Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saddam to the gallows, more troops to Iraq and more maximum city

I am a bit late getting around to talking about it, of course, but, for anyone who has been living under a rock for the last several weeks, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - former Reagan administration client, author of the genocidal Al-Anfal Campaign campaign that killed up to 180,000 Iraqi Kurds from 1986 until 1989, and instigator of the brutal repression that killed a similar number of Shiites following a 1991 revolt centered on the cities of Basra and Nasiriyah - was hanged by the neck until dead on December 30th, bringing an end one of the bloodiest histories that any modern ruler has written upon the face of the earth. While I am in principle opposed to the death penalty (even in this case), I must say that I shed no tears over the end of this appalling tyrant who, along with his two maniac sons and his quasi-fascist Baath party, had ruined the lives of so many millions of people for so long, and left his country that shattered, divided inferno that it currently is (helped along by the arrogant hubris of the Bush administration in the latter count).

As if to underscore the man’s moral turpitude, recordings have recently surfaced where Hussein discusses the Al-Anfal Campaign in great detail with subordinates, dispensing, among other pearls of wisdom, that "Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful," in reference to plans to have Soviet-built aircraft carry containers packed with 50 napalm bombs each to the be rolled out of the cargo decks and dropped on Kurdish towns. Later in the same set of tapes, Hussein praises the merits of chemical weapons - such as those that decimated the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 - while speaking with his vice-president, the fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

If any regrets may be voiced about Hussein’s exit, as with that of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet earlier that same month, it is that the deed was done before Hussein was made to answer for the full measure of his crimes and the manner of his death - as a Sunni taunted by partisans of the Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army”militia while on the gallows - will only serve to further inflame the scorching ethnic violence that is currently making Iraq such a hellish place for its citizens. In the final analysis, it is also appalling that Hussein was executed for the killing of 148 Shia Muslims in the town of Dujail and then, post mortem, charges against him stemming from the Al-Anfal Campaign were dropped and those from the 1991 campaign against the Shia shunted aside. Hussein should have been on trail for the rest of his life for his crimes against the Iraqi people and now, for all of those victims, there will probably never be a full accounting of the state machinations that lead to such ghastly excess. As my friend Sutton Stokes observed, “The saddest thing about his execution is the way the amateurs running it allowed him the final victory of seeming like the only civilized person in the room, when in fact…”

Amidst all of this, my country’s president - who hopefully one day will have to face a trial or two of his own - has announced his plan to send 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq, including five brigades deployed to Baghdad. While completely distrustful of Bush’s motives and not at all convinced that he has learned the lessons of a presidency that has thus far been a tragedy for America as it has been for the world, it does seem that it would be the height of irresponsibility and callous self-interest, having unleashed the poltergeists of ethnic cleansing on a civilian population, for the U.S. to leave Iraq before we have done something to try and halt the violence there.

On this issue, where it seems like the only choices are bad and worse, I must say that I largely agree with The Economist’s 7 December observation that “What will not help is scuttling from Iraq before exhausting every possible effort to put the country back together.”

“The Baker-Hamilton group is right to say that America should neither leave precipitously nor stay forever.,” the editorial goes on. “Leaning harder on Iraq's politicians is an excellent idea. But setting an arbitrary deadline of early 2008 for most of the soldiers to depart risks weakening America's bargaining power, intensifying instead of dampening the fighting and projecting an image of weakness that will embolden enemies everywhere.”

Bhenchod, this isn’t over yet.

As for me, following a great dinner with author Dilip D'Souza and his charming family and an even better Bandra party, I again spent the day today in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, home to some 700,000 souls, intervieiwng people who make their living by breaking apart plastics and recylcing bags which are then melted down and sold as raw material. For their effort they make 60 rupees a day (about $1.20). I am still feeling the effects of inhaling all that pollution this evening.

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