Iraq is a country of constant contradictions. It is the country with the glorious imperial past passing in the Millennium, with ambitious but geopolitically limited plans for the future. Surrounded by strong six neighbors that dream about expansion of its territories, Iraq tries to defend the Arab nationalism. The country is weak, because of ethnic and religious differences inside. In Iraq, the main non-Arab population is Kurds. They are subjected to continuous oppression. It is the country, where the majority of population is represented by the Shias, who since the formation of the Iraqi state are controlled by the Sunnites that formed a minority. This gap between great dreams and humiliating real weakness led to frustration and a sense of insecurity. Faced with continuous internal ferment, as well as with external testing, the ruling oligarchy in Iraq was sentenced to permanent rearguard battles for political legitimacy and personal survival. The results are known to the whole world. The paper represents the atrocities caused by the Iraqi political leader. Considering different scholar publications in favor or against the ‘concept of intervention’, it analyzes Hussein’s actions as a crime against humanity and genocide against Kurds.
In July 2004 in Baghdad, the first meeting of the Court of Justice was organized to hear the case of the former president of Iraq, who was condemned for crimes against humanity. In particular, Hussein was accused of the genocide against Kurdish people in 1983, the use of chemical weapons against them in 1988, which led to the death of about 5 thousand people, implementation of the military operation ‘Al-Anfal’ in 1988 against Kurdish villages, the outbreak of the war with Iran in 1980-1988 and aggression against Kuwait in 1990. The trial took place in Baghdad on the territory of the base of the United States’ armed forces. In November 2006, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging on charges in the massacre of 148 Shiites in 1982. In addition to this, a few days later there was initiated the case of the genocide of the Kurds in the late 1980’s. In December 2006, the court issued a formal order that the sentence was executed.
It is important to understand the history of the conflict with Kurds to be able to evaluate if the sentence was correct or wrong.
A Short History of the Conflict with Kurds
Saddam Hussein was not the first from Arab governors who massively killed Kurdish people. Like the Jews, this nation does not have an official state and territories. The major part of the Kurds population lived on the territories of Turkey, while the rest of them are spread among the nearest countries. In the 1930’s, the British used aviation and artillery against Kurdish civilians. From time to time the Iraqi government provided the Kurds with relative independence. When Saddam Hussein came to power, the Kurds did not represent a defenseless minority, but well-armed population with a large army, which defeated the regular Iraqi Army in 1966. Among other acts of violence several decades earlier, the Kurds have staged massacres of Assyrian Christians. In the 1980’s, the Kurdish Army consisted of almost 60,000 people armed with the help of Iran and Israel.
It is important to understand historical preconditions of the events that had place in the 1980’s. This time was marked by intense fighting between Kurdish rebels and Iraqi Army. Baghdad decided to use a standard measure to combat ethnic uprising, which was relocation of people. However, since the Kurds dreamed of an independent state, rather than personal survival, relocation destroyed their hopes and they strongly resisted it. This fact changes the perception of Hussein’s decision. In any case, it cannot explain the mass killing of people, which he performed. However, it changes the mass thoughts about him because it shows logic intention to restore the control over his territories. Stephen Hughes (2002) carried out a huge research of victims during the regime of Saddam Hussein and presented clear figures of Kurds that were killed in those years. The figures are impressive. The major genocide took place in 1988, according to the source (Hughes, 2002, p. 216). It was the time of several operations held by Hussain in the northern territories of Iraq.
According to the International Criminal Court, genocide is defined as an act aimed at the destruction of a national group of people. Some analytics supposed that Saddam Hussein did not have an intention to exterminate people. However, there is another point of view, confirmed by the found tombs and heard evidence from those who survived. According to them, Saddam Hussein undertook ethnic cleansing and forcible expulsion of the indigenous population from its territory. In theory, ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity. International Criminal Court finds it much less serious than genocide. However, during his presidency in 1973-2003, Saddam Hussein conducted several operations against Kurdish people that lived on the territories of the Northern Iraq.
In 1986-1989, Hussein realized the operation Al-Anfal. After decades it was recognized as a crime against humanity. The history testimonies that Saddam Hussein sent huge military forces to Kurdistan in an effort to defeat the Kurdish opposition in the northern Iraq. It had to do more with the fact that the Iranian Army with the support of the Iraqi Kurds had launched military actions in the northern territories of Iraq.
According to the eyewitnesses, the majority of Kurds, oppressed during the campaign, refused to obey the order during a military operation. During it, the Kurdish women and children were transported to an unknown destination, while men were killed. Earlier, in 1983, likewise all the men of the Barzan tribe were killed. Thus, men of military age were immediately executed, because those who were found on a forbidden territory have been considered partisans.
