Iraq’s government institutions — particularly its courts — have not hardened in the short time they have been functioning during the slap-shod democracy that the U.S. has helped prop up. While Iraq had widespread participation of its citizenry in recent elections, Iraqis do not have faith in their current government which has failed to stop escalating violence in Baghdad and throughout much of the country.
The people just don’t believe that this government will survive much longer and think that the institutions that have been created and reformed since Saddam’s fall are incredibly wobbly.
In particular, the courts just don’t have legitimacy in the eyes of too many Iraqis who are going to see the execution of Saddam Hussein as further consolidation of Shiite power against Sunnis.
In my view, Hussein has committed outrageous crimes for which he should be held to account. However, I can just as well think of many others who have evaded responsibility on our side of the equation for errors in judgment combined with duplicity that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis.
But Hussein was a monster — no doubt. But he was at times “our monster.” He was also a “controllable monster,” and a classic kind of thug whom we could have dealt with in ways far smarter and less crippling to this nation and its military.
But we need to be clear-eyed about the possibility that Saddam Hussein’s execution at the instruction of Iraq’s highest courts and judges — which many Iraqis see as puppets under American control — may actually have an enormous negative impact on the survivability of the current government and could ignite a much higher octane of nasty civil war inside Iraq.
The track has been laid. I don’t see any way that Hussein can escape execution — but everyone involved needs to realize that Hussein is no longer just a criminal, thuggish, murderous tyrant in the eyes of most Iraqi citizens.
To many, he has become a defiant leader fighting American oppression and someone who portrays himself as a proud and ferocious Sunni force. Many Sunnis want him back — and we need to prepare for something big, very big, when he dies.
— Steve Clemons