I was a ticket-less person on the train to Alexandria yesterday. It was either stand for the two-hour journey from Cairo, or accept an invitation from a kindly trolley-wielding employee of the state railways, who offered me a metal packing case in the ‘galley’ on which to park my derriere. Expecting a boring journey in the windowless, hot and smoky carriage, packed with nicotine-starved men sucking in their morning’s quota, somebody politely asked my opinion on the pre-trial hearing of Saddam Hussein. The journey sped by as everyone joined in what turned out to be an animated discussion. I finally got off at Ramle Station decidedly grubbier on the outside but enlightened within.
Egyptian men–or at least the 30 or so I journeyed with–admire Saddam for his pan-Arab ideology, his willingness to take on the Americans, his generous support for the Palestinians, and after seeing him in the dock, for his quick mind and sharp wit. It was also clear that almost to a man, Bush, Blair and Sharon were considered their ‘axis of evil’ and anyone who stood up to the trio was a hero.
A shopkeeper said Saddam should be hanged for what he did to the Iraqis, but he was soon shouted-down by the rest, who felt his trial was a public humiliation for all Arabs, everywhere. “Would you like to see your Mr. Blair in the hands of foreigners being poked and prodded?” demanded one. “Would you like to see him taken in handcuffs and chains to an Arab court charged with crimes against humanity?” Now I really had to think about that one.
I weakly answered: “Iraq is sovereign now. It was an Iraqi court” but when I noticed the expression on some of their faces, I retracted. They weren’t about to be conned, and I wasn’t about to attempt that in defense of the West.
You see, contrary perhaps to the thinking of some Western politicians and intellectuals, Arabs are far from stupid when it comes to cutting the crap. And they are not as easy to indoctrinate as we often are because from an early age their societies demand ‘street-wise’ thinking. Most Arabs do not trust their leaders and politicians and in the poorer countries they have to struggle to survive using a variety of tools, including soft soap, the tweaking of the truth and ‘wasta’–based on cultivating contacts and using them for all their worth. Arabs might tell people in power what they think they want to hear, but deep down they keep their own counsel and their feet firmly on the ground.
These widespread character traits are part of the reason Bush, and his agenda-led entourage, have no idea how Arabs think and feel, how they will react to an event or what they truly want.
There ignorance was partly why they were so easily taken in by the likes of Ahmad Chalabi, his relative the current interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the Iraqi nuclear scientist Hussein Sharistani, who all insisted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorist groups. This they did as a means to an end. Iraqis in exile gave the impression that invading U.S. troops would be welcomed with flowers and Iraqis would join the coalition to oust the dictator.
It didn’t happen that way, but are those once exiled Iraqis ashamed of their deliberate distortion of the truth? Not at all! As far as they are concerned ‘all’s fair in war’ and they got what they wanted.
Iyad Allawi doesn’t mind admitting for example, that he sold himself to some 50 foreign intelligence-gathering outfits, including the CIA. This is a former Ba’athist honcho with an axe to grind against his one-time boss and someone who attempted an earlier coup using what we call today ‘terrorist tactics’. This is a man who displays not one iota of compassion, but instead talks about he intends to use pre-emptive strikes to quell the insurgency, without saying when he expects or hopes coalition troops will quit Iraqi land.
It is Allawi’s relative Salem Chalabi–a man with close business links with Marc Zell, a partner in Zell, Goldberg & Co., which claims to be one of “Israel’s fastest-growing business-oriented law firms”–who heads up the tribunal set-up to try Saddam and 11 other high-value detainees.
Zell, who is a marketing consultant for Salem’s Baghdad-based law outfit, was formerly a partner in the same law firm as the Zionist U.S. Under-Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith–a founder member of the Project for a New American Century, and one of the invasion’s main instigators.
And as we learn from the forthright journalist Robert Fisk, the judge presiding over Saddam’s pre-trial hearing was the same young man who approved a warrant for the arrest of Shiite Cleric Moqtada Sadr in connection with the killing of a fellow religious leader. What a coincidence!
We surely can’t blame Arabs for scoffing at Iraq’s so-called fledgling sovereignty and democracy when not only are Iyad Allawi, the Defense Minister Ali Allawi, the discredited former Pentagon darling Ahmad Chalabi and Salem Chalabi related, the new prime minister’s brother-in-law Nuri Badran was the former interior minister. In other words, together with their U.S. masters, it’s one big happy family.
Furthermore, we can’t blame Arabs for questioning why Saddam Hussein is still in the physical custody of the Americans, or why he was flown to his hearing in an American helicopter with American guards, wearing an off-the-peg American-bought ensemble.
