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The Deaths of Saddam Hussein’s Sons

July 23, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now, how do the latest developments in Iraq look to the Arab world? Margaret Warner has that.

MARGARET WARNER: For that assessment, we turn to Murhaf Jouejati, a resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Born in Syria, he’s now an American citizen. Adeed Dawisha, a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. Born in Iraq, he’s also become an American citizen. And Hisham Melhem, Washington correspondent for the Beirut newspaper As-Safir. Born in Lebanon, now a U.S. citizen, he also hosts a weekly program on al-Arabiya, the Arab satellite channel. Welcome to you all.

Professor Dawisha, beginning with you, we just heard Paul Wolfowitz, we also heard President Bush today talk about the significance of the killings of Uday and Qusay. How does it look in the Arab world as a whole and in Iraq?

ADEED DAWISHA: Well, there is a difference between the two. In Iraq of course as the secretary said, there was a lot of elation at the death of these two. Because the Iraqis have suffered directly at the hand of these two monsters. It’s actually different in the Arab world because even though there is a recognition that these guys have had perpetrated a lot of suffering on the Iraqi people, nevertheless there is still a kind of underlying affection for the regime of Saddam Hussein because of its stand against America and indeed its stance on the Palestinian issues.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way Mr. Jouejati, a mixed picture then?

MURHAF JOUEJATI: It certainly is a mixed picture. I don’t think Arab public opinion is a monolith like any public opinion around the world, so it is truly a mixed picture and you’re going to get many people that are elated and genuinely happy about the death of those two characters. And these are the people who have suffered the most under these two. So I think it is a function of how much repression those two have inflicted on people.

So outside of Iraq, they were not able to inflict any repression, and therefore here the picture is different. While there is genuine happiness, I think that Saddam Hussein is out of power, there is also a resentment — a resentment against America, that takes liberties, that brings down regimes, and that kills people under occupation.

Here I think there is a certain segment of Arab public opinion that is going to see the killing yesterday of Uday and Qusay as political assassinations. Why were these people not disarmed, why were they not taken alive, why were they not put before a tribunal? So again, I agree with Professor Dawisha, the picture is mixed.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that, Hisham Melhem, and tell us about particularly what you’ve seen in the Arab media today, including on your own satellite channel.

HISHAM MELHEM: Well, obviously very few people shed tears over the death of these two people who perpetrated atrocities bordering on, in fact, including genocide against the Kurds and against the marsh Arabs in the South. At the same time, people are not happy with the American occupation of Iraq for a variety of reasons.

There are many people in the Arab world who believe that the United States cannot do anything right, or correct, in the Arab world, given the traditional American support for Israel, the traditional American support for Arab autocratic regimes. At the same time, there is also a great deal of denial on the Arab side. Arabs don’t like the fact that the United States came to change an awful regime like the one ruled by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and because that exposed their weaknesses, because that exposed the failure of the whole Arab state system.

And until this moment there are Arabs in academia, among journalists, among the opinion makers of the Arab world who are still unwilling to denounce that regime and its atrocities. Recently, Arab parliamentarians met together and they refused to condemn the mass graves and the killings that were perpetrated by a falling regime. That gives you an idea. Many people in the Arab media also exaggerate the short comings of the American occupation, and there are many of them.

But many of them also still look with nostalgia to the man who ostensibly stood up to the United States. Many Arab journalists won’t even admit that yes, things are not great today in Iraq, but today there are more than 80 publications in Iraq, in a country that was under Saddam Hussein that had three major rags, and that’s the problem that you have in the Arab world.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me go back just to the two killings yesterday. Mr. Jouejati, how important do you think it is that the United States offer some sort of proof, you heard Paul Wolfowitz say he saw was an argument because there was great disbelief; he called it disbelief, bordering on paranoia.

MURHAF JOUEJATI: Yes, paranoia and a lot of conspiracy theories, and these conspiracy theories I think are not born in a vacuum. They are the result of a historical mistrust of the West, because more often than not the West in general and the United States in particular have lied to the people of the region.

Case in point, the 1991 uprising in the South of Iraq that was encouraged, called for by the United States and the U.S. never came to their rescue, and there are many cases in point. So I think there will be a great deal of disbelief that these two have been killed, and so a lot of proof is going to have to come forward to quiet down the conspiratorial theorists that are there.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Professor Dawisha, couldn’t the U.S. also be much criticized in the Arab world if it showed gruesome pictures of these two men dead, particularly after the U.S. was very critical of the Arab media for showing dead U.S. soldiers?

ADEED DAWISHA: You know, the showing of pictures I think in my opinion is more important in Iraq than in the Arab world. The Iraqis themselves have to see evidence that these two guys have been killed. They lived in a, it’s the Iraqis who’ve lived in this kind of state of fear for the last 30 years, a state of fear that has implanted in them a sense of Saddam’s indestructibility. They would be very kind of slow to recognize or to believe the American coalition forces that these two men have been killed. So I think it’s in the case of Iraq absolutely essential that people see pictures that these two men have died.

