Saddam’s capture: Reflections from a former Iraqi exile

I was at the Walnuts leisure centre on one of the bikes when the news "broke" on the TV screen: "Saddam Hussein Captured". It sounded almost unreal. What if they got the wrong man, what if they were bluffing? I could not react emotionally yet.

Then the images appeared of that old pathetic man with a vacant look of someone who has been awoken from a deep sleep and is not fully conscious yet. This is supposed to be the man who has been giving the Americans a big headache and too many body bags? He did not even have any communications equipment. How was he supposed to have directed the resistance?

There was very little doubt in my mind this was the butcher of Baghdad. Tears started to role down my face as I remembered my friends; 19-year-old Shetha Al Barak, a second-year pharmacy student. She was full of life and so beautiful. The thugs of Saddam took her away in the summer of 1979. She was never seen again, her family denied the right to even mourn her and give her a proper burial. Every time they used to ask about her fate, the secret police would rub salt into their wounds by claiming that she had eloped with a pimp. I cannot even bear to think what these sick thugs had done to her. I can only wish it was quick.

I remembered Nawfal Al Khayat, a 20-year-old student of electronic engineering and his sister Maysoon, 19, studying to become a dentist. They had their lives ahead of them. Nawfal and his sister were arrested in 1980 along with nine members of the family, the youngest being 12 years old. They were taken into the torture chambers and were never seen again.

All we did was get involved in banned student union activities. It wasn’t like we called for the overthrow of the government.

This was their day, to see this terrible tyrant that had snatched away their youth, their humanity and their dignity looking like a trapped rat.

I was happy for them, but I would have been happier if it was Iraqis that apprehended Saddam. I know, as do many other Iraqis, that there was a way to bring Saddam to justice without causing the nation and its people so much harm. After nine months they managed to find Saddam in his cook’s farm house. Many Iraqis think they could have found him a long time ago. Better luck with the elusive weapons of mass destruction, for which we invaded Iraq.

Not one Iraqi I met in the Sunni and Shia areas of Baghdad said they believed the Americans have come for the sake of their human rights and that they are welcome to stay.

I wish I can say that the suffering of the Iraqi people is at an end, but it is not. Between the criminal mafias that seem to be in charge of the streets in most of Iraq, the nervous and demoralised American soldiers as well as the terrorists who practice indiscriminate killing with car bombs, more Iraqis die everyday than during the time of Saddam. Pay attention Mr Blair. Iraqis can say what they like. Nothing they say makes much difference. Their self-determination has been snatched away from them. They have also lost their right of movement, their sense of security and stability. Everyday is a big struggle, it brings about new dangers, new problems and more strife.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed their concerns at the excessive use of force and collective punishment measures during raids by American soldiers. I watched on the internet a clip of a CNN video in which US soldiers cheer while they empty more bullets into the head of an injured Iraqi fighter, in blatant violation of humanitarian law. An American marine said afterwards: "It felt good doing it."

Are these the values we are supposed to bring to Iraq? Why are we sinking to the terrorists’ level?

While Bush was being entertained and honoured in Whitehall, F-16s were used to bomb resisting towns and villages Saddam-style. In an Israeli-styled indiscriminate act of revenge, 16 houses in Ramadi, Tikrit and Abu Ghraib were demolished, the families were given five minutes to homelessness and were abandoned in the cold temperatures of the desert night, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This is what the US is doing in our name. Do we really wish to be party to this vile occupation? Should we not quit and hand over Basra to the UN while we are still ahead?

The last thing we want to do is make Saddam a martyr. He should be put on trial in an internationally recognised court as his crimes stretch beyond the borders of Iraq. Amnesty has voiced its fears regarding the tribunal set up by the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council last week.

The fact that there is no independent judiciary in Iraq and no judges experienced in dealing with acts of genocide undermines the credibility of such a tribunal.

Actually the lack of clout, real support and democratic legitimacy of the IGC is crippling any action it takes in the name of the Iraqi people. I therefore concur with Shia cleric Ayatullah Sistani (I am Sunni) about the need for UN-supervised general elections as soon as possible.

I find the American administration’s position towards a lack of urgency on elections in Iraq rather puzzling. Colin Powell has no qualms shaking hands with Kurdish leaders who for unexplained reasons last faced a democratic process 11 years ago and who were the subject of Amnesty International’s condemnation regarding their own violations of the human rights of their own people.

The US urges the Palestinians to ditch their democratically elected leader to make matters easier for the US and the Israeli prime minister. The US expects the Palestinians, who are unable to move freely from one village to the next, to conduct fair and democratic elections. Yet the US fails to be moved to that subject in Iraq, where international and internal legitimacy is sorely lacking.

Most importantly, we all have the right to know: Who helped Saddam climb the ladder of power? Who armed him? Who sold him his deadliest weapons? We owe Saddam’s victims the truth, the whole truth.

A year ago, the Iraqi government submitted its complete declaration regarding its WMD programmes to the UN. We all remember how the US was the first to grab this declaration and remove 200 pages from it regarding its own complicity in Saddam’s crimes before handing it over to the UN.

I am opposed to the death penalty. If Iraq is to have a new start it must reject Saddam’s values and standards. The last thing Iraqis want is a Saddam-styled regime in a different guise. The US, however, would prefer Saddam to die quickly before he can cause them any real embarrassment.