bearing a personal letter
for Hussein. That emissary was none other than recently departed Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
A declassified official note at the time read: "Saddam Hussein showed
obvious pleasure with the President's letter and Rumsfeld's visits in his remarks."
Rumsfeld also met Hussein's foreign minister Tariq Aziz. According to a State
Department memo made available by the nonprofit National Security Archive in
Washington, Rumsfeld told Aziz: "The United States and Iraq share many
common interests," and the Reagan administration had a "willingness
to do more" to "help Iraq."
Throughout this period, the Reagan administration largely ignored reports that
Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against the Iranian army and against
domestic Kurdish insurgents.
"While condemning Iraq's resort to chemical weapons," a US government
press release read, "the United States finds the Iranian regime's intransigent
refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government
of Iraq to be inconsistent with accepted norms."
With Hussein's execution, his precise relationship with the United States government
during the Cold War will go unexplored, as will any investigation into possible
US complicity with specific crimes.
Companies that sold chemical weapons and other instruments of terror to Hussein
are also likely off the hook with his death.
"I think there are companies that supported Saddam inside the US and Europe,"
the American Kurdish Information Network's Kani Xulam told IPS. "My fear
now is that they will go scot-free."
(Inter Press Service)