If we compare the situation in Iraq since 2003 with what it was before that year, would Iraq (and consequently the Middle East and the world) have been in a better position now, had Saddam Hussein and his regime not been toppled?
Some people think this is true, but this belief defies logic. For example, let’s take a look at Syria. Is its situation today better than it would have been if Bashar al-Assad had responded to his people’s demands and given up power or at least carried out political reforms?
Resignation and transfer of power to someone else from the Baath Party was an option, even after the war began in 2003. The Late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan had offered a safe haven for him and his family but he arrogantly dismissed it and threw Iraq into the cauldron of a destructive warAdnan Hussein
Saddam: The brutal dictator
About a quarter century prior to 2003, Saddam had started his term as president in 1979, after having carried out a horrific massacre of some of his own Baath Party members because they had voted against forcing former president Ahmed al-Bakr to retire in order to allow Saddam, who was then vice president, to attain high office.
Within that period, Saddam also waged an internal war against the Communist Party in his country, which was a small partner in power, as well as against other nationalist parties. In fact, Saddam wanted all Iraqis to become Baathists and thereby loyal to him alone. In case they refused, they were to be sentenced to prison, torture or death.
The war against the Kurdish movement also escalated after Saddam upturned the peace and autonomy plan, accepted five years earlier. He then reached a deal with the Shah of Iran – a deal which violated Iraq’s sovereignty and national independence, just to seek Tehran’s aid to eliminate the Kurdish revolution.
The toll of Saddam’s wars
In less than a year, Saddam began to prepare the stage for a war against Iran. He ignited a war within months, which began in 1980 and lasted eight years. The war drained Iraq’s financial, economic and military resources. After it ended without achieving its aims, Saddam began to blackmail Gulf countries that had opened their vaults to him during the years of war.
When they refused to submit to his blackmail, Saddam launched a new war and invaded Kuwait in 1990. He arrogantly and stubbornly refused to withdraw from Kuwait and was then faced with another war that further harmed Iraq. Still, Saddam refused to acknowledge defeat in the Kuwait war and insisted on describing it a victory, similar to what happened with the war with Iran.
At this time, Saddam committed three major massacres against his people: the chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds (1988) and the campaigns of killing or burying alive thousands of people from the southern and central provinces who later rose following the defeat of the Gulf War of 1991. These campaigns cost Iraqi people hundreds of thousands of lives.
Obduracy of the tyrant
Even after these developments, Saddam did not change his approach in terms of domestic and foreign policy. He further tightened his grip on power and increased the level of suppression and arbitrariness while being indifferent to the situation of Iraqi people who sold all they had to maintain minimum standard of living. Meanwhile, the international siege was tantamount to a collective punishment against the Iraqi people, as Saddam continued to build lofty palaces and live extravagantly.
Saddam could have given up power after the end of the war against Iran and allowed someone else to lead the state but he didn’t. He could have done so following his defeat in the Gulf war of 1991, but he didn’t. He could have limited his absolute powers and adopted an open approach towards opposition parties and revived the autonomous rule agreement with the Kurdish movement. However, he did not adopt any of these options and he stubbornly held on to power in a tyrannical and unjust manner towards his people, Iraq’s neighbors and the rest of the world.
Resignation and transfer of power to someone else from the Baath Party was an option, even after the war began in 2003. The Late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had offered a safe haven for him and his family but he arrogantly dismissed it and threw Iraq into the cauldron of a destructive war.
Leadership woes continue
What’s clear from the resume and behavior of such a person is that he would have become more arrogant and tyrannical, the longer he stayed in power. He would have exacted revenge on any opposition within Iraq and foreign states who stood against him following his invasion of Kuwait and supported its liberation.
Those who say the situation of Iraq and the world would have been better had Saddam still been in power say so because Iraq and the Middle East have been headed towards turmoil during the past 15 years. The present bad situation in Iraq is due to those who assumed power after Saddam was ousted as they did not work on building the state which the Iraqis have waited decades to establish. After Saddam’s barbaric regime was toppled, Iraq was ready to build a state that has economic might and level of public welfare, comparable to that of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In addition to its huge oil and gas wealth, Iraq has massive agricultural and industrial capabilities. The country’s human resources, specifically the competent educated class stood out among the region’s countries.
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The problem is that Saddam’s successors dealt with the state and society, with unjust and brute force. They fought over power and sought to share it on the basis of a sectarian system. This led to serious and violent conflicts and to the spread of administrative and financial corruption. A state that has been exhausted by consecutive wars and a long phase of dictatorial rule could not stand on its feet amid armed sectarian and nationalist conflicts and the regulated looting of the state’s financial resources.
Just like Saddam, his successors were also stubborn and arrogant. They did not want to undo their mistakes and sins and amend the path. The Iraqi people’s situation thus deteriorated which made some publicly long for the days of Saddam and his regime!
Toppling Saddam’s regime was right. However, what was not right was how after toppling it, the US put Iraq in the hands of political Islam groups which, based on experience, are only fit to manage shrines, mosques and hossainyas.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.