Monday, January 01, 2007

The Answer, My Friend, is Swinging in the Breeze

Abu Aardvark:Saddam's Execution
Finally, executing Saddam on the Eid al-Adha (also known as the "Feast of Sacrifice") is staggeringly stupid. I did find one Shia MP endorsing the idea because Saddam's execution should be a national holiday... but I haven't seen any Sunnis (in Iraq or elsewhere) sharing the sentiment. Since the main objection to his execution is its likely impact on the Iraqi Sunni community, doing the deed on the Eid seems calculated to inflame that community and to galvanize those who would put a sectarian and religious narrative on his murder. Where a primary goal of American policy is (or should be) splitting the nationalist Iraqi insurgency from the al-Qaeda jihadists, this choice seems calculated to drive them together and to offer resonance for those who would want to claim his execution as a martyrdom. Just really stupid timing, unless driving the Sunni community away from the political process and inflaming the sectarian war is in fact the point.

Abu Aardvark:What the timing of Saddam's execution suggests
All that said, the incredibly rapid pace and odd timing of the deed demands explanation. Today's Times confirms what al-Jazeera reported yesterday, that the timing was determined with American participation - so the Shia line that they wanted Saddam's execution to be a national holiday rings hollow. One possibility is simply security related: doing it this quickly and under cover of darkness was aimed at preventing any spectacular attack on the site or elsewhere pegged to his death. That's possible. But my hunch is that there is something more going on.

Saddam in custody was useful primarily as a bargaining chip with the Sunni community - a carrot to keep the ex-Baathists engaged in the process. His removal suggests that the Americans have decided to bring that effort to an end, and are indeed about to embark on the much-debated new strategy. Saddam's extremely rapid execution strikes me as clearing the decks rather than as any kind of culmination. There was no real effort even to cash in the chip: no public ceremony, no political momentum around it. He was simply discarded. And that strikes me as the single most important political fact about these events.

More important than the "surge" or "escalation" or "dribble" of new American troops, Saddam's execution seems to suggest that the target will indeed be some variation of the Shia Option - aligning with Shia parties to try and crush the Sunni insurgency first. I don't think this is a very good idea, as I've written before, but then I don't think the US has any good options in Iraq anymore.

I know the first news article I read implied that in Iraq the date of the execution was the day the Sunnis in I raq began the 3-day holiday (with the Shi'a starting their observance a day later). I wondered if that was a poke in the eye to the Sunnis. Guess it was (of course the Sadrists carrying out the deed is probably a bigger insult, but anyhow). I'd feel a whole lot better about if our guys weren't going to be taking fire to protect the Shi'ite "government" from the Insurgency (kind of sad when you have a majority of the population and you still have to hide behind an outside army).

EDIT:Democracy Arsenal: Saddam's Execution: Oops, Wrong Day Indeed, it was a Sunni but not a Shi'a holy day.

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