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30 Dec, 2016 05:01

ISIS, sectarian conflict & chaos: Iraq 10 years after Saddam Hussein’s death

A decade after Saddam Hussein was tried, convicted and executed, Iraq is struggling to defeat Islamic State and cope with sectarian strife and other consequences of the US-led invasion.

Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti ruled Iraq from July 1979 to April 2003, as leader of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath (“Resurrection”) Party. He was put on trial by a tribunal established by the US-led occupation authorities. On November 5, 2006, Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity over the 1982 killing of 148 people in the town of Dujail, following an attempt on his life. He was hanged at dawn on December 30, 2006, on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

“It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial,” US President George W. Bush said in a statement following the execution, adding: “Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule.”

Once an ally

The White House was not always so adamant about Hussein. In 1980, the Iraqi president received the keys to the city of Detroit after making a generous donation to the Chaldean Sacred Heart Church.

Washington also approached Hussein as a potential ally against neighboring Iran, where a monarchy allied with the US had been overthrown by Islamic revolutionaries. With US support, Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, but was quickly forced to go on the defensive. The Iraq-Iran war officially ended in August 1988, having claimed over a million lives and more than $1.2 trillion in combined economic losses, without any change in the borders.

Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait in August 1990, after US Ambassador April Glaspie told him that Washington “does not have an opinion” on that conflict. In response, the US assembled an international coalition to defend Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield) and launched Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait in January 1991. Iraq remained under UN and US sanctions after that, with hawks in Washington unhappy that President George H.W. Bush refused to continue the war until Hussein was deposed.

Ace of spades

In 2003, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, claiming that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and was working with terrorists who had attacked the US in September 2001. Neither of those claims was true. The same Donald Rumsfeld who met with Hussein in December 1983 as President Ronald Reagan’s special envoy organized the invasion 20 years later as Bush’s secretary of defense.

While the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait was legal under the UN Resolution 660, there was no such cover for the 2003 invasion. The occupying force disbanded the Iraqi military, banned the Ba’ath Party and offered bounties on the top 52 officials of Hussein’s government via the infamous “Iraq’s most wanted” card deck. Hussein was depicted as the ace of spades.

The former president was captured in December 2003 in Ad-Dawr, some 10 miles (16 km) south of his hometown of Tikrit. Western media described his hideout as a “spider hole.”

‘Not a religious man’

Hussein was tried by the Iraqi Special Tribunal, established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in December 2003 and composed of five Iraqi judges. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. His request for a firing squad was denied.

“This dark page has been turned over,” Mowaffak al-Rubaie, national security adviser in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, told the Iraqi television after Hussein’s execution. “Saddam is gone.”

Iraqi-Americans celebrated the news by dancing in the streets of Dearborn, Michigan, CNN reported.

In 2008, Rubaie was one of the main authors of the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, under which the Obama administration conducted the US withdrawal from the country.

This week, Rubaie gave an exclusive interview to RT Arabic, which will be aired in full later on Friday. Speaking on Salam Musafir’s program, “In One Word,” he provided some interesting details about Hussein’s behavior at the trial and of those around him.

Rubaie insists that Saddam “was not beaten or humiliated, neither during the trial, nor at the execution.”

As for Hussein, he never asked or prayed for forgiveness, Rubaie noted, citing his near-death slogans as “Long live the nation,” “Long live the people,” “Hail to Palestine” and “Death to America!”

Rubaie said he did not get an impression that was a man who feared God. Indeed, for the leader of the country often painted by the West as being mired in sectarian conflicts, he did not seem religious at all. Rubaie says that they even had to remind Hussein to utter Shahada, the ultimate statement of the Muslim faith, on the verge of his execution. He believes Hussein only used religion “for the purpose of propaganda and to deceive people.”

As for George W. Bush, he was clearly in support of Saddam’s execution, Rubaie recalled.

“Bush asked the Iraqi PM: ‘What are you going to do with this man?’ Al-Maliki replied: ‘We are going to execute him.’ In response, the US president raised his thumb up in approval. It is hard to imagine a more obvious sign of support,” Rubaie said.

US out, ISIS in

As the last convoy of US troops left Iraq on December 14, 2011, President Barack Obama said that they were “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”

It was not so, however. By 2013, Al-Qaeda in Iraq – established only after the US invasion and the insurgency against the occupiers – had been transformed into Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or IS) and exploited the discontent of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims under the Shia-dominated Al-Maliki government to seize much of the north and east of the country.

In June 2014, IS was able to take the city of Mosul after some 30,000 Iraqi troops trained and equipped by the US simply fled the battlefield, leaving their weapons and gear behind. Some 5,000 US troops have returned to Iraq since, to “advise and assist” the reconstituted Iraqi military in its struggle against IS. Currently, the Iraqi military is slowly advancing on Mosul with US air support.

‘Almost comforting in comparison’ to ISIS

In his recently published book, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, the former CIA officer who interrogated Hussein in 2003 argued that IS could not have arisen under his rule.

“Saddam felt that Islamist extremist groups in Iraq posed the biggest threat to his rule and his security apparatus worked assiduously to root out such threats,”wrote John Nixon. “It is improbable that a group like ISIS would have been able to enjoy the kind of success under his repressive regime that they have had under the Shia-led Baghdad government.”

“In hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq,” Nixon wrote.