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The End of Saddam

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable … Read More

By / December 30, 2006

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets. –W.H. Auden, "Epitaph on a Tyrant"

You can boil an egg in the time it'll take some commentators to say that nothing has changed today, Iraq is just as bad as it's ever been, this is another empty gesture along the lines of "Mission: Accomplished." Better yet: a distraction from the hunt for George W. Bush. I was against the execution of Saddam Hussein because I'm against capital punishment, tout court, and I don't think you can split a difference when it comes to principle. The worst aspect of today's pre-dawn hanging is that Saddam now won't be able to answer for his most grievous crimes: the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds, the helicopter-gunship slaughter of Kurds and Shia after an abortive uprising at the close of the first Gulf War, which was encouraged and then abandoned by the United States.

Iraq's first democratically elected president, a brave and noble Kurd with a Marxist background, also opposed executing the tyrant who, more than anyone else, made life hell for the largest stateless people in the Middle East. (Jalal Talabani's fortitude on this point is of a notably higher order than Michael Dukakis was ever asked to contemplate on the stump, and it's always worthwhile to see people's moral compass spin wildly to consider that those ungovernable, pre-democratic Iraqis are actually more civilized than a majority of Americans.) However, there's no denying the sense of relief felt by Iraqis who know that this monster is never coming back. In the weeks to follow there will be an interminable snuff gallery on display on Arab television and in the press to make people sure of the fact. A common fear in the country, on par with a cultural superstition, was that the coalition would restore Saddam to power if the postwar situation deterioriated, which makes you wonder just how bad things would have had to have got to mitigate that fear had a death sentence not been decreed.

Now would be an excellent time to revisit everything from Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear to Mahdi Obeidi's The Bomb in My Garden to the Volcker Commission's findings on the oil-for-food racket. It's a minor shame there hasn't been more literature produced on this 35-year nightmare. Now, perhaps, the Iraqi Solzhenitsyns and Miloszes and Sahkarovs will begin to emerge…

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