(Saddam fell victim to his adventurism, but Arabs still revere him)
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Murtazin) - Iraq has been living without Saddam for six years, but the dictator's shadow still haunts the land. He was and remains a hideous tyrant for some, but others recollect with nostalgia the halcyon days when suicide bombers did not blow themselves up in the streets and when Iraq was one of the most influential regional powers.
The Saddam phenomenon invites comparison with Stalin. Under Hussein, the country was in many ways reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Iraq had borrowed from the U.S.S.R. the totalitarian political system: the ruling party, the structure of the armed forces, the special services and the apparatus of political surveillance. Foreigners who lived and worked in Iraq felt quite comfortable and safe, unless, of course, they meddled in the country's internal affairs or criticized the regime. Not so the Iraqis. Any rash remark spelled jail or execution.
Saddam came to power 30 years ago as a result of a government coup on July 16, 1979. However, unlike Nasser and Qaddafi, young rebel officers who toppled monarchies in Egypt and Libya, respectively, Hussein was no rookie politician. In spite of his comparatively young age (he was 42), he was already the number two man in the state after President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, controlling the repressive arm of the ruling Arab Socialist Revival Party (Baath), the Arab equivalent of the CPSU.
American-style democratization of Iraq has failed. None of the current Iraqi leaders have the charisma or the power of the executed dictator. There are three power centers in modern Iraq - the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - each torn by internecine conflicts, which will take not years but decades to resolve. The Americans have withdrawn troops from Iraq's cities, but they are not going to leave Iraq. Having spent massive material and human resources, they have the right to claim the lion's share of the Iraqi "oil pie." However, the government of Nuri al-Maliki is clearly afraid to be left to face the Sunnis who supported Saddam and indeed the Shiite brothers, with the rebel Imam Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants to turn Iraq into a theocratic state similar to Iran.
By toppling Saddam, the Americans upset the geopolitical balance in the region, destroying the main counterweight to Iran. Now the "regime of the Ayatollas" seeks to spread its influence to the whole of Iraq and not only the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Saddam could have ruled Iraq indefinitely but for the military adventures on which he embarked. During his 24-year rule, the country had only 4 years without wars and economic blockade. In 1980, Saddam started a war against Iran that lasted 8 years. The war drained the resources of both Baghdad and Teheran, but neither the U.S.S.R., nor the U.S., nor Europe did anything concrete to stop the conflict. The Russians, the Americans and the Europeans were quite comfortable with Saddam containing the Iranian "green revolution" and with supplying arms to both warring sides directly or through third countries. At least Saddam paid for Russian weapons in hard currency. Having failed to achieve military breakthroughs, Saddam signed peace with Iran proclaiming a "great victory" over the enemy.
The war had weakened Iraq, but Saddam did not feel it and launched another military adventure. The invasion of Kuwait was the beginning of the end for him. On August 2, 1990 the Iraqi troops occupied neighboring Kuwait, which Saddam promptly declared to be the 19th province of Iraq. The aggression was condemned not only by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., but by practically the whole Arab world. A coalition against Iraq formed under the UN aegis launched Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. Saddam lost all he had. He had to leave Kuwait and concede defeat. Iraq, which only recently wallowed in petrodollars, hit on hard times. The UN imposed an economic blockade and the oil-for-food program.
In May 1994, Saddam started a new political standoff with the UN. Hussein's refusal to admit Western inspectors gave the U.S. and other Western countries a pretext for accusing him of secretly producing weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had clearly underrated the determination of Bush Jr. who was bent on carrying to the end the cause of his father who had started Operation Desert Storm that was never completed. Saddam could not count on Russia or anyone else, but he still went for broke and thus obviously overrated himself.
While for the majority of people in Europe and America Saddam is a butcher and a tyrant, for many Arabs, and not only Iraqis, he was and remains a symbol of national pride. In the context of East-West relations, the Arabs have always felt humiliated and insulted by the great powers, and Hussein was one of the few Arab leaders who dared to challenge them. No matter that he was overthrown and hanged. The average Arab sees him and will continue to see him as a hero and martyr, and not as a medieval despot who destroyed the might of his own country.