Progressive Writers Bloc

A Brutal Dictator


By David Chandler

Let me start by making it very clear that there is no question in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who did not hesitate to torture and kill his political opponents, killing many innocent victims along with them. I don't like governments that do these things. This is not a partisan issue. I am confident that ALL of you will agree with me on this point.

I want to set aside the question of why we went to war with Iraq. (Refuting transparent and oft-repeated lies gets tiresome.) Instead I want to focus on a more fundamental question.

[The picture shows Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq shaking hands with Saddam Hussein on Dec. 20, 1983. Incidents involving gassing of Kurds occurred in August, October, and Novembeer of the same year and were public knowledge at the time of this photo.]

Why did we put Saddam Hussein in power? Why did we consider him a friend and an ally throughout the worst of his misdeeds? Why did we arm him? Why did we provide him chemical and biological agents to add to his arsenal? Why did we provide aerial reconnaissance support while he used illegal chemical weapons against Iran? Why did we continue to support him even after the notorious incident where he gassed a Kurdish village on Iraqi soil? Why have we supported countless equally viscous dictators around the world? (If any of the facts implied by these questions come as a surprise to you, check out our website at, and follow the links.)

One answer often given for our support of Saddam Hussein is that we backed him for geopolitical reasons in order to contain Iran during the exceptionally bloody Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988. That answer begs the question, however.

Iran was also our "friend" during the long rule of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. The Shah was brought to power by a British led coup in 1941, lost power, briefly, to the popular nationalist leader Muhammed Mosaddeq in 1953, then was restored to power in another coup sponsored by the CIA. The Shah was notorious for his brutal secret police force, Savak, which was formed with the help of the CIA and Israel's Mossad.

The Shah, loved by the US but increasingly hated by the Iranian people, was no less a tyrant than the recently deposed "Butcher of Baghdad". But he could be counted on to side with the US. Therefore he was our "friend," regardless of his human rights record.

Supporting tyrants has its downside: their victims don't like it, and they are likely to blame us as well. Hence, Iran erupted into a revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and the US was proclaimed to be "The Great Satan". The Ayatollah and the succession of clerics that followed, have arguably taken Iran backward through time, but at least their problems, and solutions, medieval as some of them may be, are of the home-grown variety. For the first time in generations Iran is run by and for Iranians. There is something right about that, no matter how much we dislike being disliked by them.

Having lost our "friendly" dictator in Iran, we propped up another "friendly" dictator in neighboring Iraq who launched a war against Iran. Iraq had its own reasons for attacking Iran, but we facilitated it. To a large extent it was a proxy war. We provided the arms and the AWACS air reconnaissance support, while Iran and Iraq supplied the blood. The war certainly would not have dragged on as long as it did had we not fueled the fire. Nearly nine years of warfare with high tech weapons, countered by "human waves" of Iranians, countered by illegal chemical weapons, left as many as a million dead and several million wounded.

I have digressed. I was talking about Saddam Hussein. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. No argument there. He was a tyrant all along, but he was a "friendly" tyrant until he got in our way. That means the blood of his victims is on our hands as well. If the US presence lacks legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis and the rest of the world, it may be because they know history better than we do.

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