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Saddam's execution: What next?

January 02, 2007 13:20 IST

What will be the impact of Saddam Hussein's execution on the global jihad being waged by Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front outside Iraq?

Marginal so far as Al Qaeda and the IIF are concerned. Osama bin Laden never liked Saddam Hussein, whom he used to look upon as an apostate because of his secular and socialistic policies.While Al Qaeda and the IIF would exploit the Sunni anger over the execution for psywar purposes, it is doubtful whether they would mount any spectacular act of terrorism in foreign territory as a reprisal for Saddam's execution. Al Qaeda would not like the dead Saddam to emerge as an iconic martyr. It would not like the Ummah to view Saddam's execution as a sacrifice for the cause of Islam. He would be portrayed more as an anti-US Muslim militant than as a leader of the Ummah. While the chances of an Al Qaeda-mounted operation outside Iraq to avenge Saddam's execution are thus minimal, there is a greater danger of individual Muslims in the overseas diaspora carrying out acts of terrorism to avenge his execution. Terrorist strikes similar to the London blasts of July 2005, are a greater probability and need to be guarded against.

What will be the impact on the situation in Iraq?

Reprisal attacks against the Shias and the American soldiers will increase, with more Shias killed than Americans. While American troops have been dying almost every day in small numbers, Al Qaeda and the resistance fighters have not so far succeeded in mounting acts of mass casualty terrorism against the Americans. Acts of mass casualty terrorism have till now been directed mainly against the Shias and the Kurds. This trend will continue. In the short term, Saddam's execution will increase the flow of Sunni volunteers to the terrorist organisations and the resistance fighters and will result in a further decrease in the already small number of Sunnis joining the security forces of the Iraq government, thereby making it appear even more than in the past as a Shia force of suppression. There will be a negative impact on the even now limited capability of the security forces to restore normalcy. Their dependence on US security forces for maintaining security will increase.

What will be the impact on the relations between the foreign terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance fighters, both of whom are now operating jointly through the Mujahideen Shura Council under the overall leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi?

The Iraqi resistance groups have in their ranks a large number of ex-Baathists. They are strong nationalists angered over the US occupation and destruction of a country, which they feel they had built up. They are not necessarily strongly pro-Saddam. Even among the Sunnis --- including the Baathists --- there are elements which feel that Saddam brought the country to its present plight through his unwise policy of confrontation. These ex-Baathists are not happy over the religious and pan-Islamic agenda of Al Qaeda and the Iraqi religious groups associated with it. The US could have exploited this to drive a wedge between the two. The chances of this succeeding have been lessened as a result of the unwise action in having Saddam executed in indecent haste. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq were not a monolith. Tribal affiinities often came in the way of sectarian solidarity. They are already united now as a result of the continued US occupation and this will be further strengthened as a result of the execution.

What will be the impact on the Sunnis of the shocking execution of Saddam on the day of the Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, which marks Biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God?.

Muslim countries pardon criminals to mark the feast. They  never carry out executions on that day. One does not know whose decision it was to execute him on that day --- the Shia dominated government's or America's. As a result, what should have been projected as the due culmination of a judicial process has assumed a strongly religious connotation. The image of a defiant Saddam bravely facing death with the Holy Koran in his hand and with the names of Allah, the Arabs and the Palestinians in his mouth will inspire more Sunni youth to volunteer themselves for suicide missions. Instead of letting Saddam languish in jail for the rest of his life as one among many criminals, the Americans have put a halo round his head as a man who defied the Americans and sacrificed his life for the cause of Iraq, the Palestinians and other Arabs and Islam. Rightly or wrongly, many Muslims might convince themselves that no Muslim government --- Shia or Sunni -- would have done an act of such shocking insensitivity. They would tend to assume that the US must have done this to teach the Muslims a lesson.

Who will be the immediate beneficiary of the execution?

In the short-term, definitely Iran. Teheran's objective is to keep the US forces preoccupied and bleeding in Iraq for as long as possible. In its calculation, this would lessen the possibility of a US intervention in Iran to end its nuclear capability.The longer the bleeding in Iraq, the lesser the possibility of US intervention in Iran. So Teheran calculates.

What are the options for the US in the present difficult situation?

The US has to encourage the other Baathist leaders --- whether in jail or underground --- to forget the past and activitate themselves against the foreign terrorists. They have to be protected against the wrath of the terrorists as well as the Shia extremists. The time has come to think in terms of separate Sunni paramilitary forces, which would be responsible for internal security in the Sunni majority areas.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com) 

B Raman