Saddam is Dead
Saddam Hussein was executed a couple of days ago, and it is emerging that his execution was quite the uncivilised piece of barbarism. I'm not the type to sympathise with a brutal dictator (although then again, I have trouble sympathising with anybody), but in my opinion, if you're going to take a life, do so respectfully. (Although this brings up the question of whether it is possible to take a life respectfully.)
I'm not an opponent of the death penalty - I believe capital punishment has its uses, although I'm not a fan of the deterrent philosophy in sentencing. But this is not a commentary on the death penalty - it's a commentary aimed at overwrought rhetoric that seems to think Saddam's crimes can be minimised now that he is dead.
Mahathir has again claimed that Bush's war in Iraq has killed more people than Saddam ever did. The last time he did this, I rebutted him in Malaysiakini, noting:
Putting aside the cruel torture he and his sons inflicted on those they did not favour, Saddam engaged in genocide, gassing 5,000 Kurds in the late 1980s. In that same war (the Iran-Iraq War), which he had started, at least 1.7 million people died (although the most conservative estimates put the total deaths at one million).
In the recent invasion of Iraq, about 26,000 civilian casualties were documented. However, the Lancet estimates that as many as 194,000 Iraqis, including combatants, were killed. Pales in comparison with the Iran-Iraq War, doesn't it? Wait - there's a catch. In the sanctions enforced by the United Nations (not the United States alone), the highest estimate of Iraqi deaths caused is 1.2 million. (Some skeptics argue that the real number is closer to 350,000.) However, these numbers are suspect due to possible corruption on Saddam's part. In addition, the Oil For Food programme that began in 1996 did little to alleviate the problem, indicating possible leaks on either the part of Saddam, the UN or both.
In any case, let's look at the total numbers. Highest estimates for those dead from the 2003 invasion and the sanctions: 1.4 million. Highest estimate for Iraqis dead from the 2003 invasion: 194,000. Highest estimate for those dead from the Iran-Iraq War that Saddam initiated: 1.7 million. Unless it's the other way round, and we take the lowest estimate for the casualties of the Iran-Iraq War (one million dead), Mahathirís claim appears to be suspicious.
The present figure quoted by Mahathir is 650,000 Iraqis dead at the hands of "War Criminal Bush". Mahathir also mentions 500,000 dead Iraqi children, citing the earlier sanctions against Iraq as the cause. I have no quarrel with the latter assertion, although I still believe that Saddam-caused abuses in the Oil for Food programme contributed to Iraqi deaths. But still, the earlier figures for Saddam's Iran-Iraq War stand - 1.7 million deaths, and we haven't even counted the Kurds Saddam slaughtered, the deaths caused by his actions in the first Gulf War, or all those other abuses of justice that occurred under his regime in Iraq.
And mind you, this is only if we accept the Lancet's figure unquestioningly. The methodology of an earlier study made by the Lancet has been criticised for trying to sex up the figures. The same Lancet study quoted by Mahathir has also faced similar criticisms:
If the cause of all this death is "the war," does that mean that the coalition has killed nearly 700,000 Iraqis? Of course it means nothing of the sort. Indeed, if you look more closely, you will see that less than one-third of the surplus deaths are attributed, even by this study, to "Allied" military action. Grant if you wish that this figure is likely to be more exact, since at least the coalition fights in uniform and issues regular statistics. That leaves, according to the Lancet, a pile of corpses nearly half a million high. Here, the cause of death becomes suddenly less precisely identifiable. We are told that 24 percent of the violent deaths were caused by "other" actors, and 45 percent of them by "unknown" ones. If there is any method of distinguishing between the "other" and the "unknown," we are not told of it.
Make the assumption that some percentage of those killed by the coalition are the sort of people who have been blowing up mosques, beheading captives on video, detonating rush-hour car bombs, destroying pipelines, murdering aid workers, bombing the headquarters of the United Nations, and inciting ethnic and sectarian warfare. Make the allowance for the number of bystanders and innocents who lost their lives in the combat against these fanatics (one or two, alas, in the single case of the precision bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just to take one instance). But who is to say how many people were saved from being murdered by the fact that the murderers were killed first?
Tun, if you want to criticise the West for their lynching of Saddam, please don't twist the truth. Bush, the idiot that he is, almost certainly hasn't racked up a death toll close to Saddam's. And, like it or not, Saddam was an evil dictator. You can choose to contest his brutal execution - but don't contest the facts about his regime.
And with that, I bid you, and all my readers, my very fondest wishes for 2007. May this year be more bountiful and blessed than the last.