Saddam Hussein was executed in Iraq Friday evening (U.S. time) at 10pm EST. People of Iraqi descent in Michigan celebrated.
It was interesting listening to the analysis of this event and its implications. Charles Krauthammer predicted on Fox News that it would remove an incentive for the U.S. to stay in Iraq, now that the mission of deposing Saddam is finished. A terrorism expert whom I have seen before on Fox News typically (though I didn’t catch his name) appeared on MSNBC saying some very interesting things. All the analysts I listened to predicted in so many words that the execution will have little effect on the sectarian problems in Iraq. This man on MSNBC was no different. He said that Saddam mattered little to the Sunni or Shia insurgents, because they’re both being fomented by radical Islamic forces. He said in fact both sides in the conflict are happy Saddam is gone because he went against some of their goals. Plus, contrary to what’s been reported previously, Saddam didn’t really live to benefit just the Sunnis. He practiced nepotism on a grand scale. He did things that benefited his family and his particular tribe, but everyone else, even other Sunnis, didn’t get much. He ran things like a mafia don. This MSNBC analyst said that Saddam was a figure who stood for Islamic Arab nationalism. The Islamic radicals on both the Sunni and Shia sides stand for sectarianism–not for a unified Iraq, but rather a Shia nation, and a Sunni nation. The Shia violence is being driven by Muqtada al Sadr and Iran. The Sunni violence is being driven by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni groups.
Now that I think about it, a few weeks ago I heard an analyst say that it looks like Iraq is devolving the way Yugoslavia did. It did not stay whole, but instead separated into independent states along sectarian lines, after their communist dictator died, and after the Soviet Union collapsed.
This analyst on MSNBC said that there are some flaws in our tactics, which are allowing the situation in Iraq to get worse. He said that al Sadr’s militia needs to be confronted and disbanded, and that Shia insurgents need to be put away or killed. That is the only way the Sunnis will continue to cooperate with the Iraqi government, if their security is insured. He said what’s happening now unfortunately is that more and more Shia and Sunni communities are allying themselves with their own sectarian militias. The Shia are aligning with al Sadr or some other Shia groups, and the Sunnis are allying with Al Qaeda. This is exactly what they want. Both sides in the conflict want to delegitimize the Iraqi government.
It seems from what I’m hearing that the Shia and the Kurds have formed an alliance of sorts, perhaps only on some issues, and the Sunnis are getting the short end of the stick. This is understandable since the Shia and Kurds were both oppressed by Saddam, and they probably perceive the Sunnis as being the beneficiaries of Saddam’s largess. They probably feel there’s no love lost with them.
What I’m learning bit by bit from various sources is that Iraq historically has been a difficult place to govern. So what we’ve been experiencing is not without precedent. About a week ago I happened to hear something written by Winston Churchill, read by someone on C-SPAN. What jumped out at me is Churchill said, “I hate Iraq!”, and expressed frustration about how disorderly the society was. This was read in front of an audience, and as this particular passage was read, I heard laughter, probably out of a common sense of frustration. The article I link to here says that back in the day when the UK occupied Iraq, during and after World War I, a similar thing happened then that’s happening now. The Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis each hated each other. So it was difficult to get them to cooperate. Churchill even advocated pulling out of Iraq a couple times, and at one point suggested using poison gas bombs on the Shia, though it sounds like they didn’t get around to doing this in a big way. Just so you know, chemical weapons were used in various battles during WW I.
Comedian Dennis Miller expressed a similar frustration to Churchill’s, during one of his stand-up routines: “I’m growing tired of the Iraqi people. I don’t think they’re loyal to us. I mean, one day you think they’re on board, the next day they’re ratting us out to the enemy. It’s very unpredictable. It’s like playing Stratego with Charles Manson. You know, he makes 7 good moves in a row, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow! Look at that. Charlie is getting it together.’ The next thing you know he jams the dice up his a**. That’s the Iraqi people to me.” Though he sounds hopeful that somehow Iraq will be a success story. Hat tip to American Soldier for this.
To provide a little context, The UK and France partitioned the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I into separate nation states, in 1920. The Ottomans were Muslim, ruled by the Turks, and an ally of Germany during the war. The Ottoman Empire was also the seat of what was called in Muslim tradition the Caliphate. The story of Lawrence of Arabia is set in this time.
In the process of breaking it up the Caliphate was disbanded, and Turkey (where the Turks ended up), Syria, Lebanon, Jordan (then called “Transjordan”), Iraq (which was otherwise known as Mesopotamia), and what was called Palestine were created to break up the empire. Most of these had a monarch installed by the allies.
Palestine and Iraq were occupied by the UK. Syria and Lebanon were occupied by France. It’s interesting to note that these places remain trouble spots today. Not to say that the UK and France are to blame for this. It’s just interesting to note that both of them had reasons to stay in these places, probably because they were unstable. These occupations lasted to varying degrees until just after WW II ended (in 1945). The U.N. in 1948 called for Palestine to be partitioned, creating the Jewish state of Israel.
In case anyone thinks we’re repeating history and should’ve known better than to go into Iraq, recent history has shown us that things can turn out differently than in the past. Before going into Afghanistan, in 2001, people in the U.S. had great fears about taking it on. Past history had shown that great powers had been defeated there, including England, and the Soviet Union (the latter was with our help). Afghanistan used to be known as “The Great Game”. It was a place wracked by war, and a place where different countries had come in competing with each other for “a piece of the pie”, probably because it was on a major trade route. Now it appears that Iraq is becoming such a place. People can point to the UK and it’s past experience with Iraq, look at George H.W. Bush’s own reservations about it (which were probably based on the UK experience), see what’s going on there now, and say, “See? We told you so.” However, if we had followed that line of thinking, we never would’ve gone into Afghanistan either.
Things turned out to be the opposite of what we expected. We expected Afghanistan to be like Iraq is now, perhaps worse, and we expected Iraq to turn out like Afghanistan did. You never know how a war is going to turn out until you get into it. Different strategies probably had something to do with it though.