BAGHDAD — The executions of former regime officials are creating greater division, rather than reconciliation, among Iraqis.
Special courts formed by the American occupation authorities in Iraq are issuing death sentences — like that carried out on former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, on 30 December 2006 — on what many Iraqis are interpreting as a political basis.
“Executing Saddam cost Iraqis a lot of hatred and more division between the sects, ” Walid Al-Ubaidi, post-graduate law student at Baghdad University told IPS.
“Now they [U.S.-backed Iraqi Government] are executing the Ex-Minister of Defense, Sultan Hashim Ahmed, who was very well known for being a professional general who led the Iraqi army against Iran,” Al-Ubaidi said, stressing that, “This man represents a symbol for the Iraqi army that defended Iraq.”
On 24 June 2007 the Iraqi High Tribunal found Ahmed guilty of presiding over the killing of thousands of Kurds during the Anfal campaign in the 1980s.
Several legal delays, and more recently a delay for a religious holiday, have postponed the execution.
A clerk in the court where Ahmed and a number of his generals were sentenced spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity. He asked to be referred to as Hassan.
“We were surprised by the sentence,” Hassan told IPS in Baghdad, “This general was no more than a government official who carried out orders with notable skill and proficiency.”
“What makes us better than any of those we called dictators and war criminals?” Hassan asked.
“These generals were the ones who defeated Iran in the war and so [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Al-Maliki and his American masters want to punish them in order to please the Iranian Ayatollahs,” former Iraqi army colonel Saad Abbas told IPS in Baghdad.
Anger against the U.S. occupation for the sentences has also been aroused because of the promise for asylum the general was given before he surrendered to U.S. military forces.
“They promised him asylum and that was why he surrendered to them in peace,” a relative of the general, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS.
“They even asked him to take a post in the new system, but he refused, and maybe that is why they sold him to his enemies,” the relative said.
An Iraqi resistance fighter spoke with IPS on condition of strict anonymity.
“We are not happy for this man’s execution, but we believe it was his fault to trust the Americans,” he said. “He should have known, as a general who negotiated with them more than once, how bad they were. Moreover, he should have joined the resistance against occupation rather than surrender to his dirty enemies.”
“This man and his colleagues represent the army that terrified those Arab tyrants in an Arab neighboring country,” Thuraya Shamil, an engineer from Baghdad Municipality told IPS.
“They cannot forget the day that they ran out of their palaces like rats,” Shamil emphasised.
Others view the situation differently, but still agree that the generals do not deserve to be sentenced to death.
“At the moment we are looking for solutions to the dilemma of internal divisions, comes these sentences to widen the gaps between sects and groups,” Malik Nazar, a member of the Iraqi Dialogue Front that has nine MPs in the Iraqi Parliament, told IPS.
“We must stop sacrificing our men for the sake of sending messages of compassion to Iran and others who have feuds with our heroic army men,” Nazar stressed.
“They are killing any Sunni Arab who might one day lead Iraqis, or at least a group of Iraqis, when this dirty occupation leaves the country,” Ali Salman, a teacher in Baghdad, told IPS, “As long as Iranians and Kurds are our real rulers, all our good men will always be targeted.”
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)