People Concerned More About Own Lives than Saddam’s

BAGHDAD — Most Iraqis are more concerned with finding jobs, putting food on the table, personal safety and the removal of the occupation forces than the ongoing trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Hussein, along with seven other officials have been charged with crimes against humanity, as well as being charges in connection with the killing of more than 140 Shia men in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against the dictator failed.

“Saddam Hussein was a criminal all his life,” Abdul Hussein told IPS. “He was a criminal in dealing with Iraqis and started so many wars just to kill Iraqi people.”

The unemployed 43-year-old engineer added, “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in the Iran war, he [Saddam Hussein] killed 5,000 in Halabja. It’s about time to bring him to trial, although we can’t assure it will bring peace, but he should be punished. Things here may get better if Iraq stays as one unit and obtains true sovereignty and independence.”

Other Iraqis in Baghdad expressed frustration with the violence and instability in their country during the U.S.-led occupation.

“At least under Saddam we didn’t have terrorism,” said Aziz, a 55-year-old taxi driver who refused to give his last name, “I always hated him, and it’s good he is being tried, but this is not going to feed my family or make the Americans leave any sooner.”

Other Iraqis, like Momtaz Abdulalah, even expressed support for the deposed dictator.

“Some think he is a murderer, but in my opinion he is a man of power and did his best for the Iraqi people,” the former soldier with the Iraqi Army told IPS. “We see the Americans’ man Iyad Allawi with shoes thrown on his head recently in Najaf — this shows what Iraqis think of these new people they want to install to replace Saddam.”

Speaking after prayers at his mosque, he added, “It is essential to say that we can accept his trial if it was done with justice, but definitely it is not done with justice and it will therefore bring more chaos than ever to Iraq. We don’t think that [the trial] will help Iraq obtain security nor true independence from the Americans.”

Questions of legitimacy continue to plague the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who hopes to use the trial of the former dictator, along with the recent parliamentary elections, as collateral with which to justify the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq.

New challenges arose after Saddam alleged at hearings Wednesday that he had been tortured — a charge the United States dismissed.

The United Nation’s human rights chief in Iraq, John Case, has said that the trial of Saddam Hussein would never meet international standards because of ongoing violence and flaws in the Iraqi legal system.

“The legitimacy of the tribunal needs to be examined,” he told reporters while citing the murders of two defence lawyers, and continued threats against judges, lawyers and witnesses. The legitimacy of the trial “has been seriously challenged in many quarters.”

The remarks of the UN representative join a chorus of similar statements from human rights and justice groups who continue to express outrage about the illegitimacy of the trial.

When speaking of Syrian troops in Lebanon, Bush said, “All [foreign] military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the elections for those elections to be free and fair.”

When making this statement in March of this year, Bush appeared to agree with the idea that elections held in a country under military occupation are illegitimate.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 15, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice accused the international community of shirking its obligation to help prosecute Saddam Hussein by effectively boycotting his trial.

Her statements, made to a conservative think-tank in the United States, refer to a long list of countries which have chosen not to train court personnel, nor provide security or money for the trial because of international dissent over the death penalty.

Nevertheless, many Iraqis continue to express satisfaction about the 68-year- old iron-fisted dictator being tried.

“Saddam Hussein is a leader to Iraqis calling for independence, yet he didn’t give independence to the Kurds,” Marwan Kaka Ali, a Kurdish man, told IPS. “He was the reason why the Kurds are seeking independence and sovereignty.”

But many Iraqis to believe the trial is a charade. Hussein and his half-brother Barazan al-Tikriti have openly taunted, yelled, laughed and spat in the court at judges and witnesses.

Meanwhile, one of the five judges in the trial stepped down earlier this month. The unidentified judge removed himself from the raucous trial after learning that one of the defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.

Thus far in the trial, which many groups feel should be moved to a safer venue such as The Hague, one of the defendants’ lawyers has been assassinated and one lawyer has fled abroad.

Mortar bombs have exploded outside the building while the trial has been in progress in past weeks, and Iraqi authorities having uncovered plots by resistance groups to fire rockets at the courthouse. A suicide car bomber struck the house of Midhat al-Mahmoudi in Baghdad, a senior judge in the trial, but did not make it past the security measures.

The trial has had fitful progress since it began on Oct. 19.

Hussein and his seven colleagues will face the death penalty if found guilty of crimes against humanity.