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March 8, 2006
Dujail's Precedent

The Wall Street Journal discusses the historical precedent to the 1982 Dujail massacre that Saddam ordered after an assassination attempt on his life failed nearby. The unsigned essay discusses the more successful assassination of Reinhard "Hangman" Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust, and the Nazi revenge taken on the small Czech mining town of Lidice and its similarities to Dujail:

As with Lidice, Dujail was razed and its orchards bulldozed. Also like Lidice, the purpose of the massacre was not to dispense justice but to make an example of the villagers. "You people of Dujail, we have disciplined Iraq through you," Mr. Mohammad recalled one of the torturers saying.

Now come to the present. Last week, Saddam acknowledged in court that he had ordered the summary trial that led to the execution of the villagers and the destruction of their farmland. "Where is the crime?" he asked, claiming that as president of Iraq all his actions were lawful. Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trial famously adopted a similar defense. ...

We tend to forget that, for all of Iraq's current troubles, the U.S. and its allies deposed a dictator whose methods and purposes were eerily similar to those of the Nazis, even when it came to a comparatively small massacre such as the one in Dujail. That's something in which Americans can take justifiable pride, as much as the World War II generation did in defeating the Nazis. And it's something to which critics of the war, at least those who profess sincere concern with human rights, ought to give some thought.

It's a brilliant analogy, one that those who have studied the rise and fall of the Nazis would understand instantly. In fact, CQ readers would remember when I made the same analogy last year, when two of the apparatchiks responsible for implementing the Dujail revenge were captured:

The attempt came after the Iran-Iraq war provoked by Saddam began to slog into a stalemate in its second year and Saddam's popularity plummeted. Dawa, the banned political opposition group whose leader is likely to be Iraq's next Prime Minister, schemed an ambush to murder Saddam. Saddam outsmarted the ambushers by changing cars in the convoy, a move that saved his life. However, it still took the Iraqi Army two hours to extricate him from the ambush, and the experience affected Saddam deeply. He curtailed his travel in Iraq and started relying on blood relations, concentrating power into his family and the Tikrit syndicate whose loyalty could be counted on.

That wasn't all that Saddam did. In an age-old response of tyrants, Saddam punished the town for the acts of a handful of its residents. Like the Czech village of Lidice after the assassination of Reinhard "Hangman" Heydrich in WWII, the Ba'athists rounded up hundreds, deported the rest and destroyed the town of Dujail. Some of the detained endured months of torture before being released, but at least 147 were killed, on the orders of the Rwayids.

All tyrants wind up employing the same brutal methods to retain power. The surprise should not be that Saddam took a page from Hitler's notebook, but that the same people who wanted to appease Hitler in the 30's now argue that we should have continued to appease Saddam as well. Those are the people who will find the Lidice analogy most uncomfortable.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 8, 2006 7:20 AM

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