Leading article: It's too late for the conviction of Saddam to help heal Iraq

Share

Shed no tears for Saddam. He was undoubtedly guilty of mass murder. Not only of 148 people in Dujail in 1982 but tens or even hundreds of thousands of others. The chemical weapons attack he ordered on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 alone killed at least 5,000. These were not the isolated, berserk acts of an otherwise even-handed man - one of those efficient dictators who "make trains run on time". Saddam wrecked and ravaged his luckless country. Iraq had much going for it before he seized power in the 1970s. A catastrophic war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and more than two decades of incompetent tyranny blighted the hopes of all those who had expected something better to emerge from the overthrow of the monarchy.

If any toppled head of state deserves the death penalty, he does. Even the most consistent opponents of the invasion and occupation must concede that Iraqi courts had a right to put him on trial, even if an international court might arguably have handled the case better. As for the final decision, anything other than a guilty verdict would have been an utter travesty and an insult to the countless dead Kurds, Marsh Arabs, Shias and others.

Nevertheless, those who have rushed to hail this as a defining moment in Iraq's history, including Iraq's Prime Minister and the US ambassador, have succumbed to pitiful self-delusion. This was not the longed-for moment of "closure". It has solved nothing, ended nothing, healed nothing.

True, the finish of the trial is unlikely to deepen Iraq's sectarian divisions - if only because the chasms are now so unbridgeable that almost nothing could make them wider. The impact of the verdict on the country is merely a grim reminder of their existence; witness the sight of Kurds rejoicing in the north, Shias evincing a certain grim satisfaction and Sunnis voicing their sullen dismay and defiance in Baghdad, the west, and especially in Saddam's home town of Tikrit.

Neither the trial nor its outcome will have the slightest effect on the insurgency, which rages on with a will of its own, impervious to goings-on in a heavily-guarded courtroom near Baghdad airport. The myth that Saddam's Baathist cronies were the main figures in the insurgency has long since been exposed as nonsense.

In a perverse way, Saddam benefited from his trial. He may not have saved his life but he shored up his reputation, tapping into resentment felt by Iraqis over the occupation. Even as all-powerful life president, he never had so much exposure on Iraqi television as he has had since the trial started last October. Like that other dethroned strongman, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, he used his podium to effect, wisely twinning his own plight with that of his nation's perceived humiliation.

Whether the trial was as unfair as he and some human rights organisations have claimed is questionable. It is certainly a coincidence that it ended days before mid-term elections in America. And yes, it was predicated on victor's justice. But it was not a lynching or a show trial. Saddam should know the difference, having organised a kangaroo court for the miserable inhabitants of Dujail in 1982 before sending them to their deaths.

Overall, the court established that he was guilty. The real tragedy is that it no longer seems to matter very much. The significance of Saddam's worst deeds has been virtually obviated in most Iraqi minds by more recent, daily, slaughters of innocent civilians.

Had Iraq now become the showcase for Middle Eastern democracy that Mssrs Bush and Blair promised, Saddam's trial might have been the crowning achievement of the process. As it is, it seems an irrelevancy in a country gripped by a civil war.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'