Iraqi Trial Will Not Address All the Crimes

December 24, 2003

Iraqi Trial Will Not Address All the Crimes

Saddam Hussein's trial must address not only his internal crimes, but also those committed against his neighbors.

Saddam Hussein's trial must address not only his internal crimes, but also those committed against his neighbors. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein killed and gassed many more Iranians than he did Iraqis during his tenure as a Middle Eastern despot. Failure to charge Saddam with international war crimes and to expose the support of foreign powers for his regime would deny closure to millions in Kuwait and Iran. After all, Iran will be on Iraq's eastern border long after the United States has gone home. Iraq must come to terms with Saddam's aggression toward its largest neighbor if it is to emerge from the past thirty-five years of darkness. The Bush Administration will be making an irreversible mistake to leave Saddam's trial in Iraqi hands

Saddam Hussein, seeing an opportunity to take advantage of the disarray in Iran in order to abrogate a 1975 treaty confirming the middle of the waterway between Iran and Iraq as the border and to possibly grab some Iranian territory to boot, invaded Iran in 1980. The U.S., outraged by Iran's egregious taking of U.S. hostages, initially looked the other way, thereby encouraging Saddam Hussein in his brutal adventure. The major powers, suspicious of the revolutionary government in Teheran, subsequently supported Saddam in every way imaginable. Although Saddam claimed that Iran had initially attacked Iraq, no serious human being could question the fact that Iraq was the aggressor. In December 1991, the Secretary-General's finding, based on the report of the UN committee established in 1987 to look into the origins of the war, was clear: "Accordingly the outstanding event under the violations referred to in paragraph 5 above is the attack of 22 September 1980 against Iran, which cannot be justified under the Charter of the United Nations, any recognized rules and principles of international law or any principles of international morality and entails the responsibility for the conflict." It is now time for Iraq, the Europeans and the United States to face up to Iraq's aggression against Iran. While the West is encouraging Iraq to come to terms with its past, it is denying Iran's and Kuwait's right to justice, and it is covering up its own misdeeds.

It is estimated that well over 500,000 Iranians died and more than 1 million were wounded during Iraq's invasion of Iran. Saddam began his use of chemical and biological weapons on the citizens of Iran in 1983, five years before using them on his own Kurdish population. Iran's death toll from chemical weapons alone is estimated at over 100,000; thousands are permanently scarred; today, over 3,000 Iranians alone must be hooked up to oxygen tanks to survive.  Every Iranian family suffered a loss. Yet Western politicians and press downplay this tragedy and only mention the gassing of 5,000 Iraqi Kurds. And if the human loss was not bad enough, the manner in which Saddam Hussein brutalized the Iranian people was truly outrageous.  In 1984, the Iraqis laid a network of thick electrical cables in the Majnoon Marshes; they would fire enough artillery rounds to get Iranians to leave their boats, and when they did, the Iraqis would switch on the electricity, killing hundreds of Iranians at a time. But the atrocities did not end there. The Iraqis would then gather the bodies, placing corpses five across and five high; they would sprinkle them with lime, cover this mixture with about 12 inches of sand and, voilà, an Iraqi road was built!

The international community must not let its distaste for the regime in Teheran get in the way of justice. There is now a rare opportunity to account for Saddam Hussein's mistreatment of Iranians and Kuwaitis and to create a more conducive environment for regional peace and prosperity. Iraqi steps toward reconciliation with Iran will be facilitated if the West, especially the United States, openly acknowledges and comes to terms with its past support of the dictator, Saddam Hussein. Saddam did not invent chemical and biological weapons. Germany, France, the UK and, yes, the U.S. knowingly supplied him with the illegal chemical and biological weapons to defeat Iran, the U.S. supplied him with decisive battlefield intelligence and supported him in a multitude of other ways. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait knowingly financed Saddam's acts of genocide and his crimes against humanity. The world can only learn from the past if it faces up to its mistakes.

An Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal will be too concerned with revenge against Saddam Hussein to deal adequately with Iraq's war crimes against Kuwait and Iran. Saddam Hussein's trial should be put in the hands of an international tribunal, even if it means sparing Saddam Hussein the death penalty. President Bush has stated that "the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to million." But there must also be justice for more than the one-and-a-half million Iranians Saddam Hussein killed or wounded. The world must avoid the danger of allowing its disagreements with the regime in Teheran to thwart its quest for justice.


Hossein Askari is the Iran Professor of International Business and Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University.