In what will be the first of many trials in Baghdad for Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Special Tribunal is focusing on a failed assassination attempt on the former president in 1982.
Time magazine’s March 13, 2006 edition featured these telling words by Hussein at the trial: “People have an obligation to report crimes they witness. Is referring a defendant who opened fire at a head of state, no matter what his name is, a crime?”
Hussein, in saying “people”, was referring to the entire 148-person population of Dujail, the small town where the assassination attempt occurred. Clearly, he is admitting to the allegations that he ordered the trial of, and subsequently executed, the entire town.
This stands only as a microcosm of Hussein’s rule in Iraq, according to a 2004 story in The Weekly Standard by Gerard Alexander, because “by a conservative estimate, the [Hussein] regime was killing civilians at an average rate of at least 16,000 a year between 1979 and March 2003.”
March 2003-the 20th, to be exact-was when the U.S.-led invasion on Iraq, and, informally, the Iraq War, began. With the three-year anniversary passing us last week, there is no doubt in our minds that this has been an exhaustive, draining, and in many ways disappointing war. The main goal of the war-to unseat Saddam-was accomplished in the early morning hours of December 14th of that same year, when Hussein was captured in a bunker at a farmhouse near Tikrit. Yet the war has raged on, goals have become vague, and, slowly, President Bush’s approval rating has lost its post-9/11 steam-crashing to the point that we question, with good reason, our administration’s decision-making.
Violence occurs in Iraq en masse every day, but let us not forget that, under a tight-lipped Hussein regime, civilian casualties were slightly worse. Iraqbodycount.net estimates civilian casualties in Iraq since the invasion at between 33,773 and 37,895-or between roughly 11,000 and 12,500 a year-about 5,000 fewer than “conservative estimates” by Saddam.
Is this a bad or good thing? To an extent, it is some of both. While there has been an improvement-and the unseating of Saddam Hussein, in itself, is a positive step-and casualties are down, certain areas in Iraq still rage with unbridled conflict, unnecessary deaths occurring all too often, at their own hands and those of our own forces. We can only hope for a swift, painless end to conflict in Iraq, but know the harsh reality that severe religious and political tension will, in so many ways, always exist.
Yes, the lengthy trial is becoming a circus, being taken over by courtroom theatrics by Hussein and his half brother and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, and the War in Iraq continues to drag on endlessly without a clear goal. Yes, Saddam is at trial. Yes, we are aware of failures at war that have accompanied us since invading Iraq in the first place.
War is not kind, but neither is justice. While we have taken steps in the right direction, we must ask: Are we holding Hussein-and ourselves-accountable?