The Sock Army
Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the best book about the Post Gulf War survival of Saddam H, pens the best horrorscope of his regime for the Mirror today. You know Cockburn is going for the gusto from his first sentence:
�WHEN one of Saddam's most notorious prisons was captured by rebels after the Gulf War they found a human ear nailed to the wall.�
This is one of the classic stories � like the story of Caligula, or of Nero. Saddam the H. was not a tyrant in the Stalin or Hitler vein. The Ba�ath party never played the role of the Communist or Nazi parties, but were window dressing for legitimating a peculiarly virulent family.
Cockburn�s summary of how Saddam won the Intifada in 91 is concise and to the point:
�And it was in the aftermath of this war that Saddam faced his greatest challenge from the Iraqi people.
A tank gunner retreating to the southern Iraqi port of Basra, infuriated by the defeat, fired a shell into a portrait of Saddam. The city erupted. Almost all of Iraq south of Baghdad rose in rebellion and a few days later there was another rebellion by the Iraqi Kurds in the northern mountains.
At one moment, 14 out of 18 Iraqi provinces were in revolt. But the US, while keen to get rid of Saddam Hussein, did not want a revolution in Iraq.
It particularly did not want one in which the winners would be Shi'ite Muslims, belonging to the same Islamic tradition as Iran.
WASHINGTON allowed Saddam to use his helicopter gunships against the rebels and the rebellion was crushed in blood. I was in Kerbala, one of the holy cities of the Shia, just after Iraqi tanks had moved in and I remember people trapped in their houses screaming for help from behind closed doors.�
The continuity in D.C. foreign policy between then and now is centered on the fear of a Shi�a block. There is constant feedback about this fear � it moves from Kuwait and Lebanon and the Saudis to D.C. and back. Its pantomime hero is Chalabi, who is like a bad sit com � he has the Shiite credentials, they must have thought, so he�ll go down like champagne. That he is a swindler seems to have been no bar to his advancement � quite the contrary. American Intelligence groups are used to installing swindlers into high office in various countries, especially Latin America.
Unfortunately for the game plan, so far he�s gone down like cod liver oil.
There�s one other delicious detail in Cockburn�s story that we have to cite. Cockburn explains the Iraqi army�s terrible shape with this anecdote:
�A few years ago I watched Saddam reviewing a parade of supposedly elite troops in Baghdad. From a distance it all looked very impressive in their white gloves.
It was only when I got closer that I realised that the Iraqi army was as short of gloves as it was of everything else and then men were wearing white sports socks on their hands.