Arabs are no doubt asking why Saddam’s legal team has been kept languishing in Amman, refused entry to the country, when every Tom, Dick and Moshe has managed to get in. The world’s media is asking why in a sovereign Iraq it was the American military, which censored tapes of Saddam’s arraignment and why only American reporters were allowed inside the courtroom. Not one Iraqi journalist or cameraman was able to view the proceedings first hand in this new independent country.
Like Saddam himself, many view the haste to parade Saddam in court as a theatrical stunt designed to show Bush in a favorable pre-election light. Many questioned the bringing forward by two days of the so-called handover of sovereignty, just as Bush and Blair were in Turkey begging NATO for cooperation with training the new Iraqi military and police. In the event, it was synchronized to perfection down to ‘Condi’s’ hand-written note on which Bush scrawled ‘Let freedom reign’.
As an Iraqi friend recently told me, ‘those with the big guns reign’. He is so right. The interim government–with few exceptions – has shown itself to be made up of pro-American stooges fashioned from the same mould as Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai. They know only too well where there bread is buttered and it isn’t defending the Iraqi people or the translation into reality of their hopes and dreams.
The US/UK script goes like this: Saddam Hussein should appear as a cringing, broken figure just as he did when hauled from his hole, the Iraqis should believe that Allawi and Co are in control of their country, and troops from the Arab world should keep the highest profile, while the Americans retreat to their barracks. Iraqis must know that the imposition of emergency laws and, perhaps, even a delay in ‘free and fair’ elections are necessary for security, and ignore the fact that Iraqis are being grabbed by the new mukhabarat, locked up in ministry buildings, and beaten “because they are bad people”.
Once the U.S. has got the Iraqis and other Arabs to do its dirty work, it can set about consolidating its biggest and most fortified embassy in the world, the province of Ambassador John Negroponte of Iran-Contra disrepute, and its (what it hopes will become) permanent bases. If reports of a planned invasion of Iran before Christmas 2005 are true, then they will certainly come in handy. If not, they will serve to intimidate not only the Iraqi quasi leadership but also the neighboring countries of Syria and Iran. In the meantime, companies with links to the U.S. administration can continue raking in the big bucks from inflated reconstruction and security contracts.
That’s the script. The problem is most Iraqis have other ideas. Their former tolerance of coalition troops has now turned to hatred following the military onslaught of Fallujah, which took the lives of hundreds of civilians, the incineration of an entire wedding party and the horrors of Abu Ghraib. They would perceive the presence of Jordanian, Egyptian or Yemeni soldiers as humiliation. The UN and NATO have already shown their reluctance to get involved on the ground.
The bottom line is this: The invasion was illegal because it was based on the false premise of ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Britain is running scared to the extent that it has asked its courts to refrain from pronouncing on its illegality as this would damage national security and endanger the country’s troops abroad. A report from the Butler commission, to be published in July, is going to prove a further embarrassment for Blair as it once again scrutinizes his exaggerated if not mendacious 45-minutes WMD claim, and unlike the Hutton enquiry, will not be a whitewash.
It is this basic illegality, which Saddam’s lawyers will place at the core of his defense, together with the fact that the court was set up by the CPA under L. Paul Bremer and is now under the auspices of a non-elected, selected government.
With more than 15,000 Iraqi civilians killed, thousands of Iraq children minus parents and limbs, hundreds kept without access to family or lawyers, goodness only knows how many tortured, beaten and sexually abused in the coalition’s many jails around the country, a growing number of Arabs believe that Bush and Blair should be in the dock alongside Saddam.
Moreover, there are cases to be made against the coalition for the use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas and cancer-inducing depleted uranium tanks shells. There is also a pressing moral case, if not a legal one, for the years of sanctions, estimated to have resulted in the deaths of one million Iraqis, including 500,000 children, those Madeleine Albright said “were worth it”.
We in the U.S. and Britain have been no friends to the Iraqis in the past, and we are still their worse enemies albeit having clothed ourselves in a false flag of democracy and freedom. Do Bush and Blair truly want a democratic Iraq? Not on your life.
They want another strongman, another Saddam, but the new version should be more pliable and accommodating to their interests than the original. So far Iyad Allawi and his National Security Advisor Muwafiq Al-Rubaie (who, along with the Defense Minister, according to one of the 97 injunctions imposed on the interim government by Bremer before his departure, cannot be ousted from their jobs even after elections) look like heavy-duty contenders for the role.
Linda S Heard is a specialist writer on Mid-East affairs. She welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org