Saddam Hussein is dead.
Kind of weird isn’t it?
When I was about 7 or 8 years of age his name was on every newscast, accompanying rather violent pictures from the Iran-Iraq war. Despite Hussein’s use of chemical weapons and his human rights abuses, actor Ronald Reagan sent senile Donald Rumsfeld over to shake hands and make friends with him. At the time the US government were afraid that Iraq and the Middle East were going to be over-run by the Iranian Islamic Revolution so they sided with Hussein, giving him tons of weapons and economic aid – a real life example of how “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
The war claimed 1,000,000 lives and achieved absolutely nothing for either side.
Hussein – who was armed to the hilt with conventional and chemical weapons kindly provided by the Soviet Union, France, China, Germany, the UK and the US – “gassed” thousands of Kurds in the north of Iraq and then decided in 1990 that invading Kuwait would be quite a good idea. By this point the US had begun to tire of Hussein and was a bit worried about his huge arsenal and open hostility towards those Israeli friends of theirs (whose nuclear arsenal is of no concern to any of us of course).
Oil was the primary concern. The worry in 1990 was that the powerful Iraqi army would choose to also invade Saudi Arabia and take control of a number of their oil fields. George Bush Snr spun a few fibs about troop build up and why it was necessary to “check that aggression” and on January 17 1991 (right in the middle of the Spurs v Chelsea League Cup match on ITV) the first ever 24-hour TV news war began.
It might be dull today but it was compelling viewing back then. Regular programming was shelved and busy newscasters introduced feeds from the battlefields while updates scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Who can forget the CNN reporters Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett crouching under tables, dangling their microphones out of windows so we could hear the air attacks on Baghdad?
I digress. The point is that on February 28th 1991 the war was over. George Bush was criticised for leaving Saddam in power after the war. His hope was that an uprising would remove Hussein and save American lives in a ground war in Iraq – with a 1992 election coming up that would be rather unpopular with voters. He still lost the election to Bill Clinton, one of the reasons given being, ironically, that he didn’t finish the war properly in Iraq. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
So Saddam stayed in power through the nineties although he was somewhat “in a cage”. It was a gold-plated cage though – while UN sanctions caused hardship for his public, Hussein lived in palaces and was said to be worth $7bn. Hussein grew more and more arrogant as the years went on and regularly defied UN resolutions and sanctions. Bill Clinton – under pressure because of a stain on a dress – sent fighter planes to Baghdad to distract everyone. It was kind of like this: “I did not have sexual relations…uh…hey! Look! Planes! Bombs!”
Post September 11th
Post September 11th 2001, Saddam returned to the news by doing, well, nothing at all really. George W Bush finally got his reason to start another war and lined up the reasons why Saddam Hussein must be stopped.
1. Weapons of Mass Destruction – Loads of them and they were going to be used against America before too long.
2. 45 Minute Claim – The time it would take for Saddam to mobilise weapons of mass destruction against the west after the order was given.
3. Uranium – Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to build an atom bomb and blow up innocent people like us.
4. Harbouring terrorists – Saddam was harbouring and funding the terrorists that flew planes in to the twin towers.
Saddam was once again promoted as public enemy number one ahead of all the other tyrannical despots out there in the world. The four above claims were either proven false or never proven at all. It’s nearly four years since the invasion of Iraq and not one weapon has been found – something arms inspector Hans Blix repeatedly told the US before the war started. The “45 minute claim” was simply untrue, documents proving Iraq was trying to buy uranium were forged and no terrorist cells or evidence of them was found in Iraq.
Within three weeks the war was over and by the end of the year Saddam was captured – very convenient for a President who was facing stinging criticism for the amount of American lives being lost in what had become a dirty guerrilla war. As has been proven since, it was an unnecessary and illegal one too.
Hussein was put on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and on November 5th 2006 he was found guilty. A month later his appeal was quickly rejected and 25 days after that Saddam Hussein – a man who has been pretty much a constant figure in my life since the early 80s – was executed by hanging.
There is no denying that Hussein was a tyrant of the worst kind. His presence on the planet did no one any good but the manner in which he was sent to die is something that irks me. Saddam was sent to die not because he was a murdering, nerve-gas using dictator but because he would not play the game the west wanted him to play like the rulers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait do.
He used conventional and illegal weaponry supplied to him by the west against his enemies but when his antics threatened the cosy oil-enriched lives of the powerful, they had to act. They saved the oil fields in 1991 and again in 2003.
Bush hunted down Saddam on the back of outright lies and embellished claims (turning the once-respected Colin Powell in to a deliverer of those lies at his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5th 2003). Bush’s actions were not for the benefit of America (to which Saddam was no threat) but for the benefit of himself, his family (“this one’s for you Dad!” he might have said) and his powerful friends.