By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at The Independent.
All kinds of horrors flop on to my Beirut doormat. There’s The Independent’s mobile phone bill, a slew of blood-soaked local Lebanese newspapers—“Saleh Aridi’s blood consolidates [Druze] reconciliation”, was among the goriest of the past few days—and then there are files from the dark memory lane through which all Middle East history has to pass.
The repulsive Baath party archives of Saddam Hussein are the latest to find a place on my coffee table, all marked “Secret”, unpublished—though they formed the basis for the old man’s trial and for his depraved hanging by the Iraqi government more than two years ago. I reprint them now without excuse, for they have a bitter taste in the “new” Iraq and in the “new” Afghanistan about which we still fantasise as we send more Nato troops into Asia’s greatest military graveyard.
The documentary evidence of Saddam’s brutal inquiry into the killings at the Shia Muslim village of Dujail in 1982 provides frightening, fearful testament to the earnestness and cruelty of totalitarianism, the original files of Saddam’s mukhabarat security services in their hunt for the men who tried to assassinate the Iraqi dictator more than a quarter of a century ago. Saddam was then the all-powerful leader of a nation at war with Iran—an eight-year conflict that would cost the lives of more than a million Muslims on both sides—and whose most ruthless enemies were members of the Iranian-supported Al-Dawa Party (including a certain Nouri al-Maliki). Saddam’s closest allies at this time were the Gulf oil sheikhdoms—and the United States, which was sending military supplies, chemical precursors and satellite reconnaissance photographs to Baghdad to assist Saddam in his war against Iran, a nation he had invaded two years earlier.
On his passage through Dujail, Saddam’s heavily armed convoy was attacked by 10 villagers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. All were killed at the time or hunted down and murdered later. In their subsequent investigations, however, the mukhabarat—in this case operating under the ominous title of the “Regime Crimes Liaison office”—were able to use the system of tribe and sub-tribe in Dujail to tease out the names of everyone associated with the attackers.
The patriarchal lineage—wherein all males carry their father’s, grandfather’s, and great-grandfather’s names, sometimes back eight generations—enabled the secret police to trace the male line of entire families and thus to liquidate them all. Their womenfolk were tortured, many of them raped. The men were butchered. One grandfather lost all his sons and grandsons. His “treacherous” family line came to an end. The ruthlessness of Saddam’s “Crimes Liaison Office” comes across in their surviving reports.
We were assigned by the party to submit the names of the opposing and malignant members of the treacherous Al-Dawa Party ...
A comrade’s greeting. Dun Shakir to the Comrade Member of the State Command. Subject/Security report: Through the fact that the criminals from Al-Dawa Party have attacked our Great Commander the Secretariat of the State, the Striving Comrade Saddam Hussein, we raise the names of the hostile families that are against the party and revolution, knowing that we already raised several reports and surveys on these criminals whose names are below.”
And there follows a sheaf of files listing the accused families and their menfolk. Of the Al-Tayyar sub-tribe of the Abu Haideri tribe of Dujail, for example, there is a great grandfather called Abdullah with three children—Asad, Mohammed and Suheil—who themselves have nine children—Sabri, Ali, Nayif, Jasim, Hassan, Qadir, Kabsun, Yasin and Hani. Saddam’s secret police fell upon their sons: Ammar, Abdel Salam, Qasim, Sahib, Sa’ad, another Qasim (son of Qadir), Hashim, Ali, a second Ali (son of Yassin) and Thamir.
All of the latter were executed on Saddam’s orders. So was another of Jasim’s other sons—Nabil—and four more of Hassan’s sons—Hussein (who was indeed involved in the assassination attempt on Saddam) and Fatih and Salim and Mohammed and Mahmoud. Five more of their first cousins—Ahmed, Abdullah, Mohammed, Mahmoud and Abbas—were also done to death. Thus only one male issue of great-grandfather Abdullah’s entire family escaped Saddam’s execution squads. But these were just the male children of one family. Saddam’s murderers were after many more. The investigators at Saddam’s trial noticed one telling trait among his secret police officers. If they were reporting an execution, they would scribble their signature. If they were sending intelligence information, they would sign their names in full. After the fall of Saddam, of course, it was not difficult to match up the full names with the scribbled signatures.
But now I ask a question. When US troops massacre Iraqi civilians in Haditha because their buddy has been murdered, what is the difference between their revenge and that of Saddam? When a Taliban attack on Nato forces in Afghanistan provokes a US air strike on a village and leaves women and children torn to pieces in the ruins—this now seems the inevitable result—what is the difference between those innocent deaths and the destruction of the families of Abdullah’s grandchildren in Dujail?
Yes, I know that Saddam’s thugs selected the relatives of his enemies and we merely kill anyone in the area of our enemies. And yes, I grant you the outcome is not the same. The Iraqi dictator was hanged in Baghdad in 2006, cursed by his hooded Shia “Al-Dawa” executioners as he stood on the scaffold. For us, there will be no hangings.
AP photo / Fraidoon Pooyaa
An Afghan woman weeps as she holds photos of family members killed in a U.S. airstrike on Azizabad, a village in Herat province west of Kabul, in August. The U.N. reported as many as 90 civilians, many of them children, were killed in the attack.