(This blog was first posted on 07 November 2006.)
I feel that some of the loudest opinions on Iraq , its occupation and Saddam Hussein’s conviction are choosing to take a very myopic view of the issues involved. Those opinions seem to insinuate that the violence – sectarian and all – is simply and primarily a reaction to the US-led invasion of the country. That is wrong. It is more of a reaction to a post-Saddam situation. The violence and instability we see today was only waiting for one particular event – the removal of Saddam from the leadership of Iraq .
There are so many ways in which Saddam could have been removed from power. He could have resigned (unlikely); he could have been voted out (very unlikely); he could have been assassinated; he could have died (painfully of some disease, some accident or peacefully in his sleep), or he could have been toppled. Whatever the scenario, there was going to be violence and instability in Iraq that would have had the world struggling to get in to stop it. With Afghanistan and Somalia , we all know how hard that is.
It would also help for us to always be reminded of the geopolitics at play in that region of Asia . Saddam was a dictator who was responsible for the death of thousands and suffering of millions of Iraqis. His leadership extended the death and suffering beyond his country’s borders to Iran and Kuwait . Iran also became home to many Shiite Iraqi exiles and rebels who, with its support, not only worked to remove Saddam but also lay prepared, waiting for news that he was no more for them to pounce. Another neighbour, Syria , was also home to many Iraqi exiles and anti-Saddam forces ready to pounce. Turkey was already worried that Iraq ’s northern region of Kurdistan was enjoying more autonomy and was aware that the only thing that was stopping its push for more self-control was Saddam. A power vacuum in Baghdad would complicate Turkey ’s fight to contain its own rebel Kurds who would certainly base their operations in Kurdistan . On top of all of this would be Al Qaeda. We must remember that Al Qaeda took advantage of the initial instability in Afghanistan to establish itself and spread its evil around the world. Just imagine what opportunity they would see in an unstable Iraq . It would be Al Qaeda’s new home after the loss of Afghanistan and a good launch-pad into Saudi Arabia , Kuwait , Jordan and Israel . And let us not forget the fact that the terror organisation would have a big hand over billions of barrels of oil.
We must also keep in mind the Shiite-Sunni divide in the Islamic world and nowhere is this more apparent than in Iraq, a fact Al Qaeda is very aware of and has already tried to take advantage of. The two sects try to put up a diplomatic face to the rest of the world but what simmers beneath is contempt for each other. Saddam, a Sunni, used high-handed methods to keep any potential sectarian conflict at bay, but this was often at a high cost to the Shiites. The seeming peace that some people try to remind us of today was only artificial. The exit of the dictator by whatever means was always going to bring all these factors to the top and into play.
So, what am I saying? Vultures are not created at the appearance of a corpse. They are always there somewhere waiting for a corpse for them to make an appearance. The violence we see today was always going to happen with or without the US-led occupation. Everyday that passed with Saddam in power was a day closer to the end of his reign. No one was sure about how and when this end would come or can claim to know with absolute certainty what would happen when it did. But the factors at play around Iraq and the region, added to his and his possible successors’ brutality, were just fuel waiting for a spark. I believe that it was important how that spark came and who would be in charge of Iraq when the explosion happened.
The US-led invasion therefore took care of the uncertainties of how Saddam would go and who would be in charge of Iraq when the violence and instability that were sure to follow set in. The US-led invasion was and still is a shock-absorber for the landing of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq . I am grateful to the US and its allies for that and for their being a lot far-sighted than many people give them credit for.