The Lynching of Saddam Hussein
U.S. Rips Apart Iraq
After Destroying the Country with
Imperialist Invasion and Colonial Occupation
The execution of former Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein on December 30, ordered by a puppet court orchestrated by the U.S. occupiers, was a hideous display of imperialist barbarism reminiscent of the Middle Ages. It was unadorned state murder carried out on the orders of the conquerors who have subjugated the oil-rich and strategically important Near Eastern country. It may also be a watershed in the history of Iraq, marking the “tipping point” after which it spirals irrevocably downward into a vortex of sectarian and communal strife. In addition to “terminating with extreme prejudice” its Iraqi nemesis, as the CIA used to describe its assassinations, the imperialist invaders may have killed off Iraq as well.
The lynch mob atmosphere of the hanging, captured on a cellphone video being shown everywhere, eliminates any pretense of a representative government in the deeply fractured society. The hooded executioners and bloodthirsty witnesses screaming Shiite fundamentalist slogans made it clear to all that the puppet regime is nothing but the sectarian fundamentalist militias writ large. This was not any kind of justice but naked victors’ vengeance. And it’s part of a pattern. The Iraqi army and police are now systematically driving Sunnis out of Baghdad. As a result, the deep-rooted insurgency against the colonial occupation regime and the Shiite ascendancy may now spread to encompass the entire Sunni Muslim population as it sees its very survival at stake.
While the long suppressed Shiite majority in the South and Kurdish separatists in the North may have cheered the execution of their persecutor, Saddam Hussein is now being hailed around the Arab world as a martyr and symbol of resistance to U.S. domination. Quite a turnaround for the one-time CIA “asset” who became a bloody dictator with Washington’s blessing and support. It was not Saddam who accomplished this feat, however, but the Americans who in their quest for non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” set off a chain reaction that has engulfed the region. In addition to inflaming nationalist feelings, carrying out the hanging on the first day of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday enraged Sunni Muslims. And with the video of the execution, U.S. and Iraqi authorities are now desperately trying “to challenge the impression it conveyed that Mr. Hussein, for all his brutal crimes, had behaved with far more dignity in his final minutes than his seemingly thuggish executioners” (New York Times, 4 January).
The show trial of Hussein and his lieutenants was a travesty by any measure. Three of the original five judges were removed, the last one explicitly for not being hostile enough toward Hussein. Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who was one of the Iraqi leader’s attorneys, was ejected from the court. Clark noted: “Four defense counsels brutally were murdered, three tortured – the last two with drill holes in their heads – and paraded around parts of Baghdad.” Even Human Rights Watch, which called for the prosecution of Iraqi regime leaders, declared that the proceedings were marked by grave “defects” and did not meet “fair trial standards.” (HRW also promoted the show trial of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and regularly tries to give a “human rights” cover to U.S. imperialist aggression.)
These trials were supposed to provide an ideological justification to the U.S. invasion, by selectively highlighting various of Hussein’s crimes. Yet Hussein managed to turn the tables and make a mockery of the farcical proceedings, denouncing the invaders who had devastated Iraq. The actual charges in the case for which he was sentenced to death concerned the execution of 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt there against Hussein. The attempt was organized by the Iranian-backed Dawa party, which also supplied the Iraqi figureheads to preside over the “high tribunal.” But the occupation authorities were the puppet-masters in this rigged trial, which was staged in the American-controlled “Green Zone.” Hussein was held in the U.S.’ “Camp Cropper,” and the hanging took place on a U.S. facility.
And this orgy of “ethnic cleansing” is not the result of “centuries of Sunni-Shiite hostility,” as the bourgeois media keep repeating. It is the direct result of the stoking of religious sectarian and ethnic hostilities by U.S. imperialism, following the divide et impera (divide and rule) maxim of empires from the Roman to the British. As Juan Cole, the leading U.S. academic expert of Shiite Islam, has written (Informed Comment, 18 December 2006):
“The Shiite tribes of the south probably only converted to Shiism in the past 200 years. And, Sunni-Shiite riots per se were rare in 20th century Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites cooperated in the 1920 rebellion against the British. If you read the newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s, you don’t see anything about Sunni-Shiite riots. There were peasant/landlord struggles or communists versus Baathists. The kind of sectarian fighting we’re seeing now in Iraq is new in its scale and ferocity, and it was the Americans who unleashed it.”
The U.S. stoked Shiite revanchism for more than a decade and a half, just as it long promoted Kurdish militias – and also abandoned them when they rose up, as in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. The German imperialists similarly encouraged Kosovo Albanian and Croatian nationalism while the U.S. backed Bosnian Muslims against the dominant Serbian bourgeoisie in post-counterrevolution Yugoslavia.
