Friday, October 12, 2007

Just What Are We Doing In Iraq? The Case Of Sultan Hashem

Time reports on the story of Sultan Hashem. Hashem was Saddam Husseins last serving defense minister and has been tried, convicted and sentenced to death by the Iraqi courts. Thus far the particulars of the story are easy to relate, and not difficult to comprehend. So prepare to be confused as we delve into the particulars on the aborted execution of Sultan Hashem.

Hashem is in U.S. custody, and our forces refused to turn him over at the appointed time of his execution. Spokespeople for General David Petraeus have affirmed that Hashem will be turned over to the Iraqi's if an Iraqi court makes the request properly. Senior Iraqi officials are insistent that the proper channels have been followed and that the Americans are misinterpreting Iraqi law by claiming further approval is necessary. It is noteworthy that another rationale given by the United States for not handing over Hashem is the public disapproval of his death sentence by President Jalal Talibani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. Talabani is against the death penalty on principle in all cases.

Hashem is a Sunni who is well respected by many of the former military members who served under Saddam. There is a fear that if Hashem is executed it will inflame passions, and lead to further sectarian troubles.

Here is what I believe is the real crux of the issue from our military's position. Hashem is credited with assisting the United States by minimizing the resistance of the standing Iraqi army during the invasion. A former CIA agent told Time that handing Hashem over to be executed "would be a gross miscarriage of justice." The story further quotes other defense department personnel as saying that Hashem's actions during the invasion "saved American lives, and perhaps the lives of quite a few Iraqi troops as well".

Additionally consider the manner of Hashem's surrender to American forces.
If the U.S. military does in fact hand Hashem over for execution, the move would stand in jarring contrast to guarantees of safety and security given to the Iraqi personally by Petraeus when Hashem surrendered in 2003. Hashem was one of the very few top Iraqis to surrender himself voluntarily to the United States. Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, personally arranged his capitulation, guaranteeing his safety and medical treatment. "I officially request your surrender to me," Petraeus wrote in a personal letter to Hashem, noting his "reputation as a man of honor and integrity is known throughout this country."

Then Petraeus declared: "You have my word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody."
I suppose handing Hashem over to the Iraqi's so that they may kill him would not result in Hashem being harmed under Petraeus' care, but the distinction is more technical than real.

So I think there are some very valid concerns with handing this fellow over to be executed from the American military perspective. To briefly touch on those concerns, his execution may cause sectarian violence, he helped us when we invaded, and our commander promised him safety in return for his surrender.

Yet Hashem has been convicted of directing the notorious Anfal campaign. This was the campaign in northern Iraq in the late 80's in which the chemical weapons were used against the Kurds. That campaign included the notorious gas attack on the village of Halabjah.

Hashem appears to be a mass murderer, the very sort of monster the United States sent our forces into Iraq to rid the world of.

When I read this story I found myself, in a very esoteric moment, wondering what in the world are we actually doing over there? Sultan Hashem's situation is, for me, emblematic of the mess in which we find ourselves in Iraq: caught in a sectarian struggle, not knowing whose loyalties lie where, our honor being called into question and the reasons for our insertion into that situation long since forgotten, with death seeming to be the constant companion, past present and future, for the players in this tragedy.

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