The Burning Sails of Baghdad

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The United States with the support of the UN Security Council has pushed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into a corner. Even his Arab brothers are now calling on the President of Iraq to give up his defiance of American demands to disarm. By all accounts, the Iraqi leader is quickly reaching a point from which there is no escape. Arab history is full of heroics and romantic events. And if Saddam Hussein is true to his people and to his Arab ancestry, he still has an opportunity to become a hero. The Iraqi leader has reached a point from which there is no escape.

The annals of Arab history tell us that in the year 711, the Arabs in North Africa were about to make history by expanding their conquest into a third continent. They were preparing to invade the Iberian Peninsula. The Arab military genius Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the straight now named after him as the straight of Jabal Tariq, the Straight of Gibraltar, with a modest invasion force of 300 cavalry and 7,000 infantry. As he and his forces landed on the Iberian shores, Tariq gave the order to empty the ships and set their sails ablaze. With his own fleet completely burned, Tariq addressed his stranded troops. “The sea is behind you, and the enemy is ahead of you,” he told them “and you have no escape but the truth and patience.” This was their moment of truth, on a shore they had never been on before, doing what no Arab force had ever done, invade Europe. Tariq ibn Ziyad and his troops went on to defeat 30,000 Visigoths, a force three times their size, at Wadi Laqqa in the battle of the Transductine Promontories. And thus began the almost 800 years of Arab rule on the Iberian Peninsula.

Saddam Hussein has not proven to be the hero or the genius that Tariq ibn Ziyad was, although some in the Arab world would believe otherwise. On the eve of a major battle for the survival of his regime, the Iraqi leader imagines the sails of his ships on fire. But, unlike Tariq and his invasion force, Saddam Hussein does have a choice. He can continue defying the West but he will only be delaying the inevitable. He can continue to whine, moan and complain to Arab leaders around him, but none will listen. He can continue with his attempts to rally the Moslem world to his defense, but he will be ignored. He can sit and wait for his destiny to be borne out, but a mighty invasion force will eliminate him and, in the process, only bring death and destruction to the Iraqi people, humiliate the Arab world, and further polarize the Moslem world against the West. Saddam Hussein is under the delusion that he can scorch the earth under the feet of the American invaders, but in the process he will also scorch his own people. The Iraqi leader is faced with “the truth and patience” that Tariq ibn Ziyad spoke of thirteen centuries ago, but the Iraqi leader can take a more honorable route, securing his place in history as an Arab hero like Tariq.

Saddam Hussein can, and should, abdicate his rule to spare the Iraqi people the agony of defeat at the hands of a mighty military power. He can spare the Arab world the humiliation of standing idly by in the face of a Western invasion. In doing so, Saddam Hussein will be taking the Arab world into a new age where no Arab leader has been before. Before he abdicates, he can appoint a provisional Iraqi government, with true representation of the Iraqi people, including all of its minorities. The provisional government, with no ties to Iraq’s current ruling clique, would truly disarm. It can arrange for the drafting of a democratic constitution, build free democratic institutions and hold free elections. The provisional Iraqi government would invite international monitors to observe the drafting of the new constitution and monitor the free and democratic elections. This is the only true course that would defeat the imperialistic intentions of the United States and its neo-colonial allies.

The Iraqi leader is going anyway. The sails of his ships are burning. He faces the truth and patience, but he does have an option. So why not go out as a hero?

Michael S. Ladah is a Friends Boys School graduate (class of 1958). He is the author of “Quicksand, Oil and Dreams: The Story of One of Five Million Dispossessed Palestinians.”

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