Usually the victors write the history books, but in the case of Saddam Hussein’s execution, his is recorded by video footage. The moving picture camera is the whirring scribe of our time – a mechanical mediator that makes digital media, which can be disseminated through television and the Internet. In the 21st century, history – and, indeed, all media – is controlled by those who yell, “Cut!”
But in today’s Iraq, no single man yells, “Cut.” Back in the day, Saddam had an iron fist over not only the internal and external security of his regime and state, but also over the red button on the side of the camera. Things are different today.
There are two separate videos of Saddam’s execution circulating on the Internet. One is the video circulated among the Western media outlets. It runs around one minute and 18 seconds long. Out of good taste or perhaps some other reason, the video cuts right after the noose is placed around Saddam’s neck and tightened.
A second video, recorded on a cell phone’s handy-dandy camera-phone feature, makes no such cut and runs 2:36. Thank you, Verizon, and thank you, Dad for paying the bill when I went over my minutes. As the notorious cell phone video continues, it becomes clear why the non-bootlegged copy was edited. After the noose is tightened, a group of guards yell at Saddam, “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”
Saddam asks jeeringly, “Muqtada?” He then laughs a hollow “Fuck, I’m about to die at the hands of these stupid motherfuckers” laugh. A shouting match ensues.
“Muqtada” is a reference to Muqtada al-Sadr – an Iraqi militant. The Iraqi government did not kill Saddam because there really is no Iraqi government. Saddam was killed by yet another faction.
Later, a guard yells at Saddam, “You have destroyed us! You have killed us! You have made us live in destitution!”
To which Saddam replies, “I have saved you from destitution and misery, and destroyed your enemies – the Persians and Americans.”
Curses are exchanged and Saddam breaks into a creed of faith. The trapdoor is opened mid-sentence and Saddam falls. The end. Or is it? As Marcellus Wallace says, “I ain’t through with you by damn sight!” We are still in the shadow, or as the British say, in the Deathly Hallows, of a man who controlled his country by force – but at least he controlled it. The legacy of Saddam ain’t through. Zed may be dead, but his old chopper is cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Iraq, as many Americans are learning, is a difficult area of the world. It is full of ethnic and idealistic divisions and surrounded by powerful enemies and revolutionaries. Iran and Syria would love a piece of the pie. Saudis to the south have a vested interest, as well. What would happen if their mortal enemy Iran were to gain a solid and gigantic foothold of land directly to the north of them?
Without Saddam’s iron fist – without his deadly fist – and without his genocidal chemical weapons supplied by the US government’s fist, the Middle East is like TNT immersed in gasoline. Additionally, some Americans would love to take a smoke break from the whole deal. Boom.
Now that Saddam is dead, there is no one clearly in charge of the region – and the two execution videos prove this. The government has no control. The government of Iraq is made up of different factions of politicians allied with various militias that fight each other every day.
Saddam will have a two-fold legacy: One as a cruel ruler by force and murder, and the other as a statesman who controlled rival factions and held his enemies at bay to the best of his ability. As far as we know, he may have been the very last leader of an Iraqi nation. In the meantime, the jury is still out on Iraq, and until next week, this jury is hung.