What ever the feeling anyone has about Saddam Hussein, his killing was always about things other than justice. As a political act, it required competence to avoid unnecessary disaster and it never had more than a slim prospect of producing a beneficial effect on the civil war in Iraq
Even before the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the event had the clear makings of a counter-productive exercise.
As the facts of the killing emerge, it turns out to have been an even bigger mess than anyone could have predicted. Whatever the justifications for trying a Head of State, who has been deposed by an invasion, however fair a trial may have been, and however much the verdict might be accepted by international opinion, the execution of sentence has to completed without providing a propaganda platform for the supporters of the prisoner, and without creating a backlash of international opinion.
Considered by American Occupation Forces as the “most dangerous man in Iraq, the extremist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has enjoyed a good war, with his militia terrorists killing large numbers of Iraq Sunni abductees, usually after terrible torture
In the event, the hanging is coming to be portrayed as a lynching by Shia extremists, supporters of the man the Americans talk of as “the most dangerous man in Iraq”, the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
In the Sunni heartlands, the hanging of Saddam was always likely to produce at least muted respect for the dead leader and there was always a danger that he could be seen as a martyr, rather than as a condemned criminal
It is hard to see how the imposed, and Shia-controlled, Iraqi Government could have achieved a display of greater ineptitude. They ignored their own recently adopted Constitution and, in a calculated insult to the Sunni population, timed the hanging for the first day of the major annual Sunni religious festival. The decision to broadcast the hanging was always very dangerous, when proof of death could have been provided by a photograph of the body after it had been placed with dignity in a coffin. Having decided to broadcast the event, it seemed strange that the film had been cut between the preparation of the victim and the body cut down with twisted neck. Many assumed that this was an attempt to introduce some dignity to the execution of sentence, but that was always strangely at odds with the way in which Saddam was seen to be composed and defiant in his final minutes, and again at odds with the Shia gloating ‘spin’ that tried to claim Saddam was broken and terrified.
A composed unhooded Saddam contrasts with the nervous hooded executioners who looked more like extras from an IRA film, or a movie about serial killers
We now know why the film was cut, because someone was allowed to smuggle a mobile phone camera into the execution hall and record the full process that then looked like a lynching. The executioners were all masked and this placed them at disadvantage because Saddam refused to be hooded. On the illegal record, it can be seen that the executioners were chanting in support of Moqtada al-Sadr and throwing infantile insults at the prisoner, who robustly condemned them and questioned their maturity and masculinity.
In the worst possible outcome, the inept killing of Saddam Hussein has elevated him to the status of martyr and begun to radicalize Sunnis who, previously, were prepared to work for a democratic Iraq. In death, Saddam has become a hero to a growing section of Iraqi society and thousands are flocking to his burial place to pay homage
The clown who allowed the display is responsible for a public relations disaster, as are the people who failed to search witnesses adequately to ensure that no illegal filming was possible, but the Shia Government as a whole is responsible for the fiasco which promises to deepen the civil war and to expand the conflict.
The Clinton/Blair invasion of Serbian Kosovo provided the Islamic insurgents there with an airforce. That airforce then, in ‘friendly’ fire and deliberate targeting, is estimated to have caused more death than any killings by Serb militia, and led to genocide of Serb Christians
What this latest disaster demonstrates is the fundamental error in the policies pursued by Bush and Blair. They should have learned something from the experience of the previous unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation when Clinton and Blair decided to join Al Qaeda in support of Islamic insurgents against the Christian Serbs. The justifications might have seemed humanistic in Washington and London at the time but, at best, they replaced genocide by Christians with genocide by Muslims. That could all come into fresh conflict shortly when Serbia joins the European Union, with Kosovo still part of Serbia, and with a growing anti-Islamic feeling developing through Europe.
In addition to heavy air cover, the Clinton/Blair invasion introduced state-of-the art armour and came very close to creating a stand-off with Russian troops, demonstrating that in war the situation can spin out of control and lead to many unforeseen risks, even for the most powerful military forces
As it was, Bush and Blair did what politicians are prone to do and that is to perpetuate past mistakes. They assumed that the moment British and American troops rolled over the border into Iraq, the whole Iraqi people would come out onto the streets waiving US and British flags, ready to welcome Bush and Blair to a victory parade and photo opportunity in the centre of Baghdad. It is very hard to understand how anyone could get it so wrong. Iraq had no long established tradition of democracy. However Saddam’s behaviour may have offended European and American feelings, he was not much different from the majority of other leaders in the region. Those who became his victims may have been delighted to see him brought down, but many Iraqis were content with his rule, or found themselves able to co-exist. As the hanging of Saddam has demonstrated, his opponents intend to rule in much the same way that he did, through abductions, torture and murder of opponents.
The situation in Iraq now requires military manpower and close-quarter fighting where advanced weapon systems offer little advantage over physical strength, determination, local knowledge and personal weapons
In a war between nations, one group will win and a surrender document will be signed. That assumes that the vanquished will be responsible for acting as a policing agency to maintain civil order and that there will be a clear declaration by both sides of what is going to happen next. In that environment the strongest side is the winner and that usually means the side with the best technology and resources. The invasion of Iraq was different. The first phase pitted well-equipped modern forces against a poorly equipped Iraqi army that lacked air cover and effective command and control systems. The result was a very rapid victory by relatively small numbers of US-led troops against numerically stronger Iraqi forces. After that rapid phase, it became a developing urban terrorist war where fighting was close and personal and where the occupation Forces could never be certain who their friends were and where their enemies were.
