In Defense of Saddam Hussein and His Regime
Saddam Hussein, his regime, and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq have returned to public discourse. The Chilcot report, recent praise of Saddam Hussein, and continued terrorist attacks in Europe and the West are all integral to it. US Neoconservatives and leftists are finding common cause in this exchange. In the process, lies and distortions about Saddam Hussein and his regime are reappearing; I disentangle some of these claims.
Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) was already an influential political figure in Iraq from the 1968 coup that brought the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power. He remained a decisive force in Iraqi politics through 1979, when he became President of Iraq. In 1990, after diplomacy with Kuwait failed, Iraq invaded Kuwait but was ejected by the US. In 2003, a US-led invasion deposed Saddam Hussein; following a mock trial, he was executed in late 2006.
Recent praise of Saddam Hussein, for suppressing terrorists and keeping his nation unified, has led to articles by Neoconservatives and liberals trying to deflect that praise. Meanwhile, the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry was made public in July 2016. Though most readily exploited by the left, its integral and crucial details and points are also relevant to nationalists.
Many articles criticizing praise for Saddam Hussein do so by pointing out that Iraq had been placed on the US list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” first in 1979 and then again in 1990. The implication is supposed to be that Saddam’s Iraq was not an enemy but a supporter of terrorism. The reality is that Iraq was placed on that list, not because it sponsored terrorism, but because its domestic and foreign policies agitated the regional aims of the US.
The first time it was placed on the list was because of the 1979 coup that brought Saddam Hussein to the Presidency. Signaling how shallow that decision was, Iraq was quickly taken off of the list after Iraq entered a US-backed war with Iran in the 1980s. The second time the US placed Iraq on that list was because Iraq agitated the US by invading Kuwait.
Few in the West understand this, and understand even less why Iraq had invaded Kuwait. In the late 1980s, Iraq was reeling from its war debts; the US-backed war compelled Iraq to get loans from Kuwait and the West. Iraq approached other OPEC countries in an effort to allow the price of oil to rise so Iraq could pay its debts. Kuwait not only refused, but even flooded the oil market, keeping the price of oil down and undermining Iraq’s frail economy.
There is also substantial evidence that Kuwait had engaged in what is called “slant drilling,” tapping and stealing Iraq’s oil. All of this amounted to economic war and theft.
In July 1990, a month before Iraq invaded Kuwait, US officials met with the Iraqi government and signaled that the US would not be involved in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti conflict. US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Saddam Hussein in July that the US “did not have an opinion” on that conflict. Saddam Hussein understandably interpreted this to mean that the US was and would remain neutral and it would not intervene against Iraq if it attacked Kuwait.
The actual US response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait contrasted sharply with what the US Ambassador to Iraq had indicated. Now, the US was loudly protesting the invasion and also demanded a withdrawal. It was this context that led the US to place Iraq on its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” for a second time. Despite what had been told to Saddam Hussein by Glaspie, the US Ambassador to Iraq, Iraq’s action annoyed US policymakers.
The Iraqi invasion may have irritated US regional aims, but it was not an act of terrorism or signaled support for terrorism. Placing Iraq back on that list was punishment.
At this time, the Cold War was fading and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism appeared to be diminishing, and so the utility of Saddam’s Iraq as an anti-Communist and anti-Islamist force was fading. Neoconservative policymakers wanted to keep NATO in order to secure Israel and prevent new challenges to “democracy.” Saddam’s Iraq, recently an ally, was now a nuisance. Ten years later, Paul Wolfowitz seized on 9/11 to push for an invasion of Iraq. In “Phase Two” of the 9/11 Commission Report, Colin Powell had recalled that:
“Paul [Jewish author of the “Wolfowitz Doctrine“] was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with,” Powell told us. “And he saw this as one way of using this event [the fact of 9/11] as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.”
What exactly was this “Iraq problem”? In 1989-91 the Cold War was ending and the US was now redefining its foreign policy. With an even more pronounced emphasis on Israel and its interests, an Iraq that was very recently an ally was now an irritant. Saddam Hussein was a supporter of the Palestinians and had always opposed Israeli regional dominance. This, and not any supposed support for terrorism or terrorists, was the “Iraq problem”.
