- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

The mutilation and gruesome display of four Americans in Fallujah, Iraq, last week raises a topic seldom openly discussed in the Middle East: the unusual kind of sadistic violence, historic in Iraq, reflecting the ethos of Iraqis when politically aroused.

What Iraqis in the street did to the Americans was copy what Saddam had been doing for years, by one form of torture or another, to the Iraqi people who accepted it as legitimate. In fact, Iraqi governance has for almost a half-century been based on the kind of violence that befell the American civilians. I will illustrate this anecdotally.

On a 1964 reporting tour of the Middle East, I entered Iraq. A year earlier, on Feb. 8, 1963, the military dictatorship of Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who had led the 1958 overthrow of the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy of King Feisal, was overthrown. Kassem was executed. His bloodied, uniformed corpse was sprawled over his office chair. Television cameras focused an entire day on the dead general as a still shot.

During my stay in Baghdad my wife and I were invited to an Egyptian Embassy party celebrating the country’s independence day, There we met a charming English-speaking Iraqi diplomat and his American wife. They insisted we accompany them as their guests to an open-air Baghdad nightclub where we were entertained by a magician and Western dance music.

The next morning, I dropped into the U.S. Embassy for the pro forma briefing before embarking on my own interviews, I mentioned to the embassy officer how generously the Iraqi diplomat, head of the Foreign Ministry’s protocol office, and his wife had entertained us. The embassy officer went to his office safe, twirled the knob, pulled out a folder, riffled through some 8x10 photos and tossed one at me with the question:

“Is that your protocol friend?”

It was, indeed, but in a rather frightening pose. After the overthrow July 14, 1958, of King Feisal, the king and his family and Prime Minister Nuri Pasha al-Said all were executed. But that wasn’t enough. Their bodies then were tied to automobile rear bumpers and driven, auto horns blaring, through the streets of Baghdad.

And after that grisly tour through Baghdad streets, the mutilated corpses were hanged from a stretched steel cable for all to see. The photograph the U.S. Embassy officer produced showed my Iraqi protocolist bare-chested in shorts, with an eye-popping grin, pointing his forefinger at the dangling mangled cadavers. And then the embassy officer showed me the same photograph reduced to the size of tourist postcards which were sent around the Arab world with a legend in Arabic describing the photo.

Later I talked to another embassy officer who noted that such events like the 1958 deposition of the monarchy, the assassination of Kassem, and the bloodbath that followed were typical of Iraqi politics and atypical of other Arab countries.

In fact, he said, it has been argued the Iraqis were not really Arab at all but descendants of another culture and history. In contrast to sanguinary Iraqi coup politics, after a coup in Syria, the founders of the Ba’ath Party, the Christian Michel Aflaq and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar, then president of Syria, were given plane tickets to Paris, where they had both studied at the Sorbonne, and were escorted to the Damascus Airport.

One American diplomat, steeped in Iraqi history suggested one might examine with profit ancient Assyrian sculpture at the Louvre. I did and was impressed with the sculpted wolves and their elongated snouts and sharp teeth, dozens of them, exuding an air of menace.

And, of course, there is the genocidal viciousness of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship which has no Mideast parallel even compared to the tyranny of Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria from 1971 until his death in June 2000. In fact, it is forgotten that Assad condemned Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and once even shipped troops to Saudi Arabia to discourage an Iraqi attack. And it should be noted Iraqi religious leaders condemned the mutilation of the Americans but not the killings, according to the New York Times.

But in the Middle East, no maxim has greater legitimacy than “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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