Saddam Hussein has been captured. On Saturday December 13, US troops finally caught the man who had eluded them for months. His last hiding place was a miserable 8ft hole in the mud of a Tigris farm near the village of Ad-Dawr. Tired and disoriented, the former dictator of Iraq was found with arms and $750,000 in cash.
Like a prisoner of ancient Rome being dragged in chains through the streets as part of a triumph, Saddam was paraded before the television cameras, unkempt and with a scraggy beard. In an attempt to humiliate their fallen enemy, the new Romans showed pictures of him being examined by a doctor. In Baghdad, the occupation authorities showed, over and over again, these images.
The Americans could not conceal their euphoria. Paul Bremer, the imperial proconsul in charge of occupied Iraq opened the long anticipated press conference with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, we've got him."
"This is a great day in Iraq's history. For decades, hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man. For decades, this cruel man divided you against each other. For decades, he threatened to attack your neighbours. These days are gone for ever ... the tyrant is a prisoner," he crowed.
Tony Blair hurriedly joined in the chorus: "Saddam has gone from power, he won't be coming back. That the Iraqi people now know, and it is they who will decide his fate."
Marxists have no sympathy with the man who ruled Iraq with a mailed fist, who murdered Communists and trade unionists, who gassed Iranians and Kurds, who massacred Shias and killed political prisoners with excruciating torture. But the words of the British and American imperialists reek of hypocrisy.
For years this same man was one of the West's best friends in the Middle East. Successive British and American governments financed and armed him. The poison gas that he used against the Kurds was sold to him by American companies at a time when his crimes against the Kurdish people were well known. Among the long list of western leaders who visited Baghdad to fawn on Saddam there was one Donald Rumsfeld, sent to Baghdad by President Ronald Reagan, a great admirer of his.
Robert Fisk recalled the excellent relations that had existed in the past between Saddam Hussein and the West:
"This was the man who was the honour guest of the city of Paris when Mr Chirac was mayor and when the French could see the Jacobins in his bloody regime. This was the man who negotiated with the UN secretary generals Perez de Cuellar and Kofi Annan, who had chatted over coffee to none other than the now US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, who had met Ted Heath and Tony Benn and a host of European statesmen."
There was no talk then of the evil crimes of this bloody dictator!
The Americans are crowing now, but what was surprising was not the fact that they captured Saddam, but the fact that they took so long to accomplish this feat. Our memories are not so poor that we cannot remember the numerous occasions when the talking busts on CNN solemnly assured us that the US air force had killed Saddam with its tremendous technology and pin-point bombing. This turned out to be just lies and propaganda - just like all the rest of what the lie machines of Washington and London tell us about Iraq.
In response to the guerrilla onslaught, the invaders have intensified their military activity, bombing and shelling indiscriminately.
In the end it was not high technology but the very old fashioned method of bribery and corruption that was responsible for the arrest of Saddam. It took the American army with all its resources eight months to capture the man they were so desperately hunting. It seems overwhelmingly probable that this was the result of the large sums of money that Washington has been offering to anyone who was ready to betray him.
Given the rotten and corrupt nature of the regime and its leading elite, this was not so difficult after all. More than one of the men who were previously unconditional supporters of Saddam while he held absolute power will now be offering their services to Messrs Bremer and Bush. These people have no principles but power and an acute nose for career openings.
If the Americans mean what they say, Saddam will be put on trial for war crimes in Iraq. They are preparing a show trial on a Nuremberg scale. The intended purpose is to shock and awe world opinion and the people of Iraq into acquiescing in America's criminal occupation of Iraq. Will they succeed?
Their aim will be to discredit Saddam and therefore provide some excuse for their rape of Iraq. It is clear that he offered no resistance, although he was armed. He may have been taken by surprise and had no time to react, or he may have been so demoralised that he had simply lost the will to fight. There was a kind of relief in his face. It is the relief of a criminal who is finally caught by the police. But Saddam is a very unpredictable man and he can still do the Americans a lot of damage, even when in chains.
There are a number of problems in the way of a big show trial, mainly the fact that the prisoner will presumably be allowed to speak. The Americans were obviously assuming that, once in their power, Saddam would simply break down and say whatever they dictated to him. "Talkative and co-operative," the Americans called him after his capture. But the next day they changed their tune and said he was not co-operating.
The effect of a public trial in Iraq - if it is ever held - can turn out to be an unpleasant surprise for the Americans. For it could mean that the role of the imperialists can be exposed before the whole world. Saddam Hussein could use such a trial to "spill the beans" on all his past dealings with the imperialists. It depends on Saddam Hussein, but if he decides to go down this road a public trial could backfire on the imperialists.
Blair and Straw have quickly added that they wish the trial to be held in Iraq "by the Iraqis". All this is completely hollow because if a trial is held in Iraq it won't be the Iraqi people who decide. They have no power to elect their own government. They have no say over what happens to the economy, so how can we believe that they will have the last word over the fate of Saddam Hussein. The US occupiers have a stranglehold over the police force, the justice system, etc. The Iraqi judges will simply obey the demands of the US imperialists.
