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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Monday, December 15, 2003  
On TV they show Saddam leaning back on a chair, smoking a big cigar - younger, handsome, power-glutted, "indefatigable" (George Galloway) - as a brutal purge of the Ba'ath hierarchy gets under way. The woman on the TV introduces this "chilling" footage and, at first, I don't know what she is talking about - then I realise that while Saddam is sitting there, generals and politicians are led from the room by Ba'ath security officers to be tried (briefly) and then slaughtered. Yes, well, I'm chilled: that's the (hard)line of power, power stripped to brute Stalinist essentials, "raw power" (Iggy Pop).

What happened on 18 July 1979 is recorded on video. Saddam personally ordered the filming of the proceedings of a meeting of the Regional Command Council and other top party officials of the Ba'ath, four hundred in all, in a conference hall which looked like a cinema that he had had built for international meetings. The film shows Saddam running the meeting by himself. He is on stage, sitting behind a large table with four microphones in front of him and a large cigar in his hand. Occupying the first row are his loyalists: Izzat Douri, his second-in-command in the Iraqi Ba'ath party and deputy secutary of the RCC; Taha Yassin Ramadan, his vice president; foreign minister Tariq Aziz; and others including his cousin, brother-in-law and Chief of Staff, General Adnan Khairallah.

Saddam stood up and walked slowly, as if with a heavy heart, to a lecturn with two microphones on it. He spoke to the gathered leadership in the manner of a relaxed lecturer addressing a group of supplicants. He not only announced the existence of a plot, but gestured with a wide sweep of his arm and told his followers that they would have a chance to determine the veracity of his statement. Mashhadi was summoned from behind the curtain and took Saddam's place at the lecturn while the latter went back and sat behind the table, still puffing on his huge cigar.

For two hours Mashhadi regaled the listeners with details of the conspiracy, dates, places of meetings and names of participants. It was obvious that his presentation was rehearsed. He referred to the so-called conspiraters as traitors, and as he mentioned each name plain-clothed security officers were filmed escorting the person mentioned out of the hall. When one of them tried to speak to the gathering, Saddam shouted , 'Itla, itla', or 'Get out, get out!'. Heads bowed, every single one walked out with his grim-looking escorts, never to be seen again. No one said anything while the camera panned across the faces of Douri, Aziz, and Khairallah.

What was happening, one of the most hideous recorded examples of the working of a dictatorship, finally became clear to the rest. Some of them stood up and started to cheer Saddam. He responded with a broad smile, twice thanked people who stood up to praise him and offer their fealty. Encouraged, others stood up to speak of Saddam leading them on a march to liberate Palestine, and the camera showed a happy Saddam content with what he was hearing.

Saddam reserved for himself the right to make the closing statement. Tearfully, he mentioned how the conspirators had tried to drive a wedge between him and Bakr
(General Ahmend Hassan Al, his political mentor) and 'weaken the glorious Ba'ath Arab Socialist party'. When he repeated the names of the accused who had been close to him, he appeared to wipe tears from his eyes. The audience followed suit; Douri led the way and suddenly everyone had a handkerchief in his hand and was wiping away tears. Towards the end Saddam was in good spirits and laughed, and the whole audience laughed with him.
From Saddam Hussein - The Politics of Revenge by Said K. Aburish.

They pick him out of his hole, check his head for lice, shave off that scrappy Moses beard, then go out in front of the world - imagine a million eyes jammed into a tube as thick as wire -

"Let's go and break the news, boys..."

Schroeder and Chirac send their warm congratulations fast; Russia is too sour and choked to even fake pleasure. Probably all aware that their (former) moral opposition can be exposed as compromised (fatally) if Saddam decides to reveal a secret history of cosy deals and snug arrangements, or is drugged into it, or whatever.

Meanwhile, now: the illusion of scattered Ba'ath military operations - or Saddam's control over Iraqi resistance - disintegrates like Uday's palace in a welter of Tomahawk missiles. The bombs and shooting raids remain and the messy nexus of radical opposition - nationalist, religious, as well as Ba'ath loyalists and civilians amped on bloodshed, adventure, outlaw status - reveals a chaotic, lethal aspect. Or, until it breaks up like crude oil in stormy water. Once a loose alliance weakens, the tenacious Islamists remain - with their obscure fiscal channels, hard and software supplies, and resevoir of manpower.

We're on a scavenger hunt for terror.
George W. Bush

11:12 PM

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