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'As I led him to the gallows, I hoped Saddam Hussein would show remorse. There was nothing' - Dr Mowaffak al Rubaie on the dictator’s last moments

Man who held senior job in post war Iraq tells Paul Martin of dictator’s last moments

As he led Saddam Hussein to the gallows, Dr Mowaffak al Rubaie says he was filled not with hatred but with contempt. “I was not looking for revenge for the three times his security thugs had imprisoned and tortured me,” Dr Rubaie says.

“I was hoping to see him show some remorse for the terrible crimes, the hundreds of thousands of his own citizens that he and his henchmen killed,” he adds. “But there was nothing.  I could see he was not a religious man. We had to remind him to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is greatest’] as he was about to die.”

In his Baghdad home is a photo of his Baghdad University class of 1971-2. Of the 340 young doctors smiling out from it, Dr Rubaie says only 10 are alive today – a few died naturally, but most, he says, were killed in various crushed uprisings of the Shia and Kurds or in the Iraq-Iran war, and a handful in the violence that followed the US-British occupation. It was a terrible reminder of the tragedy that Iraq has undergone for over four bloody decades.

Dr Rubaie, who was tortured for his political beliefs, just managed to survive severe renal failure following his electrocution sessions and went on to do a post-doctoral research at Edinburgh University and practise for 24 years in Britain as a neurologist and a surgeon. Ten years ago today, after having fled into exile from Iraq, Dr Rubaie watched in amazement from his home in London as American troops and Shias pulled down Saddam’s huge statue in central Baghdad. 

Soon Dr Rubaie was called by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq help create the foundations of a new state. It was while trying to piece together the collapsed health services that he was also assigned the role of National Security Adviser, which gave him the grisly responsibility of being  Saddam’s companion in his final moments. He held the post in the last few months of the Coalition’s rule, and then under successive Iraqi regimes until 2009 – after which he was elected as a member of the country’s parliament.

Dr Rubaie believes the world was indeed threatened by Saddam even though no weapons of mass destruction were found.  He explains: “Saddam would have rebuilt his WMD programme once the worldwide sanctions were lifted – for which there was growing international pressure.”

As he openly admits as we sit in his heavily guarded home beside the Tigris: “We made thousands of mistakes. But I am still sure we did the right thing to get rid of Saddam and his murderous Baath Party.”

Bizarrely, a huge bust of Saddam dominates his gold-curtained living-room. Even more macabre is the rope tied around the statue’s neck. “The Americans had removed the bust from one of his palaces and had flown it to a base in Kuwait,” he recalls. “I had it flown back and I am keeping it until we build a proper museum to display all the arrogant relics of the Baathist regime.”

And the rope? “Oh, I had my men bring me back a segment of the rope after they cut Saddam down,” he says. “So I thought it appropriate to put it around the neck of Saddam’s statue.”

Attending Saddam’s trial as the former ruler’s crimes were set out in detail, Dr Rubaie says he found it difficult to sleep at night. The toppled dictator had tried to invoke religion to rally support – yet in the televised hearings, he says Saddam sometimes held the Koran in the left hand, an insult in Islamic thinking.

Dr Rubaie is an opponent of the death penalty, but says it was necessary in Saddam’s case as a means of dampening down the insurgency that was by then ravaging his country. “We are still suffering from that violence, but it goes back much further. The violence stems from the psychological damage Saddam and his Baathist Party inflicted on all Iraqis over 35 years.”

He says Iraq needs now radically to reform its education system, to teach young people tolerance and the acceptance of differing views – the opposite of what Iraqis had learned under Saddam. “Our traumas are far from healed.  We have a lot of work to do. And unless we change our ways of thinking and doing, things can only get worse.”

He feels the West has wrongly abandoned Iraq. He argues that US aircraft should have remained to patrol Iraq’s unprotected skies. Had the US and Iraq’s Shia-dominated government agreed a redeployment of forces in 2011 the Iranian air-bridge into Syria could not have brought President Assad his lifeline, says Dr Rubaie. That would have brought the bloody civil war in Syria to a quick end and seen another dictator fall. “The British and the Americans did the whole region a service in eliminating Saddam’s regime,” he says. “But they still have a duty to keep the Iraqi people secure."

Picture credit: Paul Martin / ConflictZones.tv.