ONE can almost pat US President George W. Bush on the back for his excellent speech on the capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
This time, Bush kept his emotions in check. Even if his heart might be bursting with joy over Saddam’s capture and the fact that his chances of getting re-elected was now brighter, he was careful not to let any of his glee show.
An unsmiling serious looking Bush kept his speech short and straight to the point.
He told Iraqis how he believed the capture of “this man” was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq and that they need never fear Saddam or his security apparatus again.
“Saddam will face justice that he denied to millions,” Bush said in the three-minute long address.
“In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived,” he said.
But not all Iraqis are feeling hopeful.
The initial feeling of distrust and disbelief has gradually changed into one of confusion, said a friend in Baghdad.
Iraqis were happy because Saddam would finally be brought to justice and held accountable for his atrocities and oppression, he said, and yet they were sad in a way.
They would have preferred for Saddam to be caught and killed by the Iraqis than to have him surrender to the Americans.
Saddam, he said, in recent months was to Iraqis a symbol of Iraqi resistance – “the last Iraqi who is unoccupied” epitomising the “spirit of resistance”.
And the people felt that Saddam’s freedom, he said, represented their freedom against the coalition forces regardless of whether they liked their ousted leader or not.
This friend, who is a volunteer worker in Baghdad, felt there was “despair in everyone’s hearts” because they had to finally come to terms with the reality of being an occupied nation.
“What is worse than Saddam is probably the fact that from today there is no more hope of the return of an independent Iraqi government ruled by real Iraqis, not puppets.
“Whatever single dim light at the end of this dark tunnel has finally faded,” he said in an e-mail.
Interestingly, the Iraqi Governing Council announced just last week that it was setting up a tribunal to try Saddam and other Baathist leaders.
So the former Iraqi strongman will now stand for trial for mass murders committed under his rule.
The evidence of that is everywhere. In the torture chambers found, in the mass graves discovered in the country following the fall of Baghdad.
Saddam can also be tried for using chemical weapons on his people. The most notable is the gassing of his people in Halabja on March 16, 1988, when 5,000 people, mostly women and children, died in that one ghastly incident.
But while the tribunal can dish out justice to Saddam for his cruelty on his people, it is such a pity that the body is confined to trying only Iraqis.
After all, a number of non-Iraqis have committed heinous crimes against the Iraqis and they too should be dragged before a tribunal or court just like Saddam and made to pay for their crimes.
This includes Bush’s father George Bush Senior who was the US president during the 1991 Gulf War when the US had rightfully led a coalition to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. There is no problem with this.
But the problem lies with the bombing on the Kuwait to Basra, Iraq highway on midnight Feb 26, 1991 when the Iraqi troops had already started pulling out.
Saddam announced a total withdrawal of troops and yet US planes bombed cars at both ends of the 96km highway which were fleeing.
There was a massive traffic jam as a result and then the US jets went on a free for all and demolished cars, carts, buses and military vehicles all along the road.
Two thousand vehicles were totally destroyed and tens of thousands of people including fleeing Iraqi soldiers and civilians – women and children – were dismembered and scorched to their deaths.
From photographs taken of the bodies, experts concluded that outlawed chemical weapons such as napalm, phosphorous, incendiary bombs, anti personnel weapons were used.
That road is known as the “Highway of Death” because of the incident and mass graves.
So since the Iraqi Governing Council is going after mass murderers shouldn’t they also seek justice for those who murdered on this highway of death?
There is also the 12-year long sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. It caused severe malnourishment in Iraq and caused about 500,000 deaths.
But can Iraqis hope that parties responsible for this genocide will be brought to justice?
If not, it would appear there is no even-handedness in dishing out justice to perpetrators of injustices and crimes on Iraq and its people. Yet in the reality of today’s world, to hope for even-handedness seems to be wishful thinking.
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