Saddam Hussain’s legacy


At the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf, who had been the commander-in-chief of US Central Command, observed that Saddam is “neither a strategist nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general.”
As the Iraq War approached in 2003, experts speculated that the Iraqi leader would be a more formidable opponent, since he had presumably used the past dozen years to learn from his mistakes and to study the US playbook. In February, Joseph Wilson, the acting US ambassador to Iraq in the early 1990s, said a second war with Saddam wouldn’t be as clear-cut as the first: “This time it’s going to be completely different. He’s going to deploy his forces in the cities, and the US will have to go in and root them out, especially in Baghdad.”
Experts noted that Saddam was not positioning his forces along the borders as the potential for war loomed. They said the tipping point would not come until the battle for Baghdad had been waged. Urban warfare would be unavoidable in this final battle, raising the probability of substantial casualties among US troops and Iraqi civilians, both of which would stymie American war efforts.
In a letter to the US Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet had cautioned that Saddam was likely to use chemical and biological weapons if he found himself boxed into a corner by a US-led attack. President Bush acknowledged that Saddam may have given his field commanders orders to deploy chemical weapons in the event of war, but reiterated his determination to seek victory, even if that meant accepting massive casualties. Colin Powell famously alluded to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction at the UN.
And then, to everyone’s surprise, Saddam’s rule ended unceremoniously 21 days after the war began. A US Marine tank recovery vehicle pulled the tyrant’s bronze statue in Al-Firdaws Square in central Baghdad as hordes of cheering Iraqis waved on. Saddam was ruthless, more feared than liked by the populace over which he ruled. Prior to the war, books written by Iraqi expatriates had become bestsellers. Perhaps the most famous was called The Republic of Fear. It documented the horrors of everyday life in Saddam’s Iraq.
Donald Rumsfeld, the-then US defence secretary, exclaimed that “Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators.” A surprising omission from Rumsfeld’s list was Benito Mussolini, since it was from his political philosophy that Saddam’s Ba’athist party derived its fascist ideology.
It is unlikely that Saddam Hussein wanted to go down in history in such ignominious fashion but that is where he ended up. To the end, he wanted to leave behind a legacy that would be on a par with that of Salahuddin Ayubi.
Yet there were no similarities between the legacies of these two native sons of Tikrit. In 1187, Salahuddin defeated the Crusading armies under the command of Richard, King of England, at the Battle of Hattin and brought Jerusalem back within the Muslim fold after a lapse of ninety years. Salahuddin’s enemies spoke of his chivalry and the people over whom he ruled regarded him as a gentle and humble man. When Salahuddin died, he had no material possessions, having given them all away during his lifetime to construct schools and help the impoverished.
Eight centuries later, Saddam governed over Iraq with an iron hand. He built palaces for himself while his people starved. He named the international airport at Baghdad after himself, and had countless statues built of himself in a clear violation of Islamic principles. He used religion as a political tool for stirring up religious sentiments during wartime, and the most extreme manifestation occurred when he had the Muslim invocation, “God is Great!” sewn into the Iraqi flag after his defeat in the 1991,Gulf War.
In the years leading up to the 2003,Iraq War, Saddam had begun an aggressive campaign of building mosques, one of which featured Quranic calligraphy written with ink derived from his blood that was taken over a period of several months. All of these Islamic symbols were meant for public consumption. In his personal life he violated most of the tenets of Islam, from drinking Scotch to womanizing. In a notable act of sacrilege, his troops attacked the Muslim shrines in Karbala and Najaf when the Shia revolted after Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.
The impact of Saddam’s defeat in the Iraq War extended beyond the borders of Iraq. In the entire Arab and Muslim world, it was seen as an act of humiliation with no redeeming quality. Israel’s defeat of several Arab armies in 1967 during the Six Day War had caused much hurt and humiliation. Saddam’s final defeat caused even more pain and anguish because this time Baghdad — the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate — has fallen, and because the one-sided nature of the war was broadcast throughout the world.
US Marine Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan McCoy, whose unit killed 92 Iraqis and took 44 prisoners during the war without the loss of a single Marine, summed up what the entire world saw for three weeks in a row: “Let’s quit pussyfooting and call it what it is. It’s murder, it’s slaughter, it’s clubbing baby harp seals.”