As for the Arab world, I don’t think really it’s going to change any opinions. As I said earlier, as far as the Arabs are concerned there is a much higher value placed on the Palestinian issue, on standing up to the Americans, than there is on the notion of an Iraqi suffering, as encapsulated once by an opinion, an op ed in an Arabic newspaper that says, yes, Saddam Hussein may be a despot, but at least he is not a coward, meaning that he stands up to the Americans. That kind of warped value system will continue. Therefore it doesn’t matter to the Arabs or to me what the Arabs think about this. It’s very important that the Iraqis themselves are made to believe that these two men have died.

MARGARET WARNER: So professor, thinking about the Iraqis themselves, do you think the killing of these two sons, at least among those who believe it has occurred, will, as both the president and Paul Wolfowitz predicted, make everyday Iraqis much more, much less fearful and more willing to cooperate with the occupation including providing intelligence to round up the rest of the resistance?

ADEED DAWISHA: I think this is the core issue involved in this. It might not persuade these few people who are taking pot shots at Americans, it will not persuade the die-hards of the Special Republican Guard and the security officers whose own situation has deteriorated considerably as a result of the demise of the Saddamist regime.

But it will have a major impact on ordinary Iraqis who have believed up until now that Saddam and his sons might come back one day and therefore will wreak havoc on them for cooperating. Now that these two are dead it makes people believe that the possibility of Saddam dying or being captured is that much greater, and you will see more people willing to cooperate, willing to work for the Americans certainly in construction, for example, or in other aspects of social life, joining the militia or joining the new military forces. That’s where it’s going to have the major, most important impact.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it’s going to have that great an impact inside Iraq?

HISHAM MELHEM: I think it will have a great impact inside Iraq because these two brothers were pillars of the regime. They were not killed because of the sins of their fathers, they did commit atrocities themselves and they were pillars of the regime and their demise will help again in undermining that myth of Saddam’s invincibility and his regime’s invincibility. And I think people in the Arab world should allow the Iraqis to deal with their future, to determine their own future, and I don’t believe for a moment that the Arab League can play a major constructive role, unfortunately. I believe the Arabs who supported that regime cannot criticize those who are trying to create a new politics in Iraq after 35 years of tyranny.

MARGARET WARNER: But there is great criticism, is there not, in the Arab world as a whole of not only the American occupation but of the problems that the Americans are having?

HISHAM MELHEM: You know, you’ve heard my reservations about the war, and I’m very critical of the American shortcomings. At the same time there is also, one can be incredulous when you listen to Arab autocrats saying that this new council that was formed recently was not elected. And who is saying this, people who would never sanction elections in their own governments.

MARGARET WARNER: I hear Professor Dawisha laughing at that…

HISHAM MELHEM: I hear Arabs calling for quick elections in Iraq. I would like to see elections tomorrow. But you cannot have elections like that after 35 years of tyranny and total chaos and destruction. You need to allow politics to emerge. There is a growing debate in Iraq today, unfortunately it’s being stifled by people who are either holdouts from the old regime or people who have their own dark visions of the future of a tyrannical Iraq, whether it’s religious or secular. But I think the Arabs should allow the Iraqis to allow the flourishing of politics in Iraq, and they can criticize the American shortcomings. I don’t care what your views are on the war, I think these people should be allowed to determine their own future.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just get to Mr. Jouejati first and I’ll come right back to you professor. Paul Wolfowitz had said earlier that he felt many Iraqis really couldn’t believe that the U.S. couldn’t be doing a better job. Does that ring a bell with you? Does that sound right to you? There’s almost a conspiracy theory about why the occupation is going so badly.

MURHAF JOUEJATI: Well, here is the United States that promised before the war that the Iraqi people were going to see very quick results. They talked of the before and after in Iraq. And that sounded very good. But after the war in Iraq, the Iraqis, I think, are mind boggled by the fact that the Americans cannot put up electricity together or provide adequate drinking water, or basic services, or provide security.

Granted it has not been very long since the war has ended, but it has been since April, and according to many Iraqis on the street, people who have never been supporters of the Baath or Saddam Hussein, we receive quotes every day in newspapers that if they have weapons they will go after the Americans and that is because their life has become in many cases even more miserable than it was under Saddam Hussein. So it is mind boggling that a super power, a technological super power cannot provide adequate electricity for a city like Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: What does that lead people to think, Professor Dawisha, the Americans don’t want it to work? Where does that line of thinking take them?

ADEED DAWISHA: Can I just say one thing? I wanted to say “amen” to everything that Hisham Melhem said about the Arab response to elections and democracy in Iraq. I just wanted to say that. As for the Iraqis, yes, absolutely, there is a kind of a fueling of this conspiracy theory. Iraqis cannot believe, cannot be made to understand that here we have the greatest power in the world, I saw one person on TV saying you have America dropping a bomb from about 40,000 feet and hitting a target which is ten yards by ten yards and you’re telling me this great power cannot restore electricity to Iraq?

Now, whatever the problems that the Americans are facing, and I believe them to be genuine, nevertheless as far as the Iraqis are concerned that simply fuels the kind of theories about the Americans not wanting to do it, so that they can stay longer, that they are actually punishing them for not cooperating any more, and all these kind of theories, so it is absolutely essential, as Secretary Wolfowitz has himself admitted that we really need to get these basic services going in terms of electricity, in terms of water, in terms of employment, all of these things have to be done and have to be done very quickly before we actually lose a lot of this initial good will that we had earlier.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you, on that note, Professor Dawisha, Murhaf Jouejati, and Hisham Melhem, thank you all three.