Saddam's execution removes political thorn for US, Bush
By Pat Reber and Mike McCarthy, dpa
Washington (dpa) - Saddam Hussein's execution on Saturday ended a long chapter of thorny relations with the US and the rest of the world that included the first Gulf War in 1991, a decade of feuding over sanctions, no-fly zones and weapons of mass destruction, and concluded when he was found hiding in a hole after the US-led invasion in 2003.
Through all those years, in the eyes of Washington, Saddam was the "butcher of Baghdad," the brutal dictator who provoked the international community by invading Kuwait, tried to secretly develop nuclear weapons and threatened Israel with missiles thought to be capable of carrying chemical or biological agents.
The sour relations between Washington and Baghdad became personal when Saddam allegedly plotted to assassinate former President George HW Bush during a visit to Kuwait after the first Gulf War. The current president, George W Bush, has spoken of Saddam's attempt to kill his father.
But US relations with Saddam were not always poor. When Saddam came to power in 1979, after a Baath Party coup a decade earlier, he had the tacit support of the United States, which saw him as a beacon of power, stability and secular rule in a region of unrest.
As Islamic fundamentalists took over neighbouring Iran and seized US hostages at the US embassy in Tehran, Washington backed Iraq in the devastating eight-year war with Iran (1980-1988).
All that changed when Iraq invaded its neighbour Kuwait in the summer of 1990, seizing its oil fields and ports in violation of international laws of sovereignty.
Within months, the elder Bush had assembled a broad international coalition to repel Saddam's forces from Kuwait in a war that began in January 1991. The coalition devastated the Iraqi army and forced it to flee back across the border.
Bush, however, was criticized for adhering to a strict UN mandate that limited military action to oust Saddam from Kuwait. Those critics believed US forces should have marched on to Baghdad and removed Saddam from power. Instead, Bush hoped tough UN sanctions would weaken Saddam's regime and instigate a coup against the dictator.
The sanctions crippled the rich Iraqi economy, barring the export of oil and import of vital materials to maintain its infrastructure. The Iraqi people suffered the brunt of the isolation. The United Nations estimated that at least 500,000 children died.
Eventually, the UN Security Council modified the sanctions so Iraq could sell oil to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.
But tensions continued. Saddam's military continued to fire at US and British warplanes enforcing no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq to prevent Saddam from using aircraft against Shiite and Kurdish opponents of the regime.
Saddam also remained unpopular in Arab capitals who viewed him with suspicion and as a force of instability in the region. Dislike of Saddam was furthered by his brutal tactics against his own people.
During the 1990s, the dictator so feared for his life that he was known to never sleep in the same place on consecutive nights, and he surrounded himself with submissive aides who did not dare to cross him - a crime punishable by death.
Saddam continued to defy UN weapons inspectors by frequently denying them access to suspicious sites throughout the 1990s, which resulted in punitive US airstrikes.
The United States and its allies continued to believe Iraq was hiding chemical and biological agents while seeking the technology to develop a nuclear weapon. Saddam's use of unconventional weapons against Kurds in the north and during the war with Iran added to the suspicions.
Tension between the United States and Iraq rose dramatically after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. According to accounts of the days after the attacks by former Bush advisor Richard Clarke and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, George W Bush's aides immediately wanted to put the blame on Iraq.
While the current US president was able to build strong international support for military action against the Taliban and al- Qaeda in Afghanistan, where the September 11 attacks were planned, he was unable to win similar support to remove Saddam from power despite the perceived threat posed by Iraq's possession of illicit weapons and concerns they could fall into the hands of terrorists.
UN weapons inspectors were not convinced Saddam still had the weapons, but also could not give assurances that was the case. Bush insisted US intelligence showed the weapons existed and without the support of the Security Council built a small coalition to topple Saddam.
After the invasion, no illegal weapons were found and eventually the US government conceded that its assertions were wrong, raising further scepticism about the war, which Bush began arguing was mostly about establishing democracy in the Middle East.
Saddam remained on the run for months until he was captured by US troops in December 2003, tried for massacring his own people and sentenced to die in November.
While his death ended his chapter in Iraqi history, it will likely do little to help the US mission in Iraq, which has been bogged down by a relentless insurgency and rising sectarian violence. // © 2006
|A US military handout photo shows the former leader of Iraq Saddam Hussein after he was captured by US military forces 15 kilometers outside Tikrit 13 December 2003. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed early Saturday 30 December 2006 Iraqi television reported. The execution came just four days after an Iraqi court upheld the death sentence handed down after Saddam was convicted for the 1982 massacre in the Iraqi city of Dujail. EPA/COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE-7/HO|