Iraq Forum

Our invited panel debate the issues surrounding Saddam's trial

What does political meddling in the trial say about post-election politics in Iraq?

On February 3, 2006
Iraqi Scholar Faleh Jabar

The shake up signifies three major points: the Shi’iahs are adamant about a tough trial; the Kurds support this; and the Sunnis are preparing themselves to live without Saddam. If this reading is somehow objective, post-election consociational politics can go through, not so smoothly perhaps, but still go ahead.

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On January 31, 2006
Nehal Bhuta from Human Rights Watch

Politics in post-Saddam Iraq have become increasingly divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. In some media commentary, this is portrayed as a consequence of a long-standing Sunni-Shi’iah political antagonism. This is somewhat of an exaggeration. In in-depth interviews with hundreds of Iraqis in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, I found little evidence that a Sunni-Shi’iah division was a fundamental dimension of political consciousness in Iraq. In the early days after Saddam, people with whom I spoke overwhelmingly rejected the need for “reconciliation,” asserting that Iraqis were “all one people.”

In the three years since then, things have changed a great deal, and there has been increasing political mobilization along the lines of sect and ethnic identity. I would suggest two main reasons for this.

First, the governance arrangements instituted by the occupiers in the first two years of the occupation empowered political parties whose ideology and platform were sect-based (for example, Daawa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and that had a strong interest in encouraging (and rewarding) political mobilization along the lines of sect affiliation. The formation of a transitional government dominated by these parties appears to have accelerated the process, with sect-based militia forces (such as the Badr Brigades) coming to dominate security services and receiving state support for their own vigilante activities. The terrorist tactics of Salafist and Wahhabist insurgent groups has also increased antagonism. These groups regard the Shi’iah as apostates and have targeted mosques.

The second cause is more diffuse, but pervasive. As Iraq analyst Toby Dodge observes, the chaos and insecurity that have gripped Iraq since April 2003 have destroyed many basic means of survival and stability for much of the population. Local-level networks and institutions have become substitute sources of protection and subsistence and vehicles for access to essential resources. These networks operate at the level of the street, the neighborhood and the township and legitimize their increased influence through the language of religious authority and kinship. Strong incentives are created to foreground a sectarian or regional identity over other bases of political organization, even in the absence of any real ideological commitment at the individual level.

The real risk is that the trial will be seen as another dimension of the politics of sectarian revenge. The government attacks on the independence of the court and the meddling by the de-Ba’athification commission (which is itself controlled by Shi’iah Islamist parties) serve only to reinforce the perception.

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On January 31, 2006
Iraqi scholar Faleh Jabar

Before the appointment of the new “judge,” the Saddam trial was almost a blunder: a mute judge; a frightened or disheartened prosecution; naïve witnesses; and a barrage of Saddam’s rhetoric, which is stupid and disgusting but has some echo in the Arab world.

The trial process should have two major functions: to establish the rule of law and to uncover the crimes of the past.

The very fact that the case of al-Dujail was selected for the first leg of a long process was naïve. Why not the 1991 uprising? We have footage of mass killings and no trial shortage of suspects (or defendants, in the jargon). Iraqis are fed up with the stupid proceedings. The over-politeness of the judge was interpreted as weakness.

Let us see what will happen now. People have to deal with the past before they can carry on to the future.

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On January 31, 2006
Iraqi blogger 24 Steps to Liberty

The Iraqi republic wasn’t established until the “revolutionists” killed the king of Iraq, King Faisal II, and many of his royal family members. That was back in 1958.

In 1963, the Ba’athists came to power. And that didn’t happen until they killed Abdul Karim Qasim, Iraq’s first republic prime minister. And, of course, the Ba’athists killed many “enemies” in the path for“freedom.”

When Saddam Hussein came to power, he killed many of his fellow Ba’athists. He had to. They formed a threat to him and his power. In 1979 and 1980, Saddam killed many men, publicly and secretly. His reason was that “they betrayed the country and the principles of the Ba’ath Party.” Since then, killing and assassinations have not stopped in Iraq.

Now, Saddam is overthrown and his replacement is already sitting on top of the pyramid of Iraqi politics and community. These politics are not as brutal as the ones before. In the 21st century and after the war, in order to bring democracy to Iraq, our politicians now cannot execute Saddam. It would be the scandal everyone wants to avoid -- bringing Saddam before a camera to shoot him in the head, just like the Ba’athists did to Qasim. Therefore, this “fair trial” has been orchestrated to impose a pre-concluded sentence. Death!

The United States would never allow the Iraqis to deal with Saddam privately. What was the war against Iraq for, if not justice and democracy?

The only way the Iraqi politicians can destine Saddam to where they want him is to impose the sentence on the judge. Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd and the trial’s first judge, resigned because he’d had enough of the intervention of government officials in the trial’s procedures. A new judge is seated, another Kurdish judge. But will government interference stop?

We’ve heard several witnesses in the trial now. Can any of them be taken seriously? No. All they have said is “I heard...” or “I believe...” or “I don’t know, but it should be...” And when one of them said, “I witnessed and saw,” neither Saddam nor any of his co-defendants in this trial were there!

Saddam’s trial is a way to take revenge. The politicians want to take revenge, but they are not as brutal as the others. So they want to do it legally and impose the “death sentence” on the judge.

I would say that no matter how long the trial is going to take and no matter how many judges sit in the power chair, Saddam will be executed. We all know that if this doesn’t happen, there will be a huge civil disorder in Iraq. You cannot deny that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed under Saddam’s Ba’ath Party umbrella. Iraqis are human beings. They have feelings. This blood cannot and will not be in vain. Otherwise, the whole idea of liberating Iraq was not for the Iraqis’ benefit.

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