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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2007 - 00:27:20

The death of Saddam and buried secrets
By Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 8, 2007, 00:18

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In the midst of severe and tragic events that have taken place in Iraq and the rest of the Arab States, intellectuals and ordinary citizens have either celebrated or mourned the execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30. Driven by passion or hatred, vengeance or contempt, many people have failed to take note of even the most recent events in Arab politics.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., argues that a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future. The induced and seemingly unending turmoil in the Middle East has left the Arab people unable to think clearly and often to fail to grasp serious political events detrimental to their future. Sadly, this state is vividly expressed in the reaction to the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

There are those who, rightly, question the savage conduct of the execution, the lack of professionalism, or the fact that it was done under occupation. There are those, too, who argue that at the end of the day a brutal dictator would eventually face his ultimate fate. Only a few, however, believe that under normal conditions and in absence of the 2003 military invasion, the Iraqi people could have delivered swift justice to Saddam, thus sending a chilling message to Arab dictators that would make their lives an unbearable nightmare.

When deputy defense minister of Israel, Ephraim Sneh stated, after the hanging of Saddam, �we have to be worried about what is going to happen now,� adding that Israel was concerned about a post-Saddam Iraq, he underscored the fact that Saddam was well connected to foreign powers and had valuable information not available to other Arab politicians. Saddam was instrumental in steering events to the advantage of Arab dictators and profoundly reversed the landscape of Arab politics; away from liberal progressive and nationalistic thinking and more toward polarized, clannish, and sectarian tendencies.

Contrary to recent rising myths cultivated by uniformed groups, Saddam�s rise to power and his hanging are closely connected. In fact, it is impossible to understand the reason that the occupational power kept Saddam since his capture under its custody without allowing Iraqis to have a free access to him, without making a connection between his rise to power and the tragic events that followed in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Saddam was always true to his roots. His personality was shaped by early childhood hardship, intense tribal attachment, and distrust of progressive thinking. While these factors may have helped in solidifying his power later, they were detrimental to his role as president and head of a governing party. It was these qualities that induced Saleh Ali al-Saadi, then deputy secretary general of the Ba�ath Party, to include him in the team to assassinate President Abdul Karim Qasim. According to al-Saadi when Fouad al-Rekabi, the head of the Party inquired about Saddam, he was told that Saddam was willing to take risks and would not hesitate to kill any communist..

Hani Wuhaib al-Nadawi, who served later as Saddam�s Press Secretary, recalled in a conversation in 1972 that Saddam was at ease in changing allegiances and had no ideological commitment. This may shed insight on the evolution of Saddam�s political life. According to a UPI report (April 10, 2003), Saddam�s first contact with the CIA was in 1959 as the �CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating� President Qasim. In 1964, al-Saadi acknowledged that the Ba�ath Party was financed by the CIA.

President Qasim, with the help of the Communist Party, enacted agrarian and other economic reforms along with civil and family laws which were detrimental to landlords and other established elite interests. Likewise, in 1959, Iraq decided to withdraw from the Washington-supported Baghdad Pact which included Britain, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Qasim, too, issued law #80 under which the government reserved the right for oil exploration in 99.5 percent of the territory called the non-concession lands, thereby imposing strict restrictions on the operation of foreign oil companies. These actions, prompted CIA Director Allan Dulles to state that Iraq was, �the most dangerous spot in the world.� The Ba�ath Party was seen as a viable instrument in changing Qasim�s regime.

After the failed assassination of Qasim, Saddam escaped to Syria and then moved to Lebanon. While in Lebanon, a former CIA officer was quoted in a UPI report saying the �CIA paid for Saddam�s apartment and put him through a brief training course.� Soon after, Saddam was moved to Cairo, Egypt, where according to a UPI report Saddam frequently visited Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative.

In February1963, the CIA orchestrated a coup d�etat and demonstrated that it was not only capable of removing a popular regime but also in rearranging the Arab political scene with considerable ease. In its editorial on April 2, 2003, USA Today succinctly summed it up: �In 1963, the CIA intervened in Iraqi politics to help Saddam�s branch of the Ba�ath Party seize power. A violent purge followed.�

The new regime in Baghdad embarked on three major endeavors to please Washington. Internally, it crushed the thriving and promising progressive Iraqi movement. Economically, it revised Law #80 pertaining to Iraqi oil exploration and practically put on hold the ambitious economic plans that were devised just after the 1958 popular revolution. Internationally, it improved its relations with London and Washington and formally recognized Kuwait�s sovereignty.

