Thursday, December 18, 2003

I am not sure, but whether Saddam is tried by an all-Iraqi war crimes tribunal may be yet another divide among the many issues that seem to split the Sunni and Shia in Iraq.

While many of the Shia I’ve interviewed want Saddam to be tried and executed, Ala Hussein, 41, a Sunni who runs a small grocery store from his garage now makes a distinction because Saddam was captured by the Americans.

“If the Iraqis capture him, the situation is different. We can consider him a criminal and punish him,” Hussein said, as neighbors stopped by for candy, milk and chips during yet another blackout and counted out their dinars in the darkness.

“He deserves the death penalty if the Iraqis defeated him in a revolution.”

But now Saddam is a prisoner of war, captured by the bully in a mismatched fight between a great nation and a third world country, Hussein said.

“The trial should be done in an international court in the Hague because he is a prisoner of war and he was the leader of an Army.”

Hussein thinks a trial by an all-Iraqi war crimes tribunal would be less fair.

He says he wanted the Americans to invade because Saddam was a despotic ruler and the conditions in Iraq were terrible. He was expecting real democracy, quickly.

“But what happened next was there is a problem of sectarianism in Iraqi society and the Americans began dividing Iraq according to ideology,” Hussein said.

These differences are hundreds of years old, but according to Hussein, they have been exaggerated by the coalition forces, who have set up a Governing Council dominated by Shia. The Sunnis on the handpicked council have no real following.

The council set up a war crimes tribunal this month and Shia members of the council have said Saddam could face the death penalty.

“There is a great deal of Sunni and Shia differences in Iraq,” said Dr. Mohammed al Dahri, 33, a urologist from Haditha in al-Anbar province, a moderate Sunni. “Sunni don’t necessarily like Saddam but they prefer him to a Shia leader. They don’t say it frankly.”

People from al Anbar province, which includes Falluja and Ramadi and the largely anti-American Sunni Triangle, did not benefit under Saddam as much as the Tikritis, al Dahri said.

“I don’t know why people from Adhimiya and al Anbar go out into the street and shout his name. Except they don’t like the Americans and they don’t want a Shia leader.”

Optimists here say the Americans are finally beginning to pay more attention to the Sunnis.

Pessimists would argue it’s too late.