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Hussein verdict comes days before U.S. election
Why isn't the U.S. on trial in Iraq?

By Eric Ruder | November 10, 2006 | Page 12

THE CONVICTION and death sentence for Saddam Hussein, handed down just two days before midterm elections in the U.S., was a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the crimes the U.S. commits--day in and day out--in Iraq.

"There's just no coincidence here," Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who has worked in Iraq defending Iraqi journalists, told the Chicago Tribune. "It's the only mildly positive news story that could come out of Iraq."

George Bush, on the other hand, didn't miss a beat--and he was careful to use a favorite administration buzzword about "progress" in Iraq. "Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," he said.

U.S. officials have declared many "milestones" in Iraq--such as the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, the supposed handover of "sovereignty" to Iraqis in June 2004, and a whole series of elections. But each of these "turning points" has been followed by an escalation in the violence and worsening conditions for Iraqis.

The verdict in Hussein's trial is unlikely to be any different--nor to sway many people in the U.S. from the growing questioning of occupation.

In Iraq, even among Shia Muslims who were persecuted by the previous Baath Party regime, hatred of the occupation may run higher than hatred of Hussein.

Falah Hassan Mohammed owns a hardware store in Baghdad. He was overjoyed when U.S. forces captured the former president in 2003, but now Mohammed says he's "conflicted." "I hate Saddam Hussein, and I hope they will execute him," he said. "But there is no doubt that we were better with Saddam than we are in this current situation."

Hussein was sentenced to death for the alleged killing of 143 Shiites in retaliation for a failed 1982 assassination attempt against him. He will face another trial for the use of poison gas against the town of Halabja in 1988, which killed some 5,000 Kurdish civilians.

But both charges testify to the U.S. government's hypocrisy in Iraq. In 2002, when Congress passed a resolution authorizing the assault on Iraq, one of the justifications was a failed 1993 assassination attempt on George Bush Sr.

Moreover, when the Iraqi regime massacred the Kurds in 1988, the U.S. was silent--because Hussein was then a loyal ally, backed by Washington in his decade-long war on Iran. The U.S. supplied Iraq with the know-how and materials to make the poison gas that inflicted this horrible crime against humanity.

For many Iraqis, the timing of the verdict only further illustrated the degree to which the Iraqi regime is a puppet of the U.S. "The timing is ridiculous--immediately before the congressional elections?" wrote Riverbend, a Baghdad girl, in her well-known blog. "How very convenient for Bush.

"Iraq today is at its very worst since the invasion and the beginning of the occupation...The constitution, which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections, has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges--security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the 'execute the dictator' card."

This assessment was shown to be correct when, just before the Hussein verdict was announced, the U.S. multinational Bechtel declared that its last reconstruction contract had expired, and it was leaving Iraq. After raking in $2.3 billion, Bechtel shut down its operations.

Conditions for most Iraqis have only grown worse. Fewer Iraqis have access to clean water than before the occupation. There's less electricity, less oil being pumped and fewer jobs.

According to the New York Times, "[F]uel and electricity prices are up more than 270 percent from last year's, according to Iraqi government figures. Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled, and all over the country, the daily routine now includes a new question: What can be done without? The inflation rate has reached 70 percent a year, up from 32 percent last year. Wages are flat, banks are barely functioning and the consensus among many American and Iraqi officials is that inflation is most likely to accelerate."

As Riverbend continues, "Iraq has not been this bad in decades. The occupation is a failure. The various pro-American, pro-Iranian Iraqi governments are failures. The new Iraqi army is a deadly joke. Is it really time to turn Saddam into a martyr?...It's not about the man--presidents come and go, governments come and go. It's the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics.

"It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their people's needs that they don't even feel like it's necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing."

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