Many asked the question last week: How is Iraq faring one year after the
capture of Saddam Hussein? A Byzantine debate ensued immediately. To the
natural answers praising the arrest by coalition forces in December 2003,
many critics directed their fire at the current state of affairs in Iraq.
Their argument reads like this: The U.S. arrested the former dictator a
year ago, yet terrorism is on the rise, the Allawi government is weak and
the international community is backing off from reconstruction. A further
stretch of this argumentation would lead you to believe that Saddam's
capture is irrelevant and hence was not a victory. And to reinforce the
equation, the critics — from the anti-intervention movement — focus on the
problems to come because of this capture: the trial.
Amazingly, those who diminish the significance of the arrest of the
Ba'athist dictator pretend that an open trial would lead the country to
worse nightmares, like an ethnic-religious civil war. In reverse logic,
had Saddam not been found and brought to justice, Iraq would be better
off. And by deduction, had the United States not invaded Iraq, the Middle
East would have been perfect, or almost so, according to the pessimists.
The legitimacy of the war in Iraq has been already debated and will
continue to be by historians. Soon we will have more striking answers by
Iraqis themselves as they reemerge from oppression and genocide.
For only the people suppressed by Saddam can historically legitimize
the necessity of the military action against his regime. And for average
Iraqis to express these views, they need freedoms and a state that can
guarantee them. This is precisely what the Allawi interim government is
trying to do: Conduct elections to bring about a legitimate, democratic
institution — so that the bulk of the Iraqi population talks to the world.
The real question a year after the arrest of Saddam is this: Did this
event help the Iraqis to restore themselves as a civil society, initiate
the process of a national democratic institution, and organize themselves
to face the terrorists? I believe it did, and this is why: If the former
dictator had escaped U.S. patrols and their Iraqi allies, the most natural
developments to occur — and some of them have already taken place — would
be as follows:
• Saddam would have linked up with Abu Musab Zarqawi through his
lieutenants. The ties that were built in the early 1990s between Baghdad's
intelligence and the Jihadists would have become operational in a vast
manner in 2004. But instead of having al Qaeda absorbing Ba'athists, there
would have been two equally efficient networks, which would have rendered
the emergence of an Iraqi state in the Sunni Triangle more difficult. The
Saddam-Zarqawi alliance would have encouraged more Ba'athists to believe
in and act on behalf of the "insurgency."
• Saddam not being captured would have meant that thousands of men and
women who were part of his Republican Guards would have joined his
underground regime by fear or by hope. The anti-government terror would
have been much wider.
• Arab regimes would have hesitated to recognize the Allawi
government. Many would have called for a "reconciliation in Iraq" between
the forces of the past regime and the ones against. Saddam knew too much
about many Arab leaders to have them bury him alive, while he would have
been able to reach out to the media and through his spy networks.
• The winter passage of the interim constitution would have been
lacking enough internal support, as many feared Saddam's power in the
shadows. The June passing of power would have been precarious as long as a
dictator ruled from the spider holes. And as a consequence, adding to
popular fears, the January 2005 elections would have been portrayed as
partial and illegitimate.
• With Saddam regaining control of Ba'athist networks inside Iraq, his
envoys to Syria would form a "command in exile." Syria's Bashar Assad
would have fed the former political foe of his late father to engage U.S.
and coalition forces as a way to pre-empt Iraqi democracy from spilling
• With Saddam free from justice, Iraq's Shiites would have acted
aggressively and many among them would have sought Iranian support.
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wouldn't have been able to convince his flock of
the necessity of a multiethnic, multireligious Iraq. The Kurds would have
clung to autonomy, and the Christians would have been in total despair.
The few Sunnis who are opposing the Wahhabis would have been surrounded by
two anti-Democratic forces: Saddam's and Bin Laden's.
Whatever the pronouncements of the critics are, most Iraqis converge
in one direction. Saddam's capture was a boost to Iraqi democracy.
Waid Phares is a professor of
Middle East Studies and a senior fellow with the Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies in Washington.