Nine months later, however, disgruntled army officers, including President Abdul Salam Aref, removed the Ba�athists from power. The jockeying for power among several military groups, however, resulted in the killing of President Aref in 1966. Many in the military saw Aref as an abusive incompetent and divisive president. After his death, his brother Abdul Rahman was selected by the competing military forces to be president.

Unlike his brother, the new president was a caring individual and showed tolerance for competing political views. Progressive and patriotic forces took advantage of the newly founded political environment. This enabled liberal and national Marxist-oriented groups (e.g. The Arab Nationalists Movement and the Communist Party) to dominate public discourse and to gain control over civic organizations, especially labor, peasant, and student unions.

During the 1967 war President Aref declared that the establishment of Israel was a �historical mistake.� He sent additional Iraqi troops to Jordan and aligned himself more closely than ever with Abdul Naser and his Arab national views. These developments alarmed the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Consequently, the Saudi military attach� in Baghdad, al-Shaar, approached some retired military officers, among them General Sebhi Abdul Hamid, to cooperate with a plan supported by the U.S. and Britain to replace Aref�s regime.

The Saudi military attach� informed General Abdul Hamid that leftist and nationalist groups with Marxist tendencies were dominating the Iraqi scene and were about to take over the government. When General Abdul Hamid refused to cooperate in overthrowing Aref�s regime, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, representing the Ba�ath Party, was approached and accepted the offer to be Aref�s replacement.

On July 17, 1968, the CIA-supported coup d�etat successfully removed Aref and the Ba�athists came to power. Al-Bakr was declared president. Capitalizing on his kinship with al-Bakr, Saddam positioned himself at the center of power by purging military officers not affiliated with the Ba�ath Party and forcing into exile, among others, leaders of the Arab Nationalist Movement.

Early in 1969, Saddam consolidated his power by controlling all branches of security, including the military. Immediately, he closed down the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf and jailed many of its members. He, further, cooperated with Iran and the Arab Gulf governments in their attempt to eliminate the growing influence of progressive nationalistic groups. When Salah Omer al-Ali, the head of the Ba�ath Gulf Bureau, questioned the rationality of this action, he was immediately demoted and sent abroad as an ambassador.

During Black September 1970 (a month in which King Hussein of Jordan used force to crush the PLO fighters during bloody fighting), Michel Aflag, the Ba�ath National General Secretary, and Iraqi Military Chief of Staff Hamadi Shihab gave the order, while in Jordan, to Iraqi military stationed there to aid Palestinians. Saddam immediately issued counter orders not to help the Palestinians.

When, Michel Aflag, wrote an editorial about his disappointment in what had happened during Black September, in the party magazine in Lebanon al Ahrar, Saddam closed the magazine and dismissed its editors from the party. Similarly, when Al-Ghed magazine, in Baghdad, published an editorial criticizing the betrayal of the Palestinian cause by siding with King Hussein, Saddam closed it down and laid off its editor, Aziz al-Syed Jasim.

Internally, Saddam was able to restrict the movement of representatives of many Palestinian organizations, especially the Popular Front and the Popular Democratic Front. He attempted to divide the largest Palestinian group headed by Arafat; Fatah. In fact, he financed almost all Fatah splinter groups. Later, he closed down all Fatah training camps in Iraq and took over its properties. This prompted Arafat to state that the fate of Saddam would be similar to that of Nouri Saed (a brutal former Iraqi prime minister who was dragged through the streets of Bagdad to his death by an angry Iraqi crowd in 1958).

However, Saddam focused his energy on eliminating the influence of the Communist Party and Arab nationalists. Once Saddam felt secure in eliminating the national and communist threat, he devoted his time to eradicating any threat from Kurdish organizations and intellectual religious figures. In the early 1970s, Saddam issued a decree prohibiting any public religious sentiments. He made it a law that any member of al-Dawa Party (of the current Iraqi prime minister) would be subject to execution.

By November 1974, Saddam Hussein was successful in getting rid of all leftist and nationalist members in the existing cabinet and leadership. He organized a new cabinet full of right-wingers and Ba�athists loyal to Saddam. The American Interest Section in Baghdad sent a report to Washington, stating, �We consider the change in cabinet on November 11 [to be] an indication of political stability and a continuation for the non-aligned policy and demonstrates the ability of Saddam Hussein in embarking on realistic and practical policy in managing the government.�

In his quest to steer Iraq away from the Arab nationalist path, Saddam in 1979 arrested and executed all senior members in the Ba�ath Party who supported a unity agreement with Syria, which was signed by President al-Bakr after meeting with Hafid al-Assad in Damascus. Al-Bakr was forced out of power and Saddam became president.

