Hastening the Saddam Trial as the Key to Taming Insurgency

Four urgent pieces of business brought US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to Iraq last Sunday, May 15: Saddam Hussein‘s trial, the longstanding feud between the Jordanian royal house and new Iraqi deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi, and the Kurds’ future role in central government in Baghdad. (The latter two are discussed in separate articles below.)

The first issue is a vital key to incorporating Sunni Muslims in the Baghdad government. Their integration in the administration is seen by some members of the Bush administration as the cure-all for deflating the Iraqi insurgency and terrorist violence. How Talabani and Barzani get along affects preparations for a new Iraqi constitution, participation in the drafting whereof has been promised the Sunnis factions.

All these priorities are therefore wound tightly into a single hard ball.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington and Iraq have discovered that Rice’s visit to Iraq followed a surprise US government decision to hasten the Saddam trial and end it as quickly as possible as a vital pre-condition for future Iraqi stability.

This is a turnabout. Until now, Washington took the line that the politically charged trial should be held off indefinitely. But the acute intensification of terror attacks in which more than 500 people have died in the last three weeks persuaded the Bush government to step in and clear all impediments to resolving the complicated issue of Sunni representation in Baghdad.

Before the Jaafari government was formed, interim prime minister Iyad Allawi and Jordan’s King Abdullah were the point men for interchanges with the Sunnis, including Baath party officials based in Syria and elsewhere. But since Allawi left office, the US government has concluded his handling of the contacts was ineffective. Moreover, a string of political corruption and financial scandals stood in the way of accords with the Sunnis. US officials have therefore taken up position close by Abdullah’s side for the duration of these delicate negotiations.


New Jordanian Security Chief Gen. Kheir Will Lead Talks with Iraqi Sunnis


During her day in Iraq, therefore, the US secretary of state notified Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari that the Jordanian general Saad Kheir, Abdullah’s newly- appointed national security chief, will head up the talks with the Sunnis.

{See “Jordanian Security Shakeup”, in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 205, May 13, 2005.).

Washington has now come to believe that the sooner Saddam’s trial is over and done with – the death sentence is generally expected – the sooner Sunni leaders and Baathist guerrilla chiefs will realize there is nothing more to be gained from their insurgency, will lay down their arms and come around to joining the new federal government.

To tempt the Sunni leaders into that partnership, Rice announced in Baghdad a decision by Washington to pardon, in the days leading up to the trial, at least 20 jailed Baath leaders and former Iraqi military commanders, who are awaiting trial with the deposed Iraqi president.

The clemency list has not been finalized but DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that former Iraqi deputy prime minister and foreign minister Tareq Aziz will be one of the first to benefit from a pardon.

By letting Saddam’s old cronies off, Washington hopes to pin all the blame for the evil ways of the ousted regime on one man, Saddam. His removal will clear the way for ex-Baathists to abandon their posture of resistance – especially if his top aides are treated leniently as though they followed their leader’s orders out of weakness or because they were forced to do so.

This course ran into a major stumbling block: Talabani, will never sign Saddam Hussein’s death warrant. Since taking office as president, the Kurdish leader repeatedly protested he would not send the former Iraqi leader to his death and someone else would have to authorize the verdict.

In private conversations with US officials, Talabani explained that if he signed the execution order, the Sunni Muslim community at large would proclaim a blood feud against the Kurdish people and seek revenge for generations to come.

The Bush administration accepted Talabani’s argument. One of Rice’s missions in Baghdad was to explore the possibility of inserting in the new constitution a measure creating a bipartisan body for ratifying judicial rulings against former members of the Baath regime. This would diffuse the responsibility.

The proposal will be discussed in the coming weeks. The secretary stressed that it was imperative for the new constitution to be drafted and enacted without delay by October 2005 – if only for the sake of the Saddam trial.

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