When the US went to war with Iraq a few years ago, it cited the possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by Saddam Hussein’s regime as a reason for the war. Since the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, there has been no proof of WMD in the country. Luckily, the US (as well as Britain, Italy and Australia) had plans for democracy in Iraq, which culminated in the so-called Purple Revolution of the January 2005 elections. Surprisingly, those elections did not result in much violence and outlooks were positive.

But 2006 saw the violence in Iraq grow to huge proportions, some saying the country was in a state of civil war. US troops have had trouble subduing the violence and more troops may be on the way, with the Bush Administration circulating the idea of a surge option. An exit from Iraq was an option a few months ago, but it now seems farfetched.

Yet the US could use its troops elsewhere. In a major failure of US foreign policy, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in early October. While the US was busy figuring out what to do in Iraq, North Korea (DPRK) quietly brought its nuclear program to a new level. While rhetoric against the DPRK continued, it never seemed that the US was pro-active about negotiating with the alienated regime. After all, the US’ financial sanctions were working and were putting North Korea into a position of no exit. So the Korean leadership went ahead and made the US listen by detonating its nuclear weapon.

More conspicuous perhaps is the case of Iran. The Iranians have been progressing with their civilian nuclear program and are openly enriching uranium, which could very well mean that they too are developing a nuclear weapon. If the US wanted to use its military as a deterrent with Iran, it cannot, because now its troops are very much stuck in Iraq.

Furthermore, Iran is increasingly becoming an active regional player that may be needed for stability in Iraq. Iran has already met with Iraqi President Talabani and has plans on co-operating with Syria to stabilize Iraq. But it also wants US forces out of the region. So any negotiations — direct or indirect — that the US has with Iran will be connected with the future of Iraq, and the US’ role in it. Not the scenario that President Bush was hoping for.

And to end the year, Iraq has executed its former president Saddam Hussein. While the conviction of Hussein is the work of an Iraqi court (and the sentencing carried out by Iraqis), it is hard to divorce the trial from US interests or US meddling. After all, why did Hussein’s dialogue with justice have to start with the Dujail trial and his crimes against humanity not include the Iran-Iraq war (where chemical weapons, likely provided by the US via Germany, were employed)? Why was Hussein in US custody until his hanging? Doesn’t that make him a Prisoner of War, as his lawyers argued on Friday? And why was Saddam Hussein treated to a dubious trial, which a leading US human rights organization has called flawed? That, of course, was the verdict of Human Rights Watch. The US President, however, seems content with the hanging citing a fair trial and as well as Iraqi rule of law.

Would the Iraqi leadership really hang its dictator during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the the Sacrifice, when the Arabs are supposed to pardon? That would be the biggest mistake for any new government, and its hard to conceive that the sentence was carried out without US encouragement if not enticement.

The hanging itself will not change how things go in Iraq. Hussein was no longer in control. If anything, the execution may make things more difficult, as Hussein still has supporters in Iraq and the insult of hanging him on the first day of Eid al-Adha may add fire to the discontent.

And US foreign policy seems stuck on Iraq, with the US incapable of facing up to North Korea and Iran. After all, it looks like the six-party talks with North Korea will require more than what US negotiator Christopher Hill is ready to offer, and will probably require the help of China. And there seems to be no clear policy for dealing with Iran, though the US was successful in passing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

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Hussein Trial, a failure

November 29, 2006

After the recent severe criticism of Saddam Hussein’s trial by Human Rights Watch, experts at the United Nations have come to similar conclusions. A UN group studying arbitrary detention has deemed the trial flawed and has called Hussein’s detention illegal.

The group released its statement yesterday because it believes Hussein’s death penalty must be readdressed due to procedural inconsistencies throughout the trial.

This is not welcome news to the new Iraqi government, which oversaw the Saddam Hussein’s trial. The first significant judicial case executed under this government has now been criticized by two major organizations, one of which is an NGO, the other an IO; with time, more similar reports may be published. This is part of the reason that Iraqi PM Maliki has already stated that Hussein may be hanged by the end of 2006. The Iraqi government knows the trial was illegitimate and it wants to move on.

This is also not welcome news for the US, as it has ostensibly been supporting an Iraqi government which does not conform to standards of democratic behavior. If the US went into Iraq to bring democracy to the region, then the mission has certainly not been accomplished.

Failure in Iraq

November 20, 2006

Human Rights Watch has called Saddam Hussein’s trial “flawed” and unfounded. According to the organization’s report, there have been substantial procedural inconsistencies, which make the trial and its ruling “fundamentally unfair”.

This is quite a blow to the notion that the US has had success in establishing a to-be-democracy in Iraq. The country’s first real trial being unfair is not a way to establish a viable democracy and is not something the US should be promoting or condoning. The BBC reports that Hussein’s lawyer has said that his client’s appeal process has been interfered with; also not something that lends much credibility to the idea of democracy in Iraq.

The HRW report comes as a wave of anti-Iraq-policy sentiment is present in the US, following the US midterm elections. Even Henry Kissinger has spoken out about the war in Iraq, stating that a military victory is no longer possible. Kissinger doesn’t see the new Iraqi government as capable of ending the civil war and sectarian violence that is rampant in the country.

Saddam Hussein’s death sentence will not help with this violence, especially if there is suggestion that the trial was unfair. And this puts the US into an uncomfortable dilemma: it is already clear that the US will be redeploying its troops within the next year, yet by exiting Iraq the US may be doing so having failed at its goals in the country.