July 8, 2006


In Arabs' Eyes, the U.S. Is on Trial, Not Hussein: A Shiite with reason to hate the ex-leader is his defense lawyer because he defied America. (Megan K. Stack, July 8, 2006, LA Times)

Like most Arabs, Khalil, who is Lebanese, is no stranger to the hard reality of despotism: Her Iraqi cousins were put to death for rebelling against Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

But ever since the wintry afternoon she switched on Al Jazeera and caught sight of the bedraggled Hussein in U.S. custody, she has devoted herself to securing his release. Her work on his defense team has invited angry slurs from fellow Shiites, but Khalil views her work as an epic assignment on behalf of the pan-Arab "nation" — a cause Hussein espoused during his years in power. Khalil believes it eclipses religious divisions and the question of whether Hussein was a worthy leader.

"When I met [Hussein], he looked at me and smiled and said, 'These Americans think I am fighting to save my job as president, but I am fighting to defend my homeland,' " said Khalil, who is unabashedly enthusiastic about the Iraqi insurgency. "He never surrendered. He did not quit. If he'd quit, then the whole Arab nation would have been handed to America on a plate of gold."

Khalil's story illustrates an inherent irony in Hussein's war crimes trial, which is grinding through the first phase of closing arguments: The Americans pushed to get him into court, but it's America that has ended up standing trial in the eyes of the Arab public.

In ways both subtle and blunt, Hussein and his lawyers have repeatedly compared Iraq's fate under his heavy thumb to the blood-spattered security vacuum created by the U.S. invasion.

This debate — in essence, whether the invasion improved life for Iraqis — resonates loudly in the Arab world, where many people are concerned about how Hussein's fall has shifted the region's power structure. Iraq's Sunni-dominated neighbors are fearful of the emergence of the Shiite majority in Iraq and terrified of expanded Iranian influence. (The trial has included allegations that Iran tried to assassinate Hussein.)

Hussein blossomed into a cause celebre among Arab intelligentsia and legal experts.

The story highlights two things American leaders have misunderstood: (1) prisoners are weapons for our opponents; (2) the war is between us and the Shi'ites on the one hand and some portion of Sunni Arabs on the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 8, 2006 8:38 AM

"This debate in essence, whether the invasion improved life for Iraqis"
If that is the issue, then they have already lost. Only a minority of the minority Sunnis would answer in the negative.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 8, 2006 12:23 PM

There is not much you can do about mass psychosis.

Posted by: ic at July 8, 2006 2:13 PM