I think the Iraqis can be deemed to have botched Saddam’s execution only if we continue to indulge the fantasy that the popular elections the Iraqis have held signal the adoption of a modicum of Western democratic culture. When we do this, we are engaged in wishful thinking and the projection of our values.
By this, I don’t mean to denigrate or provoke a debate over the democracy project. I think even if you are an enthusiast of democracy-building, it would have been utterly unrealistic — after such a short time and in the midst of vicious sectarian strife — to have expected much better than what happened when the Shiites Saddam had brutalized for a quarter-century finally had him under their total control for the stated purpose of putting him to death.
If you accept, as I do, that the popular elections were not a cultural shift but simply the most efficient means by which the overwhelming majority bloc, the Shiites, were able to assume power; and if you take into account that these Shiites — led primarily by Dawa and SCIRI — are Islamic fundamentalists who are neither particularly interested in Western notions of due process nor fastidious about the manner in which their enemies die; then Saddam’s execution played to type — maybe even better than type. Sadr, moreover, is crucial to Maliki’s grip on power. If Maliki is unwilling to rein in the Sadr militias that are largely responsible for putting this whole Iraqi enterprise on the brink, why should we be surprised by the lesser impropriety that Maliki failed to keep the Sadr militants out of Saddam’s execution chamber?
My feeling, for what it’s worth, is that Maliki doesn’t want to control Sadr because they agree a lot more than they disagree. You can say I’m wrong and argue the problem is that Maliki cannot control Sadr. But — can’t or won’t — the bottom line is the same.