How difficult it is to talk about Saddam Hussein, despite the distance that separates us from the date of his execution, on Dec. 30, 2006. The truth is that the man is a provocateur, whether he resided in the palace or lied in the grave. His victims and enemies are many. His supporters are not few.
In Iraq, time does not heal wounds, but rather rubs salt into them. It is not easy for those who paid the price for Saddam’s injustice to read that he was leading resistance against the American occupation or that he was honest in his dealings with public money. Similarly, it is difficult for his supporters to accept that his image is limited to that of a cruel ruler, who bloodied his country and the region.
A few months ago, I met an Iraqi in an Arab capital, who had “working and friendly relations” with Saddam Hussein, paving the way for hundreds of meetings between them. The man asked that his identity remain anonymous for security reasons. He told me that he met Saddam Hussein twice after his ousting. The first was on the outskirts of Fallujah on April 11, 2003, two days after the fall of the regime, and the second was on July 19 in Baghdad, which was then under the control of the US forces.
He narrated that Saddam was close to the Firdos Square, when a US armored vehicle shot down his statue. He added that on the same night, from a nearby secret headquarters, Saddam led the first “resistance” operation against the Americans, which targeted positions of their forces in the vicinity of the Abu Hanifa al-Numan Mosque in Adhamiya, and that he almost personally participated in the attack, but his companions prevented him out of fear for his life.
He stated that Saddam had warned during a meeting in Baghdad in July that the “fall of Iraq will mean the extension of Iran’s influence to the Maghreb.”
The media profession taught us to deal with narrations with the necessary degree of reservation, and to search for more of them. For this purpose, I also met a man who worked in the palace alongside Saddam and asked him about his thoughts. The man criticized the decision to invade Kuwait, but he was keen to point out “the integrity of Saddam, who was accused by the media to have accumulated billions in secret accounts abroad or in his headquarters.”
He stressed that the real corruption occurred after the fall of the regime.
“You could say that he was cruel or even excessively cruel, but he considered plundering public money a kind of treason,” the former Iraqi official said.
He also asserted that Saddam was leading part of the resistance against the American occupation.
Governing Council member and later Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had the opportunity to visit the largest prison camp in modern Iraqi history, but he refused to do so. He recounted that two people abstained from this visit:
“I refrained from going because rejoicing is not our habit, especially when your opponent is not in a position to respond to you. Then, Saddam, despite everything he did to the country and to me personally, was the president of Iraq, and I did not want to see the president of Iraq held captive in an American prison,” Allawi stated.
Allawi was not against bringing Saddam to trial and imposing the necessary punishment on him. He said: “On the day of Saddam’s execution, I felt great pain. I had suggested to the Americans that a dialogue be held with the man, so that he might tell us the story of Iraq over the long years, during which he was the decision maker. I wanted the Iraqis to know what happened in the words of the man himself. Why did he fight Iran, and what were the circumstances of the war? Why did he invade Kuwait and how was the decision made? Why did he execute large numbers of opposition citizens and Baathists as well? Why did he launch terrible wars against the Kurds? Why did he assassinate opponents abroad or attempt to kill them, including me?”
He continued: “A conversation of this kind would have revealed the facts, showed responsibilities, and prompted those who admired Saddam to think about the fruits of his works. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The timing of the execution also increased Iraqis’ sympathy for him. Was it necessary to execute him at dawn on the day of Eid?”
Dismantling the army and the de-Baathification
I asked Allawi about the resistance and terrorism. He said: “The dissolution of the Iraqi army, the dismantling of the Iraqi state, and the de-Baathification measures pushed thousands of military personnel, employees, and partisans into the unknown. It is known that terrorism and terrorists tried to cover up with the resistance. Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought to create one or more rifts in Iraqi society. They found nothing better than to reinforce the sectarian approach through killings, bombings, and assassinations, and sometimes laying accusations against the Shiites, and at other times against the Sunnis.”
He went on to say: “Terrorism also benefited greatly from the de-Baathification... as at least five million Baathists and their families were isolated, uprooted from political and professional life, and deprived of their livelihoods, just as terrorism benefited from the dissolution of the security services and the Iraqi army. All of these were gifts from the occupation to terrorism, which found the appropriate environment to spread its poison in Iraq and work to destroy its social fabric.”
I asked Allawi again about Saddam, specifically about his relationship with the resistance, he replied: “I was visiting London and heard the news of Saddam Hussein’s arrest. I wasn’t surprised. He is not the type to run away, but rather confront, and he was leading the resistance.”
He recounted a conversation he had with some members of the resistance in Bustan in Abu Ghraib.
“I told a group of them: “It is shameful for you to fall into the hands of Al-Zarqawi when you are members of important tribes and senior military personnel? Why did you hand over your affairs to Al-Zarqawi and become terrorists?” They answered: “We are not terrorists, we are against the Americans.””
“In fact, they all loved Saddam and they still do. You ask me why Saddam remained popular in some circles despite everything he did. The main reason for this popularity is the misbehavior of the current rulers,” he stated.
I had to ask Allawi about Saddam’s involvement in squandering of public money.
Before the US invasion of Iraq, much was written in the international and Arab media about the amazing wealth possessed by Saddam. Some scenarios talked about billions of dollars that he deposited under pseudonyms in distant banks. It was also said that he stored huge amounts of currency, in addition to gold, in his palaces.
Many expected that the US soldiers who raided Saddam’s palaces and residences would succeed in uncovering the amazing wealth. Nothing of this kind happened. It was believed that Saddam, who squandered Iraq’s wealth in wars abroad and internally, must have bought large areas of land or placed his hand on them.
It was natural for the Iraqi opposition, after assuming power, to seek to open Saddam’s financial books. I asked Allawi and he replied: “After the fall of Saddam Hussein, we conducted investigations and did not find anything against him (on the financial issue). We did not find a property registered in his name. Everything is registered in the name of the Iraqi government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Revolutionary Command Council... Even his private plane belonged to a company owned by an Iraqi intelligence group. I mean the private plane that flies long distances.”
“He did neither like money and nor was he looking for it. He aimed for power and influence. This is Saddam. He was conservative on a personal level...very conservative,” Allawi said.