Was It Worth It?

Yesterday's execution of Saddam Hussein raises the question: "Was it worth it?"

If daily life in Iraq is the criterion by which this question is answered, the execution of Saddam has had no impact. On average, 60 people a day lose their life in Iraq, and yesterday was no exception. There are those who will draw a link between the execution and acts of violence in the coming days, but it will not be a very convincing argument, just as it has been difficult to explain the violence since Saddam's fall as being related to the tyrant himself in any way.

The fall of Saddam's regime in 2003 did not create any natural alternative, or even any option that had legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of Iraqis. The simplistic view that guided the American administration - that the Shi'ites and Kurds would support the American effort and the Sunnis would be crushed - failed. What Saddam seemed to know, the coalition forces could not see: Shi'ites, like Sunnis, are not all the same, while the Kurds are a breed apart. Each ethnic group is divided by different religious leaders, clan interests and tribal leaders.

As a result, their shared hatred for Saddam - genuine hate on which the coalition forces depended - was transformed into a sectarian conflict. Dozens of groups, some with links to Al-Qaida, others to Shi'ite or Sunni tribes, as well as dozens of criminal gangs, took the place of Saddam's iron fist. With its cruelty, Saddam's regime created the semblance of a unified state and national sentiment. It imposed a shared culture from the top, which was secular and based on Iraq's ancient history. This state was viewed by the West, until the Gulf War in 1991, as a defensive barrier against Iran.

The result is that even the current coalition that comprises the elected Iraqi government is unable to manage the state - and it is certainly incapable of establishing a unified force, under one leadership, that is capable of suppressing the violence. Every ministry has a small army; each local leader has an armed unit and an independent arsenal; and the police forces are infiltrated by terrorists. Thus even the sense of Arab or Islamic unity that characterized Iraq has broken down, to the point that its own new constitution questions its Arab character, since the Kurds are not Arabs, and its Islamic identity is causing divisive arguments.

The U.S. finds itself caught between the various domestic and regional interests at play, lacking any clear direction other than a single principle: that leaving Iraq would cause the state's disintegration. Lacking a political program, the American administration is sending another 20,000 soldiers to Iraq. Unlike other states, the superpower cannot allow itself to be defeated in Iraq. Its deterrent power, which underlies its ability to influence the countries of the region, has already been seriously undermined. Its political - not military - ability to embark on another war, for example against Iran, is questionable.

There still remains the question of the symbolism in Saddam's execution. The Middle East has countless examples of regimes overthrown on the promise of a better life. In most cases, the new regimes consisted of locals who presented themselves as patriots, rising up to do away with corrupt regimes linked to the West. That is how Saddam presented himself. The new Iraqi government, on the other hand, is viewed as an American pawn. As such, Saddam may come to be remembered as an authentic Iraqi leader - and thus his account with Bush would be posthumously settled in his favor.