What is involved here is not justice but vengeance of a most primitive kind. They want a trial in Iraq, and with this they try to fool world opinion. If the trial were held in some "international court" the US would have less say over the final outcome. If it is held inside Iraq they will be able to control the outcome. Further to that, in Iraq the death sentence can be applied, something which would be more difficult to justify outside Iraq. Thus it is a question of revenge. They want him executed but they don't want the odium to fall on themselves. They want to wash their hands of this decision, like Pontius Pilate who left it to the "masses" to decide. The hypocrisy of these people is revealed in the statement of the British Foreign Secretary Straw. He says that he is opposed ethically to the death sentence but, however, if the Iraqi courts decide to carry out such a sentence then he would accept it! Thus they would pretend that any such sentence would be the "will" of the "Iraqi people". Thus the whole thing is a farce.
The mood of the masses is contradictory. While many people will feel a sense of relief that the old dictator has gone forever, this will be mingled with a sullen resentment at the arrogance of the invaders. Robert Fisk reported the scenes on the streets of Baghdad when the news of Saddam's arrest was announced:
"I was amid the slums of Sadr City - once Saddam City - when a cascade of rifle fire swept the streets. I was sitting on the concrete floor of a Shia cleric who had been run down and killed by an American tank, amid Iraqis with no love for the Americans, and the gunfire grew louder. A boy walked from the room and ran back with news that Iraqi radio was announcing the capture of Saddam. And faces that had been dark with mourning - that had not smiled for a week - beamed with pleasure.
"The gunfire grew louder, until clusters of bullets swarmed into the air amid grenade bursts. In the main street, cars crashed into each other in the chaos. But this was momentary joy, not jubilation. There were no massive crowds on the boulevards of Baghdad, no street parties, no expressions of joy from the ordinary people of the capital city." (The Independent, December 15, our emphasis)
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US military commander in Iraq, described Saddam as talkative and cooperative. Other officials, however, shied away from suggesting he has provided any useful intelligence immediately right away after his capture. During Saddam's arrest, US troops discovered "descriptive written material of significant value," one US commander in Iraq told The Associated Press. But the nature of these "significant" discoveries has not been made public.
What is very significant, however, is what is not being said - for example on weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). US officials admitted that the question of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, which - let us remind ourselves - was the central reason given by Bush and Blair to justify the invasion of Iraq - was "of secondary concern".
The reason for such unexpected reticence is quite clear. After months of searching they have found no trace of such weapons, and they doubt whether Saddam will answer the many unresolved questions about Iraq's alleged efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or his government's ties to terrorism. These issues will be addressed down the road, perhaps when interrogators have established a rapport with Saddam, according to the officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Saddam's interrogators were initially focusing on the former Iraqi president's ties to the guerrilla war, pressing him for intelligence about impending attacks and the locations of resistance leaders. The interrogators' immediate hope is that Saddam will supply a wealth of knowledge on the insurgency against the US-led occupation force and its Iraqi allies, officials said. But this line of questioning merely exposes the stupidity of the American intelligence officers, generals and politicians. They try to put the blame on Saddam because they are not prepared to accept that the resistance they are encountering is a popular resistance against a hated foreign invader.
The assumption that the capture of Saddam Hussein will solve all the problems is a foolish one. To begin with, this bedraggled, pathetic man, living in a hole in the ground with three guns and a load of dollars was not leading the Iraqi insurgency against the Americans. Throughout this whole affair, US diplomacy and intelligence has been exposed as uniquely incompetent.
In the end a US official had to concede that the manner and circumstances of Saddam Hussein's arrest makes it unlikely he was directing resistance forces in Iraq. The US army found no communications equipment, maps or other evidence of a guerrilla command centre at Saddam's hiding place.
"Given the location and circumstances of his capture, it makes it clear that Saddam was not managing the insurgency, and that he had very little control or influence. That is significant and disturbing because it means the insurgents are not fighting for Saddam, they're fighting against the United States," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. US intelligence officials have previously said they believe Saddam was too concerned with survival and staying hidden to provide much more than symbolic leadership.
Far from making life easier for the occupying forces, the recent events can make it a lot worse. Before Saddam's capture, many Iraqis were saying that the one reason they would not join the resistance to US occupation was the fear that if the Americans withdrew Saddam would return to power. Now that fear has been taken away, the armed resistance will almost certainly grow, not diminish. The day after the capture saw three new bomb attacks against coalition forces. There is no reason to suppose this will cease.
Despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, the guerrilla war in Iraq will continue, with new bombings, killings and assassinations. The occupation forces are powerless to deal with this precisely because there is not one single operational centre, which they can eliminate by killing or capturing its leaders. They are faced with an enemy with as many heads as a hydra. No sooner have they cut off one than another two or three grow in its place.
The capture of Saddam Hussein may give Bush and Blair a temporary respite. It may give Bush the boost he needs to win the presidential elections, though even that is not quite clear. Many things can occur between now and the elections that can upset all Bush's calculations. But nothing fundamental has changed and none of the basic problems have been solved. The fighting will continue as before, or even get worse. There will be a constant stream of body bags returning to the USA and Britain. The bitterness of the conflict will produce atrocities and all kinds of horrors that will provide fertile ground for new acts of terrorism both inside and outside Iraq.
Let the imperialists enjoy their moment of triumph. It will not last for long. A new nightmare is about to begin, not only for the Iraqis but also for the people of Britain, the USA and the other countries that have got stuck in this bloody quagmire. Having sown the winds, imperialism will reap a whirlwind.