The Iraqi Insurgency, After Saddam The insurgency in Iraq was spearheaded by Saddam's supporters in 2003 and has grown since then. What does Saddam's execution on Saturday mean for the insurgents?
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The Iraqi Insurgency, After Saddam

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The Iraqi Insurgency, After Saddam

The Iraqi Insurgency, After Saddam

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The insurgency that has exploded across much of Iraq began as violent support for Saddam Hussein. Now more than three years later, Saddam has now been executed. I spoke with Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, to ask him what effect, if any, the execution will have on that insurgency.

Professor FOUAD AJAMI (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies): Well, I think there is something about the insurgency we have to acknowledge, and we have to give its perpetrators sufficient credit. They have surprised us at every turn. We have always thought this insurgency would go away. Every time we declared a big victory against the insurgency, it continued.

This insurgency feeds on itself. It has needed Saddam at times, but it's run independently of Saddam Hussein. The people who are fighting this new order in Iraq, the people who are fighting this new government, they really don't need to dwell on Saddam's fate that much. They will use it as a pretext. It's there for them if they need it. But fundamentally the insurgency feeds off the resentments of the Sunni Arabs, their sense of lost hegemony.

SEABROOK: So professor, are you saying that Saddam's death, his execution, doesn't mean very much to the insurgents?

Prof. AJAMI: Well, to begin with, to the extent that the insurgency relies on jihadists from the Arab world who come to Iraq to kill and be killed - young Saudis, young Tunisians, young Algerians, young Egyptians - these people really never had any use for Saddam Hussein. They are jihadists. They are really holy warriors. They are completely antagonistic to this new Iraq. They really have tremendous animus toward the Shia.

So that part of the insurgency, the part of the insurgency that sends suicide drivers and people willing to be killed in these operations, they really have no use for Saddam.

The other part, the Iraqi part of it, if you will, the one that originates from the Anbar Province, the one that is located in Baghdad as well, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, who are completely hostile to this new world of Iraq, well, sure, they see Saddam as part of their lost hegemony. They have some sense that, look, he was executed, he was executed on the first day of a holy ceremony. They'll have many, many reasons and many pretexts, but I honestly believe that the whole issue of Saddam had become a sideshow.

Saddam, remember, has been in prison. He'd been flushed out of a spider hole on December 13, 2003. We are now more than three years after that event, and the insurgency went on without him as he rotted in jail. It will go on after him as well.

SEABROOK: So somewhere in the last three-and-a-half, getting close to four years now, the insurgency changed its focus from Saddam to what?

Prof. AJAMI: You're right. It changed it's focus from Saddam Hussein. Once Saddam was flushed out of that spider hole, in a humiliating fashion as well, many of his followers saw him surrendering without putting up a fight, and the insurgency had to redefine itself and redefine itself time and again. And it did so.

I think the insurgency, above all, is driven by this sense of grievance on the part of the Sunni Arabs that the country is no longer theirs and that the oil resources of the country are either in Kirkurk and Kurdistan in the north or in Basra in the south.

And I've spent quite a bit of time in Iraq over the last three years, in and out of Iraq, and I've talked to many, many Sunni Arab leaders. Iraq once belonged to them. They ruled it. They have ruled it in one way or another since 1920. And we know something about power. It's precious. It grants dividends. It grants all kinds of psychological material, satisfaction.

And now the Sunni Arabs have to come to a recognition that they're a minority in Iraq, and many of them are absolutely unwilling even to accept that basic fact of their numbers in the country, that they are only 20 percent of the country.

So they see this American war as a great violation of their rights, as a great theft, if you will, of their territory, and they're fighting, and they will continue to fight, I think, until defeated.

SEABROOK: Do you expect that Saddam's execution will therefore increase violence, cause a surge in violence?

Prof. AJAMI: I think it's hard to say one way or the other. I think the insurgency should make us somehow humble in the predictions we make. We have not really been very good at all these predictions. Having said this, let me hazard one for you. There may be a spike in violence temporarily, in the sense that the insurgents will have to use this opportunity and they will have to answer what has happened.

But in the long run there are some signs among the Sunni Arabs that they're beginning to understand that they better (unintelligible) for peace, that this new order can go without them, that the Shia and the Kurds could in the end turn away from the Sunni Arabs. And all kinds of offers have been made to the Sunni Arabs communities; Confuciun guarantees, guarantees of every kind. They will have a share of the national income.

And if you take a look at the Iraqi government, the Sunni Arabs are represented in it in force. There is a Sunni Arab Vice President, Tariq Hashemi. There is a Sunni Arab deputy prime minister. So they're invested to some extent in this new order. The president of the country, Jalal Talabani - very shrewd and wise man - said in one moment about some of the Sunni Arab politicians, that they do politics in the daytime and terror at night.

This is the dilemma of the Sunni Arab leaders. They see this new Iraq. They have to take part in the building of this new Iraq but they're not quite willing to do it, not quite yet. But it's beginning to dawn on the Sunni Arabs that this may not be a war that they can win.

SEABROOK: So Professor Ajami, is the actual execution of Saddam Hussein therefore that important a moment in history? Or was in fact his influence on events in Iraq dead long ago?

Prof. AJAMI: I think it's symbolically important in the sense that they're many, many countless thousands, untold thousands of Iraqis who see Saddam Hussein as responsible for the loss of their sons, as responsible for the loss of their daughters, as responsible for the loss of their husbands and so on. There are all these grievances against the old order. And one way or another, on one day or another, he was going to pay for these crimes.

And to the extent that you want to tell people in the country that there is redemption in the courts, that you don't have to take the law into your hands, that you don't have to rely on vigilante squads, you don't have to rely on the Mahdi Army, that the law can actually do its work, I think to that extent it's a very positive development.

SEABROOK: Fouad Ajami is director of the Middle East studies program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Thank you sir, very much.

Prof. AJAMI: Thank you.

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