Saddam’s Death Sentence: A Milestone on the US Road out of Iraq

The sentence of death by hanging passed Nov. 5 by a tribunal of five judges in Baghdad against the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and two co-defendants was hailed by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as a “milestone” that closed the book on the former region. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said it means that his country can now move on from “Iraq’s worst ever leader.”
But the point about moving on could apply equally to America, given the timing of the verdict. The tribunal headed by a Kurdish judge handed down sentences against Saddam and his seven co-defendants two days before the American voter decides who dominates the Houses of Congress – Republicans or Democrats. The interrelation of events was generally interpreted as the Bush administration’s bid to offset the widespread criticism of its Iraq venture with a positive achievement.
Much less obvious was the fact that the sentencing session and the concomitant high security alert in and around Baghdad also coincided with American-British preparations to start moving their troops out of Iraq’s main cities, first disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly two weeks ago.
This step will be the crucial starter to the phased exit of both armies from the country.
debkafile‘s military sources report that these preparations brought top US officials national security advisers Stephen Hadley and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to Baghdad last week for talks with Maliki.
US leaders calculate that when Western armies leave Iraq’s cities, the local forces, militias, insurgents, al Qaeda, army and police, will battle it out for supremacy. Control of the towns, already slipping in some places especially in Baghdad outside the Green Zone, will slip further out of US forces and Iraqi military hands. This armed contest will determine the fate not only of the Mailiki government, but of central rule in Iraq.
Once the central government goes – an eventuality taken in to account by Washington, the US exit will be hastened, along with Iraq’s fragmentation into three separate states, Kurdish in the north, Sunni Arab in the center and Shiite Muslim in the south. These entities will be controlled by a mishmash of armed militias which adhere and answer to unknown elements.
The speed of the US army’s departure from Iraq will depend very much on the level of casualties. November has already seen at least 12 deaths after 103 US personnel were killed in October. It is hard to see the US army sustaining this casualty level.
The decision to put the withdrawal in motion lay behind President George W. Bush’s unexpected remarks to the conservative American radio pundit Rush Limbaugh last Thursday, Nov. 2. For the first time, he referred to the possibility of the US being faced with the compulsion to depart the Middle East and abandon Israel by “rival extremists” toppling governments and threatening to “pull oil off the market in order to run the price up…”
Bush knows that the two nations facing the greatest hazard from the beginning of the US pullout from Iraq are Israel and Jordan – a danger that would intensify with the quickening tempo of the withdrawal. The same two countries would be directly threatened strategically by the collapse of central government in Baghdad.
Jordan’s King Abdullah, conscious of the danger to his monarchy, has disappeared from the international and inter-Arab scene in recent months. He makes no public announcements and gives no interviews. debkafile‘s military sources report that Abdullah is spending all his time personally overseeing the restructuring and stiffening of the military units deployed on the Jordanian-Iraqi border and at strategic points in the kingdom, anxious to seal it off against incursions by armed Iraqi and al Qaeda terrorist elements.
In Jerusalem, the penny has not yet dropped. debkafile‘s Israeli sources have seen no sign of preparations, military or otherwise, for the departure of US-UK units from Iraq or the collapse of the central regime in Baghdad. Seasoned observers fully expect a link-up before long between Palestinian and Iraqi terrorist elements and the arrival of Iraqi insurgents with abundant experience in fighting American soldiers through Jordan or Sinai to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians will start moving in the opposite direction for training in Iraq. The strategic threats to Israel are building up.

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