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imperialism & war

Saddam's ouster is a warning to tyrants

Opposition in the Arab part of Iraq at least, excluding the Kurdish North, had become a state of mind or a conspiracy. It was never an organised public activity.
Mustapha Karkouti: Saddam's ouster is a warning to tyrants
Mustapha Karkouti in London, Gulf News, 15-04-2003

It is time to ask simple questions: Why has Saddam Hussain's regime crumbled so fast? And why Iraqis in general, and particularly Iraqis loyal to the regime, including Republican Guards, have failed to put up any resistance of significance against invading foreign armies?

Many ordinary people, particularly in the Arab world, have not woken up yet from the shock of the swift defeat of the former Iraqi regime's army. At time of writing, tribal leaders and institutions representatives of Tikrit, the birth place of "the great" Iraqi leader, were negotiating with the American commanders whose troops and about 250 U.S. armoured vehicles have already entered the city centre, terms of handing Tikrit without a fight.

Tikrit has been considered by strategists to be a possible remaining stronghold of Saddam's regime and there has been speculation that troops loyal to the deposed leader might be planning a last stand there.

Nothing of the sort has happened, not even in Tikrit, which gives reasons to believe that the regime was not only a paper tiger, but also was on its last legs as a result of severe sanctions and political isolation.

Apart from the fourth and fifth days, we have hardly seen any significant resistance against the invading forces as they were almost freely advancing in the long journey from the Kuwaiti borders towards the capital, Baghdad.

Many observers have sensibly concluded the result of the American-led military campaign - code-named "Iraq Liberation" - in Iraq, long before the campaign had even begun. The far superior American air power, the technically advance army of the United States and the poorly equipped Iraqi forces, including the much hyped-up Republican Guards, are only a few reasons for this conclusion.

On the fourth day, the capture of five American Marines who were interviewed on Arab TV and the downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter on the fifth, had awakened many people's false hope that a defeat of the American-led forces was a possibility.

It was only when viewers saw Iraqis toppling a statue of Saddam in the centre of Baghdad on the 21st day of the military campaign, they started to realise the regime had finally crumbled. Though it was banned on many Arab state-ran media, the toppling of the dictator's statues continued unabated in other cities.

Why so fast? The answer can be simply found in the historic fact that a tyrant regime cannot become under many circumstances a patriotically representative one. This was evidently clear in Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal and Ceausescu's Romania.

Since the military coup of Abdulkarim Qassem of 1958, the practice of politics in Iraq has been practically dead. This intensified since 1968 when the Ba'ath-led take over in Baghdad. When Saddam took over-all control late in 1970s, Iraq became a large prison.

In Iraq, there are no political parties other than the Ba'ath and membership of any other party is a crime. Dissent is a crime; criticism of Saddam is a capital crime.

Consequently, and despite universal antagonism to the regime since 1991 at least, there were no organised opposition parties operating inside the country worthy of the name.

Under Saddam's regime no individual dissidents inside the country with a public profile, such as the world has seen in some former communist countries in Eastern Europe in 1980s, were allowed to function or even to surface.

Therefore, opposition in the Arab part of Iraq at least, excluding the Kurdish North, had become a state of mind or a conspiracy. It was never an organised public activity.

The regime tyranny personified by the leader - "may God preserve and guard him", a phrase that had to be recited every time Saddam's name was mentioned by the media and all officials from his deputy to the lowest civil servant rank - emptied Iraqi civil society of any meaningful figure or individual.

Within the existing state structure during Saddam's era, the country did not have political figures, it had only functionaries. And this included his deputies, Taha Yassin Ramadan and Izzat Al Douri, his deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and foreign minister Najib Sabri Al Hadeithy.

Two of the latter's brothers were killed by the regime on suspicion of opposing Saddam.

Unlike politburos in former communist Eastern Europe, and later in the former Soviet Union, Iraqi's Ba'ath party Regional Command was always a paper cut-out with no content of any sort. The Ba'ath party under Saddam's leadership served propaganda purposes where no member of it, at any level, had any stature in the country or enjoyed any independent will.

Furthermore, on the popular level of the masses, membership of the party became a survival necessity. No student would be accepted at a university, a citizen join a civil servant department or an officer serve in the army without first registering as a party member.

Meanwhile, the former Revolutionary Command Council, virtually a replica of the Ba'ath Regio-nal Command, has always been a rubber stamp body for the absolute ruler.

On top of that are the many innocent Iraqis who were killed by the security apparatus or simply vanished.

The magnitude of the crimes committed in Iraq over 34 years is staggering. It is virtually impossible to begin to list the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died under torture in secretive jails, or who have otherwise suffered at the hands of the regime.

Such a criminal regime is doomed and can never succeed in mobilising a nation controlled by fear and terrorism to defend the homeland against a foreign military invasion, even if it was instigated by the much-hated American administration among Iraqi Arabs.

This is obviously the message the Iraqis have given the world, and the Arabs in particular.

The writer is the former president, Foreign Press Association in London. The writer can be contacted at  mkarkouti@gulfnews.com

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