Chemical Attack in Halabja
Saddam Hussein was also accused of a chemical attack in the city of Halabja. The United States first blamed Iran military forces for the tragedy, explaining it by absence of possibilities to produce chemical weapon by Iraq. Nevertheless, later, when the relationship with Iraq became worse, America transferred the blame on Iraq without any new evidence. Iraq was accused by the United Nations of the use of chemical weapon. However, the Western countries continued supporting the Iraqi Government with military forces in its war with Iran. During that operation almost 4,000 cities in Kurdistan were destroyed and 5 thousand people killed (Kelly, 2008, p. 88). Jacques Verges, who held numerous important trials in his career, underlined the fact that from the times of Reagan administration, America used to sell weapons to Iraq (Kelly, 2008, p. 94). There is an interesting fact. According to the U.S. media, during the period from 2004 to 2011, American military sources found more than 5 thousand units of chemical weapons, warheads, and aircraft bombs stuffed with toxic substances in Iraq. Journalists believe that they were made during the regime of Saddam Hussein with support of the West before 1991.
Occupation of Kuwait
With occupation of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein hoped to make the remaining Gulf countries more compliant to reduce the national debt and increase the profit of Iraq from the oil extraction. Saddam Hussein wanted to seize Kuwaiti oil and thereby improve the disastrous financial situation of his country after the war with Iran. In fact, Iraq found itself in total isolation. Hussein brought his military forces in Kuwait, hoping that he will not face a serious response from the West.
From the total quantity of 16,000 people comprising members of the armed forces of Kuwait nearly 200 were killed and about 600 were captured, the rest 95% fled (Musallam, 1996, p. 90). To capture Kuwait, Iraq used four divisions (tank and three mechanized) and part of the Special Forces. However, the invasion of Kuwait was the first fundamental mistake of Saddam Hussein. He believed that the West would forgive him the aggression, as it has forgiven and even supported aggression against Iran ten years earlier. The United States and the allies were victorious at the expense of the air campaign, which lasted 38 days. After it, they organized a short ground operation, which succeeded to defeat Iraqi ground troops. They suffered massive losses by this time and were completely demoralized. Thus, the occupation of Kuwait was a clear act of pure aggression against the neighbor country, which brought victims to both sides.
Like all dictators with autocratic authority, Hussein’s dominance was based on the ideology, presented everywhere in a society. Saddam Hussein based his personal power on the influence of the Baath party. His logic was clear and explicit. The party organized structure and ideological basis for control over the actions and moods of people. It controlled the masses, while Hussein controlled the party. He hoped that the Iraqi people can be united around the case extremely important for the nation. Such a view helps explain the paradoxical for European consciousness phenomenon of almost universal support to the aggressor and dictator in the Arab world. Public support emerged as a surge of Arab consciousness and confrontational thinking. Iraq’s historical experience showed that because of the social and religious fragmentation, the change of regime was possible due to military coups but not the people’s rebellion.
Saddam Hussein represented his country as a poor one, struggling with imperialism, Sunnites, and oil-rich countries of the Gulf. It was a well-prepared Iraqi propaganda. According to a French philosopher Gilles Keppel, Hussein was supported by the people who lacked modern technologies and amenities, and who felt humiliation comparing themselves with strong West (Keppel, The war for Muslim minds, 2004). The Iraqi media named Baghdad ‘the capital of faith and victory’. Turning to the Arabs, Saddam Hussein said that Iraq “will always be a faithful guardian of the land of the Arabs” (Hussein & Ruysdael, 2003). He underlined that the Bath is the knight, who restored the honor of the Iraqi people and Arab nation (Hussein & Ruysdael, 2003, p. n.d).
People believed in his words and supported his violent actions. However, his words were the usual populist rhetoric. The very notion of ‘the Arab world’ is strange, as Arabs have a great amount of contradictions. People living there use the Arabic language as a communication tool, but regional dialects are so numerous, that people in fact cannot understand each other. The principal religion of the Arabs is Islam, but Muslims are divided into Sunnites and Shias, and there are centuries of violent struggle between them.
Hussein refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Court. He also did not sign documents after he had read all of the accusations. The judge asked Saddam Hussein about each act of violence, whether he agreed with what he was accused. His reaction was different. When the judge mentioned the massacre of Kurds in the town of Halabja, where during one day there were killed nearly five thousand civilians, he responded with, “Yes, I have heard something about this ...” (Meho, 2004). When it came to the war with Kuwait in 1991, Hussein sweated and angrily answered that Kuwait was a part of Iraq (Meho, 2004). It is difficult to judge actions of Saddam Hussein. Historians, who convicted him of the violence against humanity, should consider all mentioned preconditions, political ideas and hopes of the West and Iraq, the main principles of Islam, and the relations between countries. The West intervened in the conflict between Arab countries from the very beginning trying to impose its influence and receive control over the rich with resources Gulf. Americans believed into high ideas of a necessity to help Arabs to establish democracy in their homeland far away from America. The US supported active actions of Arab countries’ governments and closed its eyes on the death among their troops. It lasted till the quantity of victims became too high for a friendly help. The public opinion in Iraq was diverse. The majority supported Saddam Hussein desiring to save Arab nationalism from American invasion. From this point of view, invasion is a difficult issue to explain because each part of the conflict saw its actions as an act of liberation. Nevertheless, enough time has passed to analyze the situation with a cold heart and confirm that Saddam Hussein executed several acts of violence against humanity, which were recognized as genocide against Kurdish people.