This allowed Saddam to direct all his resources to cementing relations with Arab authoritarian regimes, especially those of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and set the stage for invading Iran. Saddam instructed the media to refrain from criticizing Arab dictators and any reference to imperialism and ordered the media to refer, derogatively, to the new government in Iran as the Majosi (Zoroastrian) regime.

It should be pointed out that from 1969 al-Bakr was aware of Saddam�s attempt to move the Ba�ath Party away from the progressive thinking. In fact, senior progressive members of the Ba�ath Party tended to assert Saddam�s connection to foreign intelligence agencies. For example, Adul Khalaq al-Samaray, a member of the Revolutionary Command Council and the head of the Ba�ath Party Cultural and Intellectual Bureau, indicated in a private conversation in late 1970 that Saddam had a connection to the CIA.

When al-Bakr asked Abdul Khalaq al-Samaray to form a committee to negotiate with the oil companies in 1972, the latter, along with Aziz al-Sayed Jasim, conducted training sessions for the committee members on how to run the negotiations. As the team was about to reach a decision regarding the final settlement with the oil companies, al-Samaray informed Murtza Saed Abdul Baqi, the foreign minister and the head of the negotiations team, that Khadim al-Saedi, a member of the team, was Saddam�s informant and should not be made aware of the final course of action.

When Syed Jasim wrote the declaration of the nationalization of the oil companies, al-Bakr, fearing that Saddam might sabotage the act, asked al-Samaray not to inform Saddam until the meeting of the leadership. The meeting was just a few hours away before the evening announcement of the nationalization of the oil companies by al-Bakr. The nationalization of oil was considered a victory for the liberal wing in the party. It should be noted that Saddam, at different times, ordered the execution of al-Samaray, Abdul Baqi , and Syed Jasim.

The neoconservatives in Washington appreciated the role of Saddam in eliminating the progressive and patriotic Arab forces. Their enthusiastic support for Saddam reached new levels when Saddam invaded Iran in 1980. Daniel Pipes and Laurie Mylroie (1987) stated that "The fall of the existing regime in Iraq would enormously enhance Iranian influence, endanger the supply of oil, threading pro-American regimes throughout the area, and upset the Arab-Israeli balance . . . If our tilt toward Iraq is reciprocated, moreover, it could lay the basis for a fruitful relationship in the longer term." When the uprising took place against Saddam in March 1991, Pipes defended Saddam stating, �The slaughter in Iraq of Shiites and Kurds sickens me, but I have reluctantly concluded that it is basically right not to intervene on their behalf . . . and that the removal of Saddam Hussein was neither a military nor a political objective.�

The Washington Post reported (December 31) that President Bush (the senior), during the Iraq-Iran War, advised Saddam to intensify the bombing of Iran. In fact, according to a 1994 Senate report, American companies, licensed by U.S. Department of Commerce, �exported a witch�s brew of biological and chemical materials to Iraq from 1985 to 1989.�

However, after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, while Washington viewed Saddam as an uncontrollable outlaw, it nevertheless, viewed him as an useful actor. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft summed it up when he wrote that the goal of getting rid of Saddam would �not serve our interest. So we pursued the kind of inelegant, messy alternative that is all too often the only one available in the real world.�

Nevertheless, Saddam continued to think that he was indispensable to Washington and until the last minutes acted accordingly. He was remarkably effective in weakening or eliminating many progressive Arab groups. Indeed, Saddam was a gift to Washington when it faced the threat of communists and leftist radicals in the Arab world. As Washington confronted the growing popularity of Muslim groups, after the Iranian Revolution, Saddam did his best to subdue these groups.

It may be impossible to know with certainty why Washington decided suddenly to deliver Saddam to the Iraqi government to be executed immediately. Was it a politically calculated move for domestic consumption or Washington�s fears that Saddam in the hands of Iraqis could face the similar fate of Nouri Saed, then destabilizing other Arab dictators? There are those who believe that Saddam had too much information and Washington wanted to put the matters to rest. But there are those who believe that President Bush was motivated by a personal grudge as he stated in 2002, �This is the man who tried to kill my dad.�

Saddam�s policies and actions have brought calamity to the Arab nation. In fact, these policies and their consequences will polarize the Arab liberation movement for a long time to come. His hanging was savagery and may on the surface present an end to an era. But Saddam�s death means that strategic secrets detrimental to the future and welfare of the Arab people were buried with him.

Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D., is a professor and director in the School of International Management, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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