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Time is running out for Saddam

Malik Shahnawaz Khar

This season the Iraqis are less stirred by the sighting of the Ramadan moon than the occasional sightings of Saddam Hussein. He was last seen in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk a few days back. Although that doesn’t mean that if he was last seen in Kirkuk, he will hide there indefinitely. Iraq is a small country, from Baghdad to the Iranian border, ‘Qaser-e-Shireen’ is just a one-hour drive, while from Baghdad to the Jordanian or the Syrian border is about a four hours drive. Unlike Iran which takes a couple of days to cross, Iraq is just a couple hours here and there.

Manoeuvrability dynamics plays an important part in the game of hide n seek, and unlike Osama, Saddam besides the visible paunch is at a disadvantage. The first one being that a lot of people don’t like him, including his own people. The second is the disadvantage of shuttling back and fourth in an urban terrain, where besides electricity and water there is an acute shortage of caves and dung hills to dive into. The third is that majority of the Iraqi population is not made up of barbaric warlords, emotionally charged with wayward inspiring tribal zeal; most of them are regular middle class people in search of falafels and hummus with no time or money to host a blood thirsty fugitive dictator. The last is the obvious and I’m afraid as far as Saddam is concerned will be the most fatal, Saddam seems to be geographically-out-of-luck: Iraq is not Pakistan’s neighbour. No matter what he did to his own people or neighbouring countries, if Pakistan was bordering Iraq today, many of us would have readily given him shelter, just for cheap thrills, to add a new face to our cocooned social lives.

In fact I in the tradition of my ancestors would have offered him asylum in my village in Southern Punjab. I would never offer it to brother Osama, because he is not my type, too religious, plus sectarianism is already a problem in Southern Punjab.

Nobody would have even noticed; people in Southern Punjab are already immune and desensitised to seeing Arabs in cavalcade of SUV’s with million rupee hunting hawks in their leather upholstered arms, prancing around in search of the remaining Houbra Bustards.

September and October being the season for quail hunting; I would have arranged gala shoots for Saddam, feasted on the finest treats that the season and black market would have to offer and would have assiduously heard his views on politics, history, women and copied all his home-grown Dale Carnegie style guidelines on how to crush your enemies. Oh! I can just imagine it would have been such male-bonding fun, sitting around the log fire, smoking cigars, ‘both’ of us talking about past glory.

After the duck season in December and after attending a fancy dress ticketed event for New Year’s where I would have taken Saddam as his own double; depending on how uninteresting and financially burdensome Saddam would be getting, I would have seriously contemplated on giving him away and earning a fast buck, and you never know, the American’s might have even short listed me on their list of future Karzais for Pakistan. I know it sounds banal but there are limits to Feudal hospitality, once the agriculture season begins, all money is reinvested back in the land and besides having enough money to maintain a social facade, an agriculturist is living under debt, waiting for money to roll in from the next season. But all said and done it would have been a memorable experience and come to think of it, besides Saddam, I am also now beginning to feel upset at the predestined geographical cock-up as to why Iraq is not Pakistan’s neighbour?

I met a former foreign office wallah at a dinner the other day, who before the first Gulf War had accompanied Benazir Bhutto during her first tenure as Prime Minister to Iraq. The meeting with Saddam Hussein gives an interesting perspective on the man’s character. Benazir had taken her entire entourage of future NAB celebrities to meet Saddam; her cavalcade of cars was stopped by a single guard posted outside the palace, apparently the palace seemed to have had only one guard. First the guard questioned the Pak Embassy escorts as to what the hell they were doing there as the Pakistani PM was not on their list of visitors of the day, then he left the entourage all stationed outside and went inside the guardroom to make a few phone calls. He returned forty minutes later while every one was waiting in the car and went around each car with a metal detector machine. After that the same guard took them in while leaving the gates completely unguarded. The palace seemed completely deserted as the guard led the entourage into an opulently furnished meeting room.

After another forty minutes when the door opened and everyone suspecting it to be Saddam got up but were disappointed to see the same jack of all trades guard bringing in the refreshments. Saddam finally made a grand entrance after making the posse wait for another forty minutes. Saddam’s entire nonchalant pizzazz besides highlighting the fact that he was too cool to rule, also shows that Land of the Pure was in his list of least cared for countries.

Although even then in Pakistan the general opinion towards Saddam like a Bloody Mary remains mixed, as the argument goes if Saddam was or is a rogue, America is considered by the majority of the world a bigger rogue, so in case Saddam is caught, the treatment meted out to him will have historical repercussions. Sane voices on the issue are coming out of Iraq; Mr Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main groups controlling the Kurdish north of the country, opposes the death penalty for anyone found guilty of war crimes because as a lawyer he signed the global declaration against capital punishment. Mr Talabani says that in case Saddam is caught, he should be handed over to the Iraqi interior ministry and tried in a local Iraqi court for the crimes he committed against the Iraqi people; fair enough.

I can’t imagine a CNN or a Fox news channel without a Saddam or a Osama; I mean who’s going to watch decaf TV? God forbid if anything happens to brother Osama or Saddam, people are going to suffer from headline-news-withdrawals; but I guess one shouldn’t loose hope; the world can always pine their hopes on the US to create another monster to replace Saddam Hussein, to assuage our news addiction and to refuel its war geared economy.

The writer is a freelance contributor


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