Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iraq On Edge

Tomorrow is the day the verdict against Saddam Hussein will be announced. No matter which way the verdict goes, there are likely to be some people who do not like it, and thus an upsurge in violence is likely.

Many mainstream news organizations (such as this BBC article) paint the biggest risk tomorrow as being, "violence from [Saddam's] Sunni Arab supporters". However, I personally think the biggest risk is either Saddam being found not guilty, or Saddam's sentence being less than the death sentence many people are expecting. If this occurs, we may see an Iraqi reaction similar to what we saw here in the United States 14 years ago when the police officers who were caught on videotape beating Rodney King were acquitted.

If Saddam is found not guilty, or given a lenient sentence, the people who felt the most victimized by Saddam (the Shia and Kurds) would start cooking up various conspiracy theories - that Sunnis somehow rigged the trial in favor of Saddam - and would create a backlash against the Sunnis in reaction to this perceived injustice. Since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarrah earlier this year, some Shia militias in Iraq have been all too quick to foment conspiracy theories and exact their revenge on their Sunni brethren. Saddam getting off for the Dujail case would certainly make a convenient excuse for more of the same mayhem.

If, however, Saddam is found guilty and sentenced to death, I would expect the reaction would be much more muted for a couple of reasons. Saddam has been imprisoned for the past two years, and has generally ceased to be a relevant factor to the current war on the ground. As such, most Iraqis have more current things to worry about than the fate of Saddam. In addition, while Saddam does still have his loyal followers, he was not nearly as popular among the Sunni Iraqis as the news media here make him out to be. Many paid lip service to Saddam - attending rallies and pledging loyalty to Saddam without actually meaning it. Now that Saddam is no longer the big guy with the big guns backing him up, whatever feigned loyalty many of these folks had towards him is gone.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day - and for the sake of all the friends I know in Iraq, I pray that everything will be okay for them.