Thursday, July 17, 2003

Saying "No" To Saddam

On this date last year, the people of Iraq would have been in the streets, celebrating the coup which brought the Baath party to power. As we all know, those celebrations were always highly choreographed.

Today in Iraq, most Iraqis celebrated by not celebrating

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - For decades Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s Baath Party held lavish celebrations every July 17 to mark the anniversary of the 1968 coup that brought them to power.

No speeches and no fanfare rang out in Baghdad on Thursday as Iraqis ignored the 35th anniversary. The broadcast by an Arab TV station of a new tape purportedly of Saddam's voice, marking the anniversary, brought anger and derision on the street.

"This is the best July 17th I've seen so far because there is no Saddam and no Baath," said Fadil Amin, an out-of-work translator. "We're better off without them, even if we don't have any electrical power or water and security is abysmal."

Would that this country had said "No" to Saddam and to the Baathists lo those many years ago when, instead, we tilted toward him, against Iran, which had betrayed us by overthrowing the Shah, our chosen ruler for them, over the one democratically chosen by the Iranian people.

Do I think the mullahs were an improvement on the Shah? No. But if only we'd taken a few moments, then, to look back and consider why it was that in the long run, the Shah thing didn't work out, perhaps we might have avoided the kind of engagement with Saddam that has now resulted in two wars, and endless suffering for the Iraqi people.

Could be the same kind of questioning is in order now? Just a thought.

Saddam celebrated by releasing a new tape.

In an audiotape marking Thursday's 35th anniversary of the Baath Party coup, a voice purported to be that of Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to continue a "holy war" against U.S. forces. Even so, the banned holiday was a remarkably quiet day for American troops in Iraq. The voice on the audiotape, broadcast on two Arab satellite television networks, said the tape was recorded three days earlier to commemorate the holiday

Unaccustomed as I am to wishing for the death of even the more heinous of persons, and not to be too bloodthirsty about this, but why or why couldn't one of those smart bombs found its way to Saddam? I doubt he has any real following left; whoever those guerrilla's are who are taking on US troops, and let's not assume that they're coordinated, or that they're all like minded or similarly motivated, I'd bet that damn few of them want Saddam back.

But his assumed presence, living and breathing somewhere "in country," is as useful to the Bush administration as it is to any Baathist supporters.

No, I'm not claiming that there is or was some sort of conspiracy to let him live; Saddam alive doesn't argue well for the war, but those tapes of him urging on the resistence will allow the administration and those who continue to defend the war and occupation to claim, once again, that critics of both or either, are siding with Saddam, against our own troops.

As I'm writing this, Tony Blair is speaking to a joint session of Congress, in a speech that it is already clear will seek to justify the war, largely, at least emotionally, on grounds of rescuing the Iraqi people from the clutches of Saddam.

I suspect the speech will do for Bush what Bush couldn't do for Bush these last few week.

Both Saddam's tape, and Blair's speech suggest to me that those of us who fear the consequences, both for the Iraqi people and for this country, of an occupation that its planners didn't really plan for, and those tasked with its implementation weren't prepared to implement, not be enticed by the utter incompetence of Bush's post war performance, into a total skepticism that cannot admit the present moment contains real possibilities for Iraqis, slender as they are, given what the occupiers-in-chief have in mind.

I'm glad Saddam's more or less gone. I'm glad the Baathist party has been disrupted.

Do I want this occupation to succeed? I leave the answer to another post, because only by examining the terms of that crucial question can we understand why a simple "yes" or "no" is inadequate to the reality of this particular historical moment.

To be continued.