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December 2003

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A Curse of Iraq?

No more apt words than these of John Dryden could be crafted to describe the descent from power of Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president. Television footage taken shortly after his recent capture revealed for all the world to see a helpless homeless-looking, dirty, hirsute subject of a U. S. army medical examination. Caught in a "spider hole" hideout near Tikrit, he had surrendered without a fight, although armed. This was the tyrant who was feared and/or admired by one and all in Iraq and by a substantial portion of the Muslim world.

And admired at one time significantly beyond the Middle East. Here I wax personal in my commentary. At the time of the first Gulf War, I found myself at an up-country Nigerian university, teaching as a senior lecturer under the American Fulbright program. For some weeks after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait it was an uncomfortable place for an American to be, given the mass of student and faculty opposition to the UN and the United States in the effort to reverse Hussein's action. During the build-up phase prior to ground action by the UN coalition, I participated in several formal faculty debates attended by hundreds of students. In these I usually found myself a party of one in supporting the UN's and my country's actions.

One of the byproducts of this situation was the startling (to me) discovery that faculty members, as well as students, for a time hailed Saddam as something of a political savior -- for African nations! Faculty colleagues in history, international relations, and the law school seriously held out to me privately the proposition that he, Saddam Hussein in far-off Baghdad, would prevail and then craft an alliance to pull together not only Middle Eastern nations, but all of Africa. Never mind that he, of course, was not of that continent: He had the charisma and the political acumen successfully to oppose outside Western influences and to mobilize and channel the efforts of all Africa. The details would work themselves out.

I was, shall we say, taken by surprise by this attitude, coming as it did from well-educated, serious, dedicated academicians. My questions and counter-arguments fell on deaf ears.

Then the ground campaign began. One hundred hours later the Iraqi army was defeated, expelled from Kuwait and in flight.

No matter that Saddam put the best face possible on the debacle and was to remain in office for years to come, his fall from power had begun. In Nigeria I heard not another word about Saddam being the future savior of Africa. From that point on, faculty colleagues confined themselves to pious expressions of hope for peace.

Fallen, fallen . . . and helpless in captivity. Now a question about his disposition arises. Justice would be served if he were brought before an Iraqi tribunal, if the provisional authorities are effective enough to manage the situation. Likely his just deserts would be forthcoming soon. Justice would not, in this editor's opinion, be served if the United States insisted on bringing him before a U. S. military court, nor would that course of action redound to America's credit in the rest of the Middle East.

A third possibility exists: trial before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, an arm of the United Nations. Currently, the Court has under consideration more than twenty cases, two of which deal specifically with the crime of genocide. A long, drawn-out procedure there is to be expected, if the case of Slobodan Milosevic is a guide. That is not necessarily undesirable if, as might be expected, the proceedings bring out the horrible details of Saddam Hussein's cruelties, even to his own people. Trial before the World Court further has the advantage of tending to involve the UN more in the Iraq question.

The ultimate end of the fallen Hussein is not, after all, necessarily his quick hanging from the nearest cottonwood tree. Hard time in prison for the rest of his life would fit the bill just as well.

Henry E. Mattox, Editor

* John Dryden, Alexander's Feast, 1697


Past editorials can be found here.

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