Putting aside legitimate historical questions about the origin and context of 9/11, Wolfowitz used it to push for an invasion of Iraq. There was no link between Saddam’s Iraq and 9/11. But Wolfowitz saw Saddam’s Iraq as a persisting threat to Israel and he wanted to exploit US anger over 9/11 to push for war with Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was also pressing for it. The effort succeeded, and the pro-Israel lobby got its desired war.
Many other articles that ridicule praise for Saddam Hussein rely on question begging. Both Palestinians and Israelis have committed atrocities, but only Palestinian actions are branded “terrorist.” Theft of Palestinian land, murder of Palestinian women, elders, and children, and Israeli atrocities with US complicity are not. Neoconservatives dominate this narrative, and so criticism of Israel is only found on the US left or the Paleoconservative right.
Saddam Hussein’s support for the Palestinians is also repeatedly mentioned, including aid to families of “suicide bombers” that attacked Israel. Is US complicity in Israeli atrocities also going to count as support for “terrorism,” or are the victims required to be Israeli? Perhaps what all of this amounts to is just support for opposing sides in a lasting conflict.
Recent articles have also cited the attempt on the life of US President G.H.W. Bush in April 1993, when he visited Kuwait. After suspects were arrested and interrogated, the authorities in Kuwait claimed the men confessed to receiving orders from the Iraqi security service. But incredulity saturates this narrative. The suspects retracted their “confession” and said they were tortured. In the article, “Did Iraq really plot to kill Bush?,” the author observes:
In Washington there were some doubters, particularly in the Pentagon. They said that the way the Kuwaitis had interviewed their prisoners made their testimony useless… The implication is that the 14 men under arrest were tortured, though the FBI, which later interviewed them, denies this… The trial itself opened before the heavily guarded state security court on 5 June, the first time the accused had been seen by anybody except the police since their arrests.
The official narrative entails dignifying “confessions” taken by a Kuwaiti regime aching for revenge on Iraq. The narrative is spurious and calls for accepting ridiculous assumptions. As the author of the above article concludes, the idea that Saddam Hussein ordered the plot is “difficult to take seriously.” The plot was amateurish, and one “ringleader” was a Shi’ite Muslim that took part in a rebellion against Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime.
Also, after the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraqi government files were thoroughly combed. There was no record of anything relating to Hussein’s supposed support for this plot.
The ongoing spurt of distorted, misleading, and groundless claims about Saddam Hussein is a reminder of how truly weak the case was for his removal in 2002-03. The emotional and hyperbolic ideation and inflection that it relied on underlies this point, such as the awkward and infantile remark by US President Bush referring to Hussein as “the guy who tried to kill my dad.” This materialized in a cesspool of confused and twisted justifications.
The ideological undercurrent justifying the war presupposed a continuance of World War II, replete with comparisons of Hussein and Hitler. In 2006, Donald Rumsfeld cast the Iraq war as a US-led effort against a “new type of fascism.” This narrative was supported by some intellectuals, including Christopher Hitchens. He spoke of the horrors of “Islamofascist” rule and also organized a 2009 forum that branded the 1979 coup as a “fascist” coup.
The use of ‘genocide’ has also increased. In one article, Kurds express gratitude for the Iraq war having prevented the “genocide” of the Kurdish people. In another article, the author accuses Iraq of having committed “genocides” [plural] on the Iraqi people. In “It’s 2003 again…” the author predicts a past future: “some form of international military intervention to stop Saddam Hussein was going to occur, either before or after a genocide.”
If authors inventing counterfactuals to support their baseless assumptions were not enough, claims that Hussein “sheltered” terrorists also proliferate despite rank hypocrisy. The Jewish war criminal and Stalinist terrorist, Salomon Morel, took refuge in Israel. Poland repeatedly requested his extradition, but Israel refused. Morel, who had murdered and terrorized POWs and civilians, died peacefully and comfortably in his refuge in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In addition, the false flag USS Liberty incident, in which Israeli agents destroyed a US naval vessel and murdered 34 US citizens, was a deliberate attempt to provoke the US into war with Israel’s enemies. It was intentionally covered up to spare Israel humiliation.
The legacy of Saddam Hussein is treated as a simplistic narrative of constant atrocities, with no semblance of recognition for any positive achievement. Even if praise is offered for him, it is usually limited to a functional and relational role relative to Western and US interests. Saddam Hussein’s regime had positive achievements to its name, on its own, and one way to refocus the persisting debate is to try to understand what many of these were.
