Monday, January 08, 2007

No Justice for Kurds

Kurds Cheated Again over Saddam Execution

by Bilal Wahab

Saddam Hussein was hanged last night. To many Iraqis his reign looks like distant history compared to how long and bloody post-Saddam Iraq seems. The Iraqi Special Tribunal trying Saddam and his top aides for crimes against humanity meant to offer justice to the victims of his rule. Justice and accountability are what his victims wanted. In our meeting with President Bush last December on Iraqi election day, one angry student retorted that that Saddam Hussein must not be given a trial at all but rather executed right away. The President advised him that new Iraq would set an example that even Saddam like individuals will get a fair trial. Fair or not, thousands of Kurds are denied justice.

Today is Eid al-Adha, although Shiites will celebrate tomorrow. Culturally and religiously, Eid is a day of reconciliation and feasting. This day often has been a day in which Iraqi governments offer amnesties to prisoners, or allow them to visit their families. Saddam’s execution today breaks that norm, rendering the execution out of place. The date will fulfill Saddam’s wish that he will be a “sacrifice” of the day, in reference to the Eid sheep sacrificing ritual.

Such an end for the former dictator will help his decade-long legacy of appealing to the peoples of Muslim countries. Following the first Gulf War, in which he lost the Western favor, Saddam proclaimed himself “the faithful servant of God.” He handwrote “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) into the Iraqi flag, had the Iraqi TV show him in solemn prayers, and donated money to Palestinian families. Facing death, he exploited the court and used it as a platform for his propaganda to incite violence. The court behaved as if Saddam himself was advising it. The execution verdict came few days before US midterm elections, and the execution is carried out as the Muslims celebrate their biggest holiday. These are blows against a court already being accused of illegitimacy in the Arab media.

Moreover, being Eid, the scene is set for demonstrations throughout the Muslim countries, which Saddam managed to throw dust in their eyes. They will be protesting against putting a president to death for killing less than two hundred citizens. With atrocities against Kurds untold, that makes Saddam seem the least brutal among other nominally Muslim leaders. Thanks to the Americans and the Shiite government, and to a premature execution, Saddam will be considered a hero in many parts of the world.

Above all, the Kurds are cheated. Kurds were Saddam Hussein’s primary victims. He gassed the town of Halabja in 1988 and killed five thousand people, mostly women and children, instantly. Residents of Halabja still suffer form diseases and women from miscarriages. I recently lost a friend who was diagnosed with Leukemia from exposure to polluted soil. Although he escaped the immediate attack, the gas killed him years later. Saddam Hussein’s regime is also responsible for the death and the disappearance of thousands of Kurds in the so-called Anfal operation. His bulldozers razed four thousand Kurdish villages. As a Kurd you were naturally guilty unless proven innocent. Saddam’s treatment of the Kurds is genocide and cannot be excused on any pretext. The trial was a chance to let the world, especially the Arabs, know why we Kurds have issues with Saddam.

But Saddam Hussein was put to death for the killing of comparatively few in retaliation for an assassination attempt while his major crimes are dismissed. After his death, the case of Anfal is automatically closed, and with it the unknown fate of thousands of Kurds. It is a lost case for the Kurds, which exerted time and effort ever since the uprising in 1991 to be ready for this day. The Kurds were instrumental in the establishment and work of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which conducted the trial. Thousands of Kurdish widows and orphans will spend this Eid with a lost long-sought justice and no hope for knowing the fate of their lost ones. History seems to have once again wronged the Kurds. It is easy to blame history.

With Saddam’s death are buried many secrets. Rather than being a case of a brutal dictator whose trial sets an example for the rest of Middle East and the world, his trial became a local issue. A quick execution may quench the thirst of revenge for the Shias, but will deny justice to the Kurds. Silencing Saddam and his rushed death may serve parties other than Iraqis. We need to know where Saddam got his weapons of mass destruction that he used against us. We need to know who helped him remain in power. We need to know the secrets of eight years of war with Iran. We need to know where our relatives are buried.

This year-end came with many disappointments for the Kurds. Despite prior assurances, the Kurds came out disillusioned with the Baker-Hamilton report and its recommendations for not recognizing the region’s achievements. Kurd’s Shiite allies in the central government got their revenge as soon as they could without heeding to the ongoing Anfal genocide proceeding. Kurds seem to be running thin of friends. This is not a good sign, especially as the Turkish army lays bare its fangs against the only safe part of IraqKurdistan. Being cheated from many sides, should we Kurds run back to our old friends—the mountains?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Event on Iraq @ The Washington Institute

Thursday, Jan 18, 2007 at 5:30 PM

Event Name: The Oberlin Club of Washington, D.C.: Winter Term Panel

City/State: Washington, D.C.

Description: A Winter Term Panel
"Iraq: Where are we? Where are we going?"

Thursday, January 18, 2007 from 5:30-7:00 p.m.

The Washington Institute
for Near East Policy
1828 L Street, NW Suite 1050
Washington, DC
*Two blocks west of Farragut North on the Red Line
*Two blocks north of Farragut West on the Blue Line

The news headlines each day center on Iraq. Coverage focuses on Iraq's uncertain political future, American military casualties, and speculation that instability and terrorism will spread should the US mission "fail."

The Oberlin Club of Washington, DC has organized a panel to help us better understand the political, military, and regional implications that are unfolding in Iraq.

The panelists are:
--Bilal Wahab, who will offer his perspective on the internal political situation inside Iraq. Bilal is a Fulbright Scholar and an MA candidate at the American University. He is from the Kurdish region of Iraq. He has worked for news organizations, the UN, and election-monitoring groups in Iraq.

--MG Mike Pfister'57 (ret. US Army), who will offer his perspective on the military situation. He has been a consultant to various defense industries since his retirement from the Army in 1993. General Pfister served as: the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Headquarters, Department of the Army; Assistant Chief of Staff Intelligence, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army; and, Director of Intelligence for U.S. Central Command. He also held Politico-Military policy positions on the Middle East and Africa in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense and on the Army Staff. "Mike" was a philosophy major at Oberlin and edited the yearbook. His late wife Gail was his classmate.

--Tamara Cofman Wittes'91, who will offer her perspective on what developments in Iraq may portend for the region. Tamara is a research fellow at the Brookings Institutions, Saban Center for Middle East Policy. She has been a Middle East Specialist at the United States Institute of Peace, Director of Programs at the Middle East Institute, and an Adjunct Professor of National Security Studies at Georgetown University.

--Benjamin Shaw '96, who will provide a perspective on Congressional views. Ben works for Capitol News Connection covering Capitol Hill. He follows Congressional news for nearly 200 public radio stations around the country. He reports on military and veterans issues among other beats.

The moderator and host for the program is Patrick Clawson '73. Pat is Deputy Director for Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His previous positions include five years as senior research professor at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies and four years each as senior economist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Alumni and friends are invited to visit over wine and cheese.

To RSVP, please send an email to Clyde Owan'79 at:

Location: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
1828 L Street, NW Suite 1050
Washington, DC