By Yilma bekele
Two of my favorite characters were in the news last week. I do not think they know each other. I am sure of that. But they were both in the news. One was pleading for his life in jail somewhere in the Iraqi desert. His African counterpart was duplicating his past deeds and misdeeds. You know sooner or later he is going to find himself in the same predicament as the Iraqi prisoner. Some of us do not learn from history. Some people think they think they are an exception. ‘That won’t happen to me’ syndrome. Anyway I was surprised to read the small headline in the second page way down at the bottom, ‘Tariq Aziz goes on trial in Baghdad.’ Good old Tariq is still around. I had completely forgotten him.
Let me refresh your memory. His Excellency Tariq Aziz was the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. For some reason he is always the Deputy. We have no idea who the Prime Minister was. Tariq Aziz was an advisor to Saddam Hussein, and the ‘voice of Iraq’ to the outside world. Saddam was not much of an English speaking urbane and savvy leader. He did not care for the foreign press.
Saddam was a Sunni Muslim from the central part of Iraq. His father left before he was born. His stepfather was a brutal person and Saddam left home and was raised by his uncle. He drooped out of Law School and joined the Iraqi Ba’ath Party. In 1959, with the backing of the CIA and US intelligence he took part in an attempt to assassinate the head of state General Qassim. The coup failed. Saddam’s next attempt in 1968 was a success and he was appointed Deputy President and Deputy Chairman of the party’s ‘Revolutionary Command Council.’ He consolidated his power and became President of Iraq in 1979.
Saddam and Tariq Aziz met in the 50’s as activists in the Ba’ath Party. When Saddam assumed the presidency, Tariq Aziz became Information Minister. The madman and his sidekick were inseparable. One was prone to moments of irrational action while the other will dutifully try to explain the logic of the madness.
In June of 1972 Iraq nationalized all the assets of the western oil companies. (http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/oil/5873nation.htm) The Oil crisis took place in 1973. The price of oil had a dramatic increase. Iraqi economy was booming. Education, health and welfare showed a marked difference and Iraq was becoming the envy of the Arab world. Politically, Iraq was weaning itself from the ‘iron fist’ of the West and forging closer ties to the ‘Soviet bloc’. Iraq became a member of the ‘non aligned bloc’ of countries.
It was under these circumstances our friend Saddam assumed the presidency. The most logical and rational policy would have been ‘steady as she goes’. Build up the education system and the infra structure of the country and lay a solid foundation for future growth. Unfortunately matters took a wrong turn.
Saddam of Tikrit village was not born to lead positively. The aphrodisiac of power went to his head. He believed his own press and the sycophants around him. He was viewed as the most intelligent Iraqi alive. The year he became president was the year the Shah was overthrown in Iran. Iran was in turmoil. Saddam thought he saw an opportunity to control the Gulf. He invaded Iran. Bad mistake. Iran fought back with everything it got. The war went on for eight years. Iraq lost miserably. It was stuck with $75 billion debt with its economy in ruins.
Saddam was in debt to western banks and rich Arab monarchy’s. The price of oil was dropping and his economy was in trouble. His response was to invade Kuwait. He figured he can control the oil fields and decrease production at the same time forgive himself of his debt to Kuwait.
This became his undoing. The west helped him to come to power. They encouraged him with his war against Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic power. He was doing their dirty job. They turned a blind eye when he used poison gas against both Iran and his own Kurdish minority. They forgave his human right abuse so long as he did not join the Soviet camp.
Control of the vast Kuwaiti oil field was a no no. Friend Saddam became public enemy number one. All his past transgressions were brought up. There was no lack of evidence. All those massacres, tortures and corruption came back to bite him. He was no longer the ‘enlightened’ leader. No more the ‘bulwark’ against communism. Just a two bit dictator made into playing cards ‘wanted dead or alive’ poster boy.
So we come back to Tariq Aziz. Since the Ba’athist days he stuck with Saddam. First he was the “Information Minister’ then Deputy Prime Minister. He gave interviews and tried to make sense of all the irrational and bizarre acts of Saddam. He had the toughest job in the world. In one of his interviews he said ‘Saddam Hussein is my friend and my leader. But I have to be honest in my description of this man. Saddam Hussein is really a special leader. He cares about everything concerning the life of the people, and the development of the country. He gets interested in any minute detail when it concerns the fate of the country.’
Today Tariq Aziz is a jail in a US run prison camp somewhere in the Iraqi desert. The evidence against him is his signature on a paper ordering the execution of Iraqi citizens found guilty by Saddam’s court. As we all know Saddam was hanged unceremoniously. Aziz is waiting his turn.
What brought all this was an interview with special advisor to the PM of Ethiopia Ato Bereket Semeon. When asked about the PM running for the fourth time he is quoted to have said ‘I think that is the right signal that he can give. He is a loyal soldier and leader of the party who is exemplary in everything. It is for the EPRDF to decide on each one of our fates because we are soldiers of the party. I do not think that we, as individuals, can decide where we work; the culture of the EPRDF is such that any member takes his assignment whether it is to his liking or not and delivers on his task. That has been the case in the past and it will remain so in the future. The party does not believe that the Prime Minister has finished his job. None of us believes that; he has a lot to do and he is capable of doing a lot of things. The party knows its strategic interests and we will adhere to them.’
Well said Ato Bereket, but this proximity to the PM might pay negative dividends in the long run. The once mighty have this tendency to fall from grace with changing of the priorities of the ferenji masters. What is considered a friend is described as a fiend tomorrow. The fernjis have this nasty habit of freezing all accounts and investments, denying of residency permits and even hauling their former allies in front of the International Tribunal in The Hague. No one is immune. Aziz used to wine and dine with President Ronald Regan, Cyrece Vance, US Secretary of State, the Pope and other notables. Today he is dining in a small cell using aluminum plates and plastic forks. Watch and learn.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com