Feasible options to end Saddam's saga

THE glaring shortcoming of the first option (continued trial and execution) centres on the long trial. The course of the trial hearings and Saddam's continued existence cannot guarantee security. Hence, the option of eliminating Saddam neutralises the disadvantages of the trial. If this were to happen, it would not be the first time that prominent individuals are covertly disposed.

By Dafer Al Ani

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Published: Sun 1 Aug 2004, 9:36 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:53 AM

This option does not merely bypass the trial; but also puts an abrupt end to the violence. The announcement of such an end could cause a storm; but it would be no more than a storm in a tea cup. It would last only a few days, particularly if preceded and accompanied by tangible procedures and decisions that would reassure the Baathists and militarists, some of whom may still feel bound by loyalty to Saddam.

Before proceeding with this option, it would have to pave the way in advance by publicising his deteriorating health and senility - which is already doing the rounds. There is no doubt that Saddam's 'disappearance' would make many Arab governments, who are apprehensive of Saddam's testimony, feel at ease. Western states too would shed no tears. Since Saddam's supporters are already dwindling in Iraq, his critics would drown the voices of the indignant.

This course would rid both the government and Iraqis of a huge burden. If Saddam's life is the price that must be paid for peace and stability, then people would be gradually willing to accept such a price. Not adopting this option means keeping Saddam's ghost alive and giving scope for ethnic and sectarian conflicts. While support for Saddam is concentrated in Sunni-dominated areas, the population in the south of Iraq, where the Shias dwell, and the Kurdish region of Kurdistan will look forward with great anticipation to Saddam's punishment. This could explode the sensitive and complex internal structure of the Iraqi society.

However, the option of physically liquidating Saddam is not without disadvantages, the foremost of which is moral considerations. The initiation of a new epoch with the liquidation of an important figure like Saddam would remain a stigmatised ignominy. Further, no fabrication would be convincing enough to justify the disappearance, and rumour-mongering would encourage speculation about the perpetrators and make the government legally responsible. The crime itself would be traced by those enamoured with scandals or by the inquisitive media.

Though popular reaction would be muted, there will be violent reaction on the Arab streets because Saddam is still popular among the Arab masses. Moreover, the lawyers defending Saddam would launch a media and judicial campaign that would tarnish the image of the new government, especially when the new Iraq model - with democracy and respect for human rights - is being touted as the best for the region.

This option would make of Saddam a hero and a martyr - not immediately, but over a period of time - and remind the Iraqis that Saddam was a symbol of defiance of the US policy, which would give foreign presence a perpetual impetus. People will then be inclined to sympathise with a person who is treacherously killed, particularly when such person is of Saddam's calibre.

Third: Pardoning Saddam, house arrest or exile

THIS option may not seem realistic, but is perhaps the most ideal. It seeks to avoid the disadvantages of the first and second options of trial and execution, or treacherous killing. It involves pardoning Saddam, sparing him from execution, and imposing permanent house arrest or keep him under strict guard or exiling him outside Iraq.

Such a decision too is not without demerits, for it would deprive the Iraqis of witnessing Saddam being tried, which would make them sceptical and critical with regard to the new government's claims about enforcing justice and, consequently, clamour for punishment. Moreover, such a pardon would make the government appear docile and encourage rebellion and opposition. It would also deny the new authority an opportunity to assert itself in its quest for the rule of law.

The third option, however, has its own advantages. The disapproval for pardon without trial could be overcome by instituting a secret trial that can be justified on the grounds that the information that would be revealed in the trial would have a direct impact on Iraqi national security and would be inappropriate to compromise on, especially because of the presence of an international defence body. Alternatively, the authorities could also stipulate that they would keep the hearings confidential and release selective information, while showing Saddam before the judges in order to appease his vengeful adversaries.

While ensuring a speedy trial for reasons already mentioned, it is more important to announce the permanent house arrest verdict even if there was no trial, in order to minimise collateral damage. Pardoning Saddam and putting him under house arrest is like a double-edged sword - the first will thrill his supporters and family, and the second would satisfy his adversaries, who would derive satisfaction from the life sentence and house arrest. Such a moral decision - which will be a far-cry from the verdict of vengeance - would also give the Iraqi government a human touch, and secure great sympathy at the national and Arab levels. Moreover, it would be appreciated by Europe and even the US, which oppose capital punishment.

A reputation built on the pardon rather than execution will earn the government a lot of goodwill. It is an established Arab character to associate pardon with power, particularly if it is identified with old age, sickness and clemency.

Saddam's adversaries are numerous and mostly Shia, particularly at the grassroots level. It is possible to assuage their feeling of vengeance further by, for example, pardoning Muqtada Al Sadr, who is accused of killing Abdul Majid Al Khoei and who is sought by the law, and Abdul Karim Al Muhammadawi, the head of the Iraqi Hizbullah and member of the former governing council, accused of killing a local police chief. The Kurds may not be particularly interested in seeing Saddam hanged, and the Kurdish leadership could propagate the advantage of this option.

The only problem, perhaps, is guaranteeing Saddam's security over a prolonged period, but this would not be impossible. There is very little chance of any Iraqi risking his life to target Saddam who has been pardoned and spared execution. To ensure that this option becomes full-proof, Saddam can be exiled and kept under house arrest, without any contact with the mass media.

For the Iraqis, it would then be the end of Saddam's story.

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