Nouri al-Maliki rather notoriously allowed the execution of Saddam Hussein to go awry by pressing for a quick hanging, rather than taking American advice to slow down and organize it better. As a result, the opportunity to show that Iraq had moved past its brutal sectarian past was lost in the “Moqtada, Moqtada” chants on a bootleg video. Now it appears that Maliki’s arrangement will lead to another mistake, one that could keep the cult of Saddam thriving:
Saddam Hussein’s followers are planning a museum at the former dictator’s grave, amid concern that a Baathist shrine and rumours of a posthumous autobiography will perpetuate a cult of martyr around him.
Saddam’s tribe say that exhibits will include photographs and the coat, white shirt and shoes he wore at his execution, with other documents and belongings returned to the family by the Iraqi Government.
But it is suggestions of a book, which publishers said last night could break sales records, that is most controversial.
One tribal member in Tikrit said that they now held Saddam’s jail writings, in autobiographical form. Separately, Saleh Armouti, a Jordanian member of the former dictator’s defence team, said he was sure that Saddam wrote his memoirs while in jail. “Once I asked him how he spends his day, and he said, ‘I spend it writing my memoirs’.”
Maliki could do little about Saddam’s autobiography; after all, confiscating it and destroying it would have caused even more conspiracy theories to abound about its contents. It will probably sell like the Ba’athist equivalent of hotcakes, too. It certainly will outsell Saddam’s romance novel.
However, the shrine exists because Maliki acceded to Saddam’s family when they demanded his body back after the execution. After the debacle of the hanging, Maliki probably couldn’t afford to commit any further provocations, but allowing the body to go back to Tikrit was a mistake. The government basically issued a license for a Saddam Hussein shrine, and that’s what the Ba’athists intend to create at the gravesite.
They want to create a legend of Saddam as Saladin, much like Saddam tried to create for himself during his reign of terror. This could work, but probably not for very long. Despite the best efforts of his propagandists, no one in Iraq will forget Saddam’s record in wars. Despite a large advantage over the Iranians, the best he could do was a draw against the mullahcracy after eight grinding years of total warfare. After that, he got his ass handed to him twice by the United States and its coalition partners, and both times within a few weeks of actual battle.
Unfortunately, though, the Arab nationalists of the region will still use Saddam and his shrine as a rallying point. Failure has rarely disqualified Arab leaders from becoming heroes, and Saddam’s end will no doubt enhance his status. Maliki and the Iraqis will probably rue the refusal to cremate Saddam and throw his ashes to the winds.