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The West created a monster. Now it's time to destroy him. As a good liberal, I personally vote for obliterating Saddam

By John Sweeney
Sunday 10 January 1999

Bombing Saddam back into the Stone Age is not the kind of view you would expect from anyone who works for a liberal newspaper. But for those of us who were on The Observer that terrible spring day in 1990 when the Iraqi regime hanged our colleague Farzad Bazoft this business with Saddam is not merely professional. It's personal.

The hanging of Farzad was terrible enough. But one can never forget, too, the front page headline in the Sun the day after - 'Hanged Man Was A Robber'- a story that evidently came from Number. 10.

In the days that followed, the Conservative government continued its policy of selling arms to Saddam and if that meant discounting Farzad's murder or Saddam's use of poison gas against the Kurds, then so be it. The Sun front page is a haunting reminder that Saddam is the West's monster. We created him, and turned a blind eye to his evil when it suited our own greed.

Come the Gulf War in 1991, bombing innocent Iraqis seemed the wrong thing to do. I was against it. Despite Farzad, despite poison gas, diplomacy appeared to be the solution. I remember the moment I changed my mind. It was the middle of the night and I was standing on a hillside in north-east Iraq, having just crossed the border from Iran.

A Swedish reporter and I had come across a mudslide made of people. They were Kurds, fleeing Saddam in the wake of their failed uprising, one called for by President Bush himself. There were two million of them.

In front of our eyes a child, its face green with putrefaction, lay dying. What was etched in my mind's eye was the fear. The Kurds' terror of Saddam was greater than anything I had ever seen before.

If you are tempted to believe that Western sanctions, not Saddam, are the cause of the country's agony, go to Iraq. Visit what used to be the wetlands of the south-east, drained by Saddam's engineers, destroying the way of life of the Marsh Arabs. See the holy places of the Shia majority, razed by Saddam's tanks. Visit Halabja, the Kurdish village which was wiped out when Saddam's army used poison gas, killing 5,000 people at a stroke.

Look at a photograph taken at the time: a Kurdish father cuddling his tot in his arm, the two of them frozen in death at the moment the gas penetrated their lungs. And that's just one tiny place. Saddam's men dropped 'seas of gas' across Kurdistan.

Saddam should be killed, first and formost, because he is evil.

Saddam should be killed, second, because the Iraqi people want his head. Some have tried to assassinate Saddam and his psychotic son, Uday. After a failed coup in 1996, relatives of their plotters got the bodies of their loved ones back, covered in bites. They had been eaten alive by savage dogs. The political wing of Abu Ghreib prison - where Farzad was hanged - is choked with 'ghosts', prisoners more dead than alive, packed in lightless cages until they expire.

It is impossible to visit Baghdad without sensing the terror of the Iraqi people. They fear 10 more years of Saddam far more than than they fear Western bombing raids. Of course, no one in Iraq will say that into the lens of a television camera. The Amn El Khas - the regime's Special Security Organisation - takes notice. They might lock your head in a special box and then roast your eyeballs with ultra-violet light. Or they might drop you in an acid bath. Saddam did that to a rival, once.

The Labour MP George Galloway and others would have you believe Iraqi children are dying because of sanctions. They point to the lack of medicines in Baghdad's hospitals. True, hundreds of Iraqi children have died. But there are plenty of medicines in the regime's special hospitals, which Western reporters cannot visit. They did elective open heart surgery in the Saddam Cardiac Clinic recently. And if the children are dying, why is Saddam building an eighth presidential palace? And when the children die, why can't their parents bury their loved ones in dignity at once, according to the Muslim tradition?

Because the regime likes to hoard up dead children, so it can lay on a mass funeral for Western TV. A friend of mine was shown an Iraqi morgue, banked up with corpses, waiting for the next showtime for stiffs.

Saddam should be killed, third, because he is dangerous. With one rocket and one poison gas bomb he could start a war with Israel, which is capable of retaliating with nuclear power. It is the fear of the numberless dead caused by a war between Saddam's Iraq and Netanyahu's Israel that led to the December air strikes.

The attack was not a 100 per cent failure. Had the Allies hit a bunker, killing dozens of children, then we would have seen and heard all about it. Because the missiles hit the headquarters of the Mukhabarat and the offices of the Amn El Khas, CNN was not shown bits of the ultra-violet box or the acid bath. And, yes, I believe that it is right - humanitarian - to bomb torturers and killers, if there is no better way of bringing them to book.

Saddam's grip on power is vicious and cruel, but it is not secure. The Iraqi National Congress - Saddam's most dangerous opposition - believes he could be overthrown in 10 days were the 'no-fly' zone to become a 'no-drive' zone, specifically for tanks. It would be a signal to rebel. The ground troops would be supplied by the Iraqi army, who hate the regime as much as the rest of Iraq. The Iraqi people would do the rest.

What is wrong with Western policy on Saddam is its lack of clarity. To wound, to cage, but not to kill the tyrant is a dangerous mistake. Life will only get better for ordinary Iraqis once the West finally stops dithering and commits to a clear, unambiguous policy of snuffing out Saddam. And when he falls the people of Iraq will say: 'What kept you? Why did it take you so long?'

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