The judicial murder of Saddam Hussein was orchestrated straight from the White House as an exercise in psychological warfare aimed at drawing public attention away from the military fiasco of the U.S. invasion/occupation of Iraq. This posed a problem to the “antiwar movement” with its politics of bourgeois pacifism. The most blatantly pro-Democratic Party groups of the “peace is patriotic” stripe, like United for Peace and Justice (UPJ), ducked the issue and focused on the news that 3,000 U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq (with barely a mention of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed as a result of the U.S. imperialist invasion). The International Action Center (IAC), founded by Ramsey Clark and led by the Workers World Party (WWP), called protests in several cities, but barely mentioned Hussein. Their pacifist message was “execution = escalation.” The Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a split-off from the WWP, issued an on-line protest quoting from a news conference by Clark.
The WWP and PSL are heirs of the proto-Stalinist current led by Sam Marcy, who split from Trotskyism by defending the Kremlin suppression of the 1956 Hungarian workers uprising, a pro-socialist revolt that represented a developing political revolutionagainst the Stalinist bureaucracy. Marcy and the Marcyites went on to politically defend Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Kim Il Sung’s North Korea and a host of bourgeois nationalists, including Milosevic in Yugoslavia and Hussein in Iraq. The Marcyites tend to take on the political coloring of whatever regime they are defending at the moment. The PSL statement (29 December) on the Saddam trial admits that the Iraqi strong man “represented a strongly anti-communist wing of the Arab Baath Socialist Party, which was engaged in a violent struggle against communists and other leftists.” But it adds: “At the same time, much like European social democratic parties, it [the Baath party] combined its violent anti-communism with programs of social reforms that benefit sections of the masses as well as Iraq’s national development.”
Saddam Hussein was no West European social democratic champion of a welfare state. He was a mass murderer of Communists, Kurds, Shiites, Iranians and anyone else who stood in his way. But he was hardly the ogre and historically unique “monster” portrayed in U.S. war propaganda. Some erstwhile leftists who signed on as (often well-paid) propagandists for the American invasion, such as the execrable Christopher Hitchens, call Hussein a “new Hitler” and the Baath party “fascist.” Islamic fundamentalists are called “Islamo-fascists.” In fact, Hussein and the Baath ran a brutal bourgeois-nationalist regime of the sort frequently backed by Washington, such as Chiang Kai-shek’s murderous anti-Communist Guomindang regime in China. And the fact is that many of his worst crimes were carried out on behalf of, and with the active aid of, U.S. imperialism. As our leaflet (below) headlined, “What an Obscenity! U.S. Imperialist Mass Murderers Execute Capitalist Dictator Hussein.”
As revolutionary Marxists – Trotskyists – the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International called during the 2003 invasion for the defeat of U.S. imperialism and defense of Iraq, and call today to drive the colonial occupiers out of Afghanistan and Iraq. But while fighting for proletarian action against imperialism, we give no political support to Hussein or any of the bourgeois forces currently opposing the U.S. The IG participated in the December 30 protest in New York City’s Times Square with a placard showing the infamous image of the Abu Ghraib torture prison and the comment “Who Gave U.S. War Criminals License to Kill Saddam Hussein?” (The AP circulated a photo of this sign internationally.) Other IG signs pointed out that Hussein rounded up and murdered Iraqi communists using assassination lists supplied by the CIA; and that he used poison gas against Iranians produced from chemicals supplied by the United States, with information furnished by U.S. military and spy agencies to pinpoint targets.
In their hand-wringing over the blowback from the execution of Hussein, various bourgeois commentators have lamented that the chaotic lynching didn’t have the “dignity” of the Nuremburg War Crimes trials following World War II. But those show trials were no less “victors’ justice” than their latter-day imitation carried out by the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad. At the time, the U.S. Trotskyists exposed how the Nuremburg prosecution selectively highlighted crimes by the vanquished Nazi butchers while covering up the war crimes of the Anglo-American victors (such as the firebombing of Dresden). Any real trial of “crimes against humanity” committed in Iraq would find George Bush in the prisoners’ dock – along with his fellow war criminals including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates . . . and Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry who not only voted for the war but have called for more U.S. troops to Iraq and imposed “U.N.” imperialist sanctions responsible for the deaths of over 1 million Iraqi children in the ’90s.
To hold such a tribunal and enforce its verdict will require workers revolution to bring down imperialism. n
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org