More on Saddam's death

This is a brief additional note to the longer post I made yesterday regarding Saddam's execution. It is in response to the description of the details of how he died.

As is being reported, he apparently showed no fear. He responded curtly to those who were taunting him in the room, describing their behavior as "unmanly". He refused a mask. As he was waiting for the trapdoor to drop, he recited the Shahada, and his last word was "Muhammed". Most reports I have read have been by Shiites or Kurds, his enemies, and I believe that it is possible to read between the lines that even they consider him to have died in a manly, faithful, and correct manner.

So what is going on here? During his time in power, Saddam's Iraq was characterized by secularism. One of the reasons why he and ObL hated each other was because Osama is a religious fanatic and Saddam was a secular leader who patterned his government after Stalin's. Did Saddam really become more religious?

I actually don't think he did. He has been playing the religious card since the 1st Gulf War, building huge mosques, associating himself publically with the Koran and with the rites and practices of Islam. I've never really taken that seriously, nor do I think many Iraqis or Muslims elsewhere took it seriously. Remember, alQaeda and Saddam's government of Iraq remained enemies until well after the 2003 invasion. It was widely seen as a shrewd but not too effective political move on Saddam's part.

But now we have a man who died affirming himself as a Muslim, unrepentant, with the name of the Prophet on his lips. This death-"bed" affirmation will be harder to doubt than his religiosity while still in power. But I do doubt it.

Saddam had plenty of time to prepare for his death. Undoubtedly, based on his culture and his personality, the thought foremost in his mind, once he had accepted the fact that he would be executed, was revenge. What could he do to avenge his own death, the death of his sons, and the occupation of his country?

His options were very limited, to say the least. But one thing that he could do is to maximize the likelihood that other people would attack his killers and his country's occupiers. And clearly, the best way to do that would be to play once again the religious card, and that is what he did.

He knew that the execution would be videotaped, and this played right into his hands. Note the refusal of the mask: if he had been masked, the video would have been much less compelling. Unmasked, there was no doubt that is was, in fact, Saddam Hussein who was dying bravely, epitomizing the qualities of a martyr. He will be the inspiration of millions of his Sunni coreligionists around the world.

And what will he inspire them to do?

Well, it's important to remember that those who killed him were in large part Shiites, and there has been warfare between Sunnis and Shiites for many centuries. Furthermore, his executioners where backed by the United States, a country that is deeply hated by many Muslims in every corner of the world. As he died, he exhorted those who could see and hear him to kill the Americans, to kill the Persians (i.e., Shiites), and so on. And to cap it all off, his executioners did the deed on a day considered by most Muslims around the world (i.e., Sunnis) to be one of the holiest days of the haj, and there were several harsh criticisms of the timing by religious leaders in Mecca. This, coupled with Saddam's theatrics, created a very powerful image.

I have no doubt that his dying wishes will be carried out, and that his plan to die in a manner that would cause his death to be avenged will succeed.

Of course, he won't be around to gloat, but I think that once he had concocted his plan, he was canny enough to understand that it would work at least to some extent, and perhaps as he felt the floor fall away from his feet, he was gloating all the way down.

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