There are now very few choices open.
US and British troops could be removed immediately, leaving the Iraqi civil war to expand and for a victor to eventually emerge. If this is to be done with minimum casualties to Anglo-American troops, it has to be a carefully prepared evacuation that starts suddenly without announcement and is completed rapidly before it can be harried by Iraqis. There are many in Britain and the US who would favour exactly that option and even more who think that it has to be announced in advance of the retreat.
Israel could become the front line for the European Union
Unfortunately it is a very dangerous option because the final outcome could be very much worse than anything in the past for Anglo-American interests and for stability in the region. The growing desire in Turkey and Israel to join the European Union could mean that Europe’s boundaries extend into the Arab region where a strongly militant Shia state in Iraq is unlikely to make that a comfortable situation.
The Kurdish homelands are divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The creation of an independent Kurdish state has the potential to trigger more violence then the creation of an Israeli homeland in Palestine in the 1940s but that does nothing to invalidate Kurdish aspirations
Should the region be left to its own devices, there are three natural fault lines. The Kurds have enjoyed the best of the Iraq invasion, developing in relative peace and isolation from the rest of Iraq. However, the Kurds see not only Northern Iraq as their homeland, but also extensive tracts of Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian territory.
A secular Turkish membership of the European Union could accept a redrawing of the Kurdish boundaries in relation to Turkey, particularly if a Kurdish State was to become a member of the European Union, with the Kurdish oil reserves being a welcome contribution to a Europe facing an energy famine. The most probable outcome will be for the French and Germans to continue to block Turkish entry into the European Union and that may encourage Turkey to become an Islamic State, having interests against the Kurds in common with Shia Iraqis and Shia Iranians.
Now could be a good time to start thinking about a forthcoming nuclear war
Iran is now working hard to develop nuclear weapons, but Sunni-supporting Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and launch systems. Saudi interests may encourage them to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan, and Al Qaeda is a Sunni dominated organization. That could eventually mean that Britain and the US will be forced to support the Sunnis, including Al Qaeda, against the Shias. Not a very encouraging prospect.
Within hours of his death, Saddam is looking increasingly like the person who could best have served European and North American interests and maintained stability within Iraq. It is also looking increasingly as though the Iraqi population would have been safer and better served by Saddam.
Given that the ill-fated invasion of Iraq cannot be reversed and that the great ‘bug-out’ of Occupation Forces is a very dangerous option, that only leaves two possible options. One is to expand the Occupation Forces and win the war, and the other is to form a United Nations Peace Keeping Force with a strong Islamic component.
UN Peace Keepers are only as strong as the will of the donors who provided the troops and the rules of engagement set out for their deployment and operation
The United Nations is not keen to become involved and the failures of the UN Force in the Lebanon has demonstrated that they are unlikely to be effective against Islamic terrorists. It is also very unlikely that the UN could assemble, maintain and fund a large enough force. There is, in addition, a fundamental difference between the composure and deployment of occupation troops and peace keepers. For Peace Keepers to have any chance of success, they must come in after a military victory, when the territory is basically at peace, and provide stabilization while a new indigenous government is formed and becomes able to govern effectively. Iraq is currently a very long way from the point where a UN stabilization force could operate.
That then means the only option that could be viable is for the Occupation Forces to be substantially reinforced and equipped to defeat all militias and prevent supplies and fighters coming in across the borders of Iraq. The question is whether an adequate level of reinforcement from Britain and the US is possible.
Even by mothballing ships and aircraft to divert funds, the British MOD has been unable to adequately equip its troops in the Middle East, with tragic consequences
British Forces are in a very bad way due to cynical neglect and exploitation of troops by the Blair regime. Regime change in Britain is imminent but that may do little to change the basic facts and realities in the short term. To provide even rudimentary supplies for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, ships and aircraft have had to be mothballed to allow funding to move from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force to the Army. Government cutbacks, still working through the system, continue to cut the Army’s ability to respond to demands for troops. The situation is now so bad that senior military commanders are having to resort to public statements against the lack of government support for the first time in British history. The situation is now worse than during the disastrous Wilson Government of the 1960s when senior military personnel seriously considered a coup against the then British Government.
Bush has at least taken steps to expand US military funding
The situation is little better in the US. The Bush Administration has been increasing the defense spend, both on conventional resources suitable directly for Iraq and for new systems to wage a range of wars. However, Congress and the population are becoming increasingly resistant to the idea of expanding forces in the Middle East. With the 3,000th death having passed at the time of Saddam’s hanging, this resistance is likely to increase. As a result, the Bush administration is encouraging the belief that they are about to send between 20,000 and 30,000 additional troops to Iraq and to Afghanistan.
Apart from having to fight Congress for budget and obtain public support, the US military is already heavily over stretched with inadequate manpower. That means that it may be impossible to send out more than 30,000 troops even if Congress and the public enthusiastically supported the policy.
In the end success will come down to troops on the ground in adequate numbers, in parallel with an effective programme to restore a semblance of normality for Iraqi citizens
That then leaves the very big question about the size of re-inforcement necessary to ensure defeat of the militias, and to secure the borders, while Iraqi army and police personnel are vetted and trained to provide an effective maintenance of public order. It also raises the question of whether the Iraqis would elect a government that would be acceptable to Europe and America. The first attempt has been less than an outstanding success, leading to the botched hanging of Saddam Hussein and the descent into civil war.