Saddam Hussein became President in 1979, but during the decade prior to this he worked toward building up Iraq as a nation capable of enjoying a relative degree of prosperity, weal, and independence from foreigners. It should be remembered that the geopolitical context of Iraq’s emergence as a modern nation followed in the wake of imploding British imperialism and its evaporation from a Middle East, including Iraq, that it had once dominated.
Before Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq was a an illiterate and a destitute country. Saddam Hussein was determined to lift Iraq out of the reside of his nation’s deprivation. Among other things, he sponsored numerous educational initiatives, including the “National Campaign for the Eradication of Literacy” and a program of “Compulsory Free Education in Iraq.” These initiatives led to an increase in literacy; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis benefited.
Saddam Hussein made such strides in advancing his educational agenda that he was the recipient of a UNESCO award for achieving higher literacy and living standards.
In addition to an increase in living standards and access to education, literacy, and a variety of social services, Saddam Hussein also used the revenue from oil sales to increase access to basic services, such as electricity, in cities and towns were they had previously been lacking. He also ensured that families of Iraqi soldiers and officials received pensions and state support. Through the 1970s and 1980s, there was an increased quality of life:
During the 1970s, a relatively peaceful interlude when he exercised real control as second-in-command to a weak president, dozens of ambitious projects swiftly created a first-class infrastructure of expressways, power lines and social services. In neighbouring countries, the oil boom generated garish consumption and commission billionaires. Iraqis could fairly claim that their national wealth had been used instead to create a broad, home-owning middle class, the symbol of which was the “Brazili”, a stripped-down Volkswagen bought by the million from Brazil. Generous state subsidies lifted even the very poor out of need. Corruption was unknown.
Saddam Hussein also sponsored and promoted culture and the arts. Ballet, dance, and the promotion of cultural literacy and music education rose under his influence. This is partly evident viewing the documentary, “What Was Life Really Life in Saddam’s Iraq?”
Saddam Hussein’s regime provided stability and security, a difficult feat to which ongoing strife in the Middle East serves as an enduring testimony. His regime welded and unified Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and while he was tolerant of religious groups in his country, he suppressed strife and discord. In 2006, following a shameful trial and execution, an Iraqi Christian interviewed by Al-Jazeera said of him: “We were heartbroken for him.”
The failure to convey anything positive about Saddam’s regime is echoed by the incessant depiction of a one-sided personality, despite owning positive personal qualities.
To take one example, Saddam Hussein was praised for his generosity. In 1980, Rev. Jacob Yasso of the Chaldean Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit congratulated Hussein on his Presidency. Hussein later heard that Rev. Yasso’s Church was suffering from debts, and he paid them off. Coleman Young, Mayor of Detroit, was so moved by the act that he allowed Rev. Yasso to present Saddam Hussein with the key to the city of Detroit.
According to Rev. Yasso, Saddam Hussein donated to other religious groups throughout the world: “He was a very kind person; very generous…” and “very kind to Christians.”
Saddam Hussein could also be very humble and hospitable. In 1981, he financed the film, Clash of Loyalties, which starred British actor Oliver Reed. The production of the film was arduous and many scenes had to be shot repeatedly. Reed was given to drunken outbursts, testing the patience of those involved in the film. One night, Reed was invited as a guest to a dinner. At the end, Hussein said: “Mr. Reed, I hope I didn’t bore you too much.”
Saddam Hussein was a prolific writer. He wrote four novels, including Zabibah and the King, The Fortified Castle, Men and the City, and Begone, Demons. His last poem, “Unbind It,” was addressed to the Iraqi people and was written while he was awaiting execution.
These and other details about Saddam Hussein, his personality, and his regime, compliment a broader understanding of the realities surrounding his relationship with the US and his place in history. These are distorted by prevailing narratives that cast him in an overly simplistic role, shorn of any positive qualities. Articles deflecting praise for Saddam Hussein do so by exploiting these narratives and perpetuating outworn myths, lies, and distortions.
Saddam Hussein was a native son of Iraq, and his regime was an organic outgrowth of the history of his country, which he sought to unify and make sovereign, and whose people he offered a degree of prosperity and stability. His regime was not a threat to the US, but was a blight to elements in the US government and Israel that wanted him removed. In the end, he was felled by forces that had destroyed countless others with similar aspirations.
9. See the following IHR articles, for more context: “Israeli Attack on USS Liberty Was No Accident” and “Israel’s ‘Knife in the Back’ Against America.”
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