In 1979 Saddam Hussein seized power for himself and turned Iraq in to a totalitarian state. It became, as the Iraqi-English author Kanan Makiya perfectly described, a republic of fear. The political undercurrent that gave rise to the Ba’athist Socialist party that seized control, was an ugly mixture of Nazism and Fascism, cemented by violence and oppression. What followed was a whole nation that became submerged in many years of terror and the tight grip of Saddam’s radical evil.
Kant postulated that human beings have a propensity to be evil. He said this propensity to be evil is innate and is a composite of human nature. Psychological fields have since grappled with distinctions between ordinary evil and radical evil. Hannah Arendt gave it a different name: the banality of evil. But, the arguments always reach the same conclusion; radical evil are facets of leaders that give orders, without remorse, the mass destruction of human life.
I believe that Iraq and the Iraqi people became a victim of the radical evil of Saddam Hussein and believe they are still living with the aftermath of it. I don’t use the word ‘evil’ cheaply, or as many might think without acknowledging the nuances and socialisation factors that often contribute to cruel deeds. I base it not only on the personality manifestation of Saddam, but on the acts he did.
It’s very difficult for Westerners to imagine the type of horror that Iraqi’s experienced during the reign of terror and under Saddam’s brutality. We in the UK could not imagine the emotional distress of sitting at home, wondering where our daughter was. We couldn’t imagine hearing the knock at the door, the police stepping in and handing you a video of the police raping our daughter and then executing her with cold detachment. What would usually follow would be a bill for the time of the police, the making of the video and the bullets used.
We never really saw the horror that occurred in Iraqi until after the Gulf War and the Iraq War. Saddam’s Iraq was often cut off from the rest of the world, as to be expected in a centrally controlled totalitarian state. But, eventually Iraq was opened up the world, and with it we glimpsed the depths of evil that occurred there.
At the same time that Iraq was opened up to the world, so were the mass graves.
Journalists flocked to the conflict region, but the war was quick, the American and British forces overwhelming the Iraqi Army. Journalists often attended the opening of the mass gravesites, often Shiite, containing thousands of corpses, the burning heat making their skin slippery with sweat, and as the graves opened, the dust of human corpses would cake their slimy skin. The potency of Saddam’s brutality meant that certain mass graves were dug specially for women and children.
Westerners now consider the Iraq war a waste of resources, lives and effort; a terrible mistake that gave rise to ISIS and further bloodshed that has continued to mar the region and the rest of the globe. The Iraq war has further disabled any further foreign policy by western powers that could be deemed as interventionist or ‘meddling’. Their fingers are firmly pointed at the American and the British: at Blair and Bush.
The aftermath of the Iraq war has rocked the world and still scars our collective consciousness. With the Chilcot report it is apt we remind ourselves that the roots of sectarian violence in Iraq did not grow from the American and British intervention but it’s origins are more complicated and nuanced.
Not only do westerners regret the intervention in Iraq, but also many firmly say it was a mistake. Their narrative is clear; “Yeah, Saddam was a bad guy, but he kept a lid on all the other bad guys in Iraq.” The narrative is further complimented with the idea that with Saddam now gone the lid has been blown off and we are now left with the mess of sectarian violence, which he controlled, albeit through tyranny.
I believe to commit to this line is to commit to a huge misunderstanding of Iraq’s history, and the true depths of the Saddam’s atrocities.
The sectarian war did not begin when the 2003 invasion began. In 1991, Iraq was gripped by popular sectarian uprisings, both in southern and northern Iraq. The Kurds called this the ‘National Uprising’ whereas the Arabs called it Sha’aban Intifada. In the south the turmoil began in towns around Basra, but soon most cities and towns in Iraq had fallen to sectarian forces, ranging from the communist left to Shia rebels.
Eventually, and under the command of Saddam, the mostly Sunni Republican Guard forced them back, in a large scale counter offensive, which saw Saddam and his forces taking revenge by desecrating shrines of the Shia faith, further stoking the flames of sectarianism. During this sectarian strife, 100,000 were reported have been slaughtered.
But this was not an isolated incident. In 2002, Saddam destroyed many large parts of al-Hammar, the marshes in southern Iraq. The victims of Saddam’s aggression in this campaign were mostly Ma’dan people, or Marsh Arabs.
The nuances of sectarian violence, their historical occurrence under Saddam, and the repeat rate they occurred in, repudiates the idea that it began during the American and British invasion. The roots of sectarian violence snake back further, and it wouldn’t be a long stretch to say what breathed life in to sectarianism were the radical evil of Saddam and his regime of tyranny.
I propose this to my readers: If Saddam had not been toppled would we see less sectarian violence? Would we have seen an end to the butchering of other races and peoples of Iraq, if Saddam were still in power? Given the potency and rage of his oppression of other races of Iraq, I think not.
I hope you too, as you read the Chilcot report, are not too hasty in accusing western authorities of crimes, but remind yourself of the layered and difficulty in Iraq’s sectarianism, and remind yourself, ultimately, of the radical evil of Saddam Hussein.