Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive!
CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Nation Stands on Trial

by PATRICK COCKBURN

in Baghdad

It should have been a moment of supreme triumph: Saddam Hussein finally brought to bay, standing in the dock in Baghdad to answer for his crimes. The trial ought to have marked the victory of the new Iraqi state, but instead served only to underline its fragility.

Human rights groups in Britain and the US criticised the proceedings against the former president of Iraq and six other defendants as “victor’s justice”. But in Baghdad there were few signs of victory. If the Iraqi government was so victorious, why did four out of five of the judges and all but one of the prosecutors need to hide their faces and identities? Why were 30 to 40 witnesses too scared to turn up? Why did the court building have to be more heavily defended, as a US marshal jocularly remarked, than the White House?

War crimes tribunals in Germany and Japan after 1945 left nobody in any doubt about who had won the war. In Baghdad, the first day of the trial of Saddam–now set to resume on 28 November–certainly showed the former dictator in defeat, but also demonstrated how difficult and dangerous it is to replace him.

The lethal anarchy of life in Iraq outside the Green Zone inevitably revealed itself within a day of the trial being prorogued. Sadoun Said al- Janabi, the lawyer for Awad Hamed al-Bandar, a revolutionary court judge on trial with Saddam, was kidnapped by seven gunmen and later shot dead.

The court proceedings were a telling symbol of the fragmentation of power in Iraq. In theory, Iraqis are in charge of the trial. In practice, some 50 American, British and Australian lawyers and legal support staff underpin the proceedings. “In private Iraqis blame the Americans for the confusion, and vice versa,” said one observer.

Why is the Iraqi state so weak? It is now two-and-a-half years since Saddam Hussein was overthrown. A vastly expensive US army of 145,000 men is stationed in the country. They have trained an Iraqi army of 80,000 men. There are also supposedly 120,000 police and other security men spread out across the country. But even as Iraqis waited for Saddam’s trial to start, the boom of mortar shells exploding in the Green Zone resounded across the capital.

US and Iraqi government officials live a strangely isolated existence in this enclave. It is the world’s largest gated community. Its inhabitants have a limited idea of the world in which Iraqis live beyond the heavily fortified gates and checkpoints. Their attitude is a mixture of paranoia about their own safety and callousness or over-confidence about that of others.

Two days before the referendum on the constitution on 15 October, the US embassy asked journalists to come to the Convention Centre to attend a press briefing on the vote given by a State Department official. I gingerly approached the appropriate entrance to the Green Zone on foot. It is unwise to bring a car too close because suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted this entrance with its massive concrete fortifications, so Iraqi and US soldiers are understandably prone to open fire on suspicion.

As I walked in front of the first checkpoint I noticed a battered red car had stopped near me. Peering through the grubby windscreen I saw an elderly man who looked confused about where he was. The soldiers started frantically shouting at him to move, fearing he was a bomber. They then almost immediately opened fire, the bullets passing close overhead. I took refuge behind a concrete wall. Seconds later the red car shot forward, the old man cowering over the wheel, and disappeared around a corner.

After passing through no less than seven lines of sandbags and razor wire I got to the Convention Centre, only to discover that the briefing had been cancelled. A bored voice on the phone from the US embassy explained that the senior diplomat had been unavoidably detain-ed. I heard an American general explain how the last desperate remnants of the insurgents were being relentlessly hunted down.

Green Zone inhabitants are far more circumspect about their own safety. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister, recently wanted to visit President Jalal Talabani, whose house is five minutes drive from the Green Zone. Mr al-Jaafari was told by his Western security men that he must delay the visit for a day because it would take 24 hours to arrange for him to travel safely even half a mile from the Green Zone.

Iraq has had three administrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The first was under Paul Bremer, the US viceroy, to be followed by Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister for eight months from June 2004, and then Mr al- Jaafari this year. All three have failed. The insurgency in Sunni Arab districts has not diminished. Some time this week the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq, currently at 1,992 will probably hit the 2,000 mark. The number of casualties per day is not going down.

The present government was popularly elected, representing a Kurdish- Shia alliance from the two communities to which 80 per cent of Iraqis belong. But it has never truly gelled as an administration. The Kurdish leaders are far more effective and efficient than their Shia opposite numbers but their basic interest is in securing the quasi-independence of Kurdistan.

The Iraqi government and army are not quite what they look. For instance, the Iraqi army is meant to have 115 battalions containing 80,000 men. But Peter Galbraith, the former US diplomat, citing senior officials at the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, claims that in reality there are only 40,000 soldiers. This is because commanders were given cash to pay their men and inflated their numbers so they could pocket the pay of non-existent forces. Nor will this army be easy to use against insurgents because its composition is highly sectarian. It has 60 Shia battalions, 45 Sunni and nine Kurdish. Only one battalion is mixed. The Shia and Sunni units provoke hostility outside areas in which their own communities live.

The first day of the trial of Saddam Hussein turned out not to be a demonstration of the victory of the new regime over the old, as was intended. But, ironically, the atmosphere of confusion and fear in the court was a far more apt, if unintentional, symbol of Iraq today.

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail