Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Saddam's trial a burden to the political process

Many people have been waiting years for wrongs against them to be righted. But the hearing threatens to further divide the nation -- especially if it is seen as a Washington-run show trial

DPA , CAIRO

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

The trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein carries a high level of political risk as it will be the first time that crimes committed by the state under his 24-year reign will be exposed.

No such investigations have taken place to date, nor have there been any truth commissions or reconciliation meetings, and this lack of peacemaking with the past now weighs heavy on Iraq's current political situation.

The US only arrested a few dozen former top officials of the past regime after the 2003 invasion. Some members of Saddam's Baath Party were removed from top positions by a de-Baathification commission installed by the transitional government.

The majority of the torturers and spies of the former regime, however, remained untouched, with a few exceptions in which former police officials in Shiite cities became victims of lynch law.

The trial against Saddam is bound to tear open old wounds. It is also bound to increase even further the gap between the winners and the losers of the regime change -- a development which may affect the scheduled December parliamentary elections, according to observers.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, however, does not share such concerns.

The Kurdish politician, whose family lost several men during the fight against the former regime, believes that Saddam is still looming over Baghdad like an evil spirit.

"There are Baathist thugs in the country who still believe Saddam is coming back," Zebari said.

"I believe that if he had been tried before we would have better control of security now," he said.

It is important, however, that the tribunal against Saddam is not seen as a show trial but rather one based on facts, so as to prevent any further alienation and radicalization of Arab Sunnis who have been largely left out of the political process in the new Iraq.

The US government is also eager to avoid any impression of victor's justice.

Keen to avoid further international isolation in its Iraq policy, Washington continues to praise the new Iraqi government as a Middle East model for democracy, freedom and justice -- despite the ongoing heavy violence in the divided country.

Although Saddam has remained under the guard of US soldiers since his arrest in December 2003, the US administration keeps reiterating that the trial will be a purely Iraqi event.

Washington was only providing technical support in the trial, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The TV coverage of the Saddam trial is likely to attract millions of viewers in Iraq.

Especially Iraqis, who suffered under his reign or lost friends and relatives, are expected not to want to miss a minute of the trial.

Among them are several members of the current Iraqi government as well as a number of opposition and transition politicians, including Iyad Allawi, who headed the government up to last January's polls and had been the target of an assassination plot by Saddam.

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, the leader of the biggest Sunni party, also still has scores to settle for being imprisoned under the former dictator.

The list of those who seek justice or revenge continues.

Paradoxically, even some of the former Arab opponents to the Iraq war are looking forward to the trial.

Critical of the White House, they hope that Saddam will use the trial to make revelations which could become painful or embarrassing for the US government. The US assistance to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war (1980 to 1988) is only one of these issues.

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