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The Poor, Dear Protector of Saddam Hussein

Consider the following description, plucked from today’s New York Times:

A gaunt, worn-looking 52-year-old with warm brown eyes and an apologetic manner, he is one of the many people whose fortunes have been utterly transformed by the American invasion.

Just who do you suppose that poor contrite fellow is? Humble proprietor of a once-thriving Baghdad fruit stand? A village school teacher whose one-room institution was blown to bits? Close: he’s Mudher al-Kharbit, an old business chum and protector of Saddam Hussein!

In today’s Times, Robert F. Worth lavishes this Saddam crony with the kind of unchecked deference usually reserved for Barack Obama. Al-Kharbit is now in jail in Beirut, but before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 he was one of the richest men in Iraq. He benefited from his relationship with Saddam and made a fortune in oil and construction. After the invasion he took Saddam in, actually housing the dictator in one part of his compound while coalition forces bombed another, because, as the Times simply shrugs, “tribal hospitality required it.”

You see, we are not to bear ill will toward al-Kharbit: in the run up to the war he had a few meetings with the CIA, and if the Times and one unnamed CIA official “who spent time in Iraq” are to be believed, he was the unheralded “early backbone of U.S. policy on tribes.” It is implies that al-Kharbit was the theoretical mastermind of the Sunni Awakening. The headline of the Times story is “Advice of Iraqi, Now in Beirut Cell, Finally Heeded.”

But Mr. al-Kharbit’s policy on tribes is to extend “tribal hospitality” to even the most despicable criminal co-member of one’s sect, as he did in the case of Saddam Hussein. Is this not the exact opposite of the policy the U.S. is enforcing amongst tribes in Iraq today? The Sunni Awakening and various efforts among the Shiites are geared towards getting Iraqis to look past sectarian affiliation and towards statehood. The Sunni Awakening is Sunnis turning on Sunnis; last week’s Basra battle was, in some sense, Shiite on Shiite. Only if members of both sects turn on the problem elements within each group can stability be achieved.

How does that square with this, below?

Mr. Kharbit is quick to point out that his family was obligated by Arab tradition to shelter Mr. Hussein, and that the gesture was not a show of support. He is keenly aware of the dictator’s cruelties, he said, having spent years in hiding in the mid-1990s when Mr. Hussein suspected him of backing an insurrection.

It’s no wonder the CIA missed this glaring contradiction. They hadn’t a thing to do with a single successful aspect of the war. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the New York Times is willing to credit American military policy with success once they’ve linked it to someone as despicable as this old Saddam stooge. And, just for a second, consider what the Times headlines would be if the U.S. was currently working with the man who housed Saddam after the invasion.

The Times tries to make the case for Mudher al-Kharbit’s freedom. They’d spend their time more wisely covering the ways in which Iraqis are creating a nation free of the “tribal hospitality” that kept them imprisoned for decades.



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