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Saddam's execution: an end to unified Iraq?
Alok Bansal
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January 02, 2007

The undue haste exhibited in hanging Saddam Hussein is nothing but a colossal blunder and it shows that as far as Iraq is concerned, the United States has still not got its cards right. 

The execution has made a martyr out of a demon. The calm and composed manner in which he met his end, has established him as a man of immense courage and a martyr to the cause of a united and strong Iraq. 

The way he went to the gallows, has made Saddam a hero and a rallying point not only for all Sunni Arabs in Iraq but for all Arabs, especially Palestinians.

He would continue to inspire them to not only oppose the US but also other governments that are perceived to be puppets of the US.

Although the decision to hang Saddam has been taken by a duly elected Iraqi regime, which has representatives from all sections of Iraqi populace, it is well known that it could not have done so without the tacit support of the Bush Administration.

The manner in which Saddam's trial was conducted leaves a lot to be desired.  Despite well-documented facts about the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, the manner of his trial and subsequent execution defy globally established norms of justice and fair play. Human Rights Watch has criticised the Iraqi government for actions that it said undermined the court's independence and has asserted that the court was unfamiliar with the law it was attempting to apply.

The undue haste shown to hang Saddam indicates that the US is keen to finish its unfinished agenda before cutting its losses in Iraq. Bush has claimed that bringing Saddam to justice was an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.

He said the execution would end what has been a difficult year for the Iraqi people and the US troops. Of late the situation in Iraq has gone from bad to worse despite the augmentation of US forces to pacify Baghdad. In December 2006 alone 108 American soldiers lost their lives in Iraq, and Bush has accepted that Saddam's death will not halt the violence in Iraq.

The writings and pronouncements coming out of Washington clearly indicate that even if the US does not pull out of Iraq completely, the presence of US troops in Iraq will be scaled down substantially in 2007. The domestic opposition to US deployment in Iraq is growing and even Republicans may not be willing to pay the cost of this folly during the next presidential elections.

Saddam's execution has further polarised the already divided polity in Iraq.  In Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, with a population of two million, hundreds of people danced in the streets while others fired guns in the air to celebrate his death. The government did not impose a round-the-clock curfew as it did last month when Saddam was convicted to thwart any surge in retaliatory violence.

Similar sentiments were also exhibited by people in the Kurdish North. The manner in which Shias and Kurds have expressed their happiness at his execution has further infuriated the Sunni Arabs in Iraq. The spontaneous suicide attacks in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq reflect the emotions of a large section of Sunni Arabs. Saddam's farewell statement that was posted on the internet on December 27, 2006, where he said that he was giving his life for his country as part of his struggle against the US and that he offered his soul to Allah as a sacrifice, and if Allah wants he would send him to heaven with the martyrs, would definitely motivate Sunni Arabs to fiercely oppose the US.

People in the Sunni-dominated city of Tikrit, once a power base of Saddam, lamented his death and a four-day curfew has been imposed there after Saddam's execution and for the duration of the Eid-al-Adha festival this weekend.

The chasm between the Shias, Kurds and Sunnis is now bound to increase after Saddam's execution. Within hours of his death, a bomb planted aboard a minibus exploded in a fish market south of Baghdad, which was followed by number of coordinated attacks in the city; over 30 people were killed and over 45 injured in these attacks. Another 30 were killed in what was clearly a reprisal -- a bomb blast on a bus in Kufa, a predominantly Shiite town 160 kilometres south of the Iraqi capital. US and Iraqi forces have reportedly braced themselves for a surge in violence by Saddam supporters. Iraqi officials have cancelled leave for their police and army and the Pentagon announced that troops in Iraq were at a high state of readiness. Security forces have set up roadblocks and blocked the entrances to Tikrit and Samarra, two Sunni strongholds.  

However, despite the curfew and the presence of security forces, gunmen loyal to Saddam took to the streets in Tikrit carrying his pictures, firing into the air and calling for avenging Saddam's execution. 

The growing fissures among Iraqis along ethno-sectarian lines coupled with impending US withdrawal point towards a tacit acceptance of the disintegration of Iraq. As it is the existing constitution allows states within the state and the Kurdish region has been enjoying almost total autonomy. Kurds not only have a well-organised military force but also inhabit the only region in Iraq that is peaceful and economically growing.

Similarly, the southern states dominated by Shias, though not totally peaceful, are not apologetic about the overthrowing of Saddam's regime by the US or his execution.

As the US withdraws, Kurds followed by Shias are likely to become independent. Although a Kurdish state is likely to be opposed by Turkey, it appears that the US is committed to it and may persuade it to maintain some sort of fa�ade of united Iraq. For the US, the Kurdish state will create the most pro-Western Islamic state in the region and a tool to destabilise Iran's periphery at a future date. Some analysts believe that the recent spurt in sectarian killings, which has added to the turmoil, might have been instigated by Western intelligence agencies, as US security and economic interests may be served by a break-up of Iraq into Kurd, Sunni and Shia states. The recent article by American analyst Ralph Peters in the Armed Forces Journal, where he has proposed redrawing of borders in the entire Middle East, appears to an American attempt to test waters.

However, the division of Iraq may not be a smooth peaceful affair as the central Sunni region, which includes Baghdad, has a substantial Shia population. Also, in the North traditional Kurd areas like Mosul were taken over by Sunni Arabs. The actual breakup may therefore lead to violence and transfer of population. 

It would however, not be wrong to conclude that Saddam Hussein, on account of the circumstances and the manner of his death, is destined to become a hero for Sunni Arabs in Iraq and for all other Arabs fighting the US or governments perceived to be pro-US. His death would further accentuate the existing cleavages in Iraqi society and in all probably mark the end of the unified state of Iraq. In times to come Saddam's execution will unleash forces that will change the face of the entire Middle East.

The author is a New Delhi-based Strategic analyst

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