The Queen of Spades in Vince Brooks’s Doomsday Deck was caught yesterday. Former Iraqi prime minister and commander of the central Euphrates region Mohammed Hamza al-Zubaydi was captured by Iraqi National Congress forces and turned over to U.S. troops. He was number eighteen of the original 55 and the first face card–other than the late Chemical Ali–to be caught or killed.
Mohammed al-Zubaydi is the star of an old film. In the 1991 Shiite uprising–when we left them twisting in the wind after throwing Saddam out of Kuwait– he was videotaped torturing and shooting prisoners. Within days, there will be demands at the U.N. and in the EU to turn him over to the International Criminal Court, which proclaims itself the jurisdictional authority over all war crimes. But that’s a simply terrible idea. The ICC is a political animal, and President Bush has already told the world that we will not allow them to try any U.S. soldier or official for any alleged crime. This principled stance should not be muddied by turning anyone else over to them. But there is a more important reason to not try him there.
There are only two ways to deal with him. We could form a new international war crimes tribunal, like the one that tried the Nazis in Nuremberg, and deal with him ourselves. Or we can let the new Iraqi government, still aborning, to try him in a domestic court. Because his crimes are against Iraqis, and because it is essential that the Iraqis prove they are capable of handling these cases themselves in a fair and just manner. We should hold al-Zubaydi until they are ready to conduct the trial, and then hand him over to the new civilian authority. A well-conducted public trial of al-Zubaydi will accomplish much to show the brutality of Saddam’s regime, as well as cementing the reputation of the new government. In the meantime, we should interrogate him intensely, as he may know many of Saddam’s secrets.
Establishing the new government is still the subject of intense fighting. Not between the coalition and the Iraqis, but between the Defense and State departments, with the CIA holding State’s coat. That there is no provisional government may be the single biggest mistake we are making. The longer we wait to turn the control of Iraq over to a new federalized government–even one that is imperfect–the longer we allow those who don’t want us to succeed to meddle in it. It has already taken too long. State and CIA believe they’re so smart they can pick and choose among the rival factions, and will go to almost any lengths to keep INC president Ahmad Chalabi out of the new government. They aren’t that smart, and Iraqi factions aren’t that malleable.
Chalabi–by no means perfect–appears to have one talent no one else has: to unify the rival groups, and hold them together until an election can be held. He is a strong ally of the United States, and we risk alienating both him and the whole INC if we don’t allow him some role. Iraq is by no means a stable ally. We need the help of everyone who can make it so. Iraq’s neighbors–especially Saudi Arabia–don’t like Chalabi, and the Saudis’ pals in State are fighting to keep him out. It would be better for our security to drive those so faithful to the Saudis out of the State Department.
More than a million Shiites were celebrating their pilgrimage to Karbala yesterday. Karbala is one of the holiest sites to the Shia. There, in the 7th-century Hussein–grandson of Prophet Muhammad and one of the sect’s most revered saints–was martyred. CENTCOM reports that the pilgrimage has gone on without significant incidents. Freedom must feel good to them.
There is other good news. The MEK–Mujahidden el Khalk–are terrorists who have operated within Iraq and Afghanistan, and have direct connections to al-Queda. A substantial group of them have indicated that they will surrender to our forces in Iraq. Getting these guys out of the game will be no minor success. But we cannot allow them the status of POWs. They are terrorists, and must be treated accordingly. If Camp X-Ray in Cuba isn’t yet full, the MEK should be sent there.
There are still scattered groups who intend to fight. Near Mosul, an indeterminate number of the terrorists attacked U.S. troops in a hit-and-run raid. Fortunately, no Americans were reported to be hurt, but most of the attackers escaped. I have no direct report from Ollie North, but the element of the Third I.D. he is with ran into another bunch, reportedly Iraqis, who decided to stand and fight, with the same results others have obtained. About fourteen of the Iraqis were killed, and no American casualties are reported.
But other casualties are being discovered. The bodies of two missing Brits were found in shallow graves outside Basra. They, like some Americans, were apparently murdered by Iraqi forces. The search for war criminals must, and does, continue.
Meanwhile, the ever-helpful Hans Blix is telling the press that America is guilty of dirty tricks to discredit U.N. inspectors and that we were building our case for military action on the basis of false intelligence reports. Blix–still angling for a return engagement in Iraq–can never be trusted to find anything, or ever report the truth. He is reporting to the U.N. today in closed session. The timing of this is not at all suspicious. France, Russia and Germany are blocking action to lift the sanctions on Iraqi oil exports in order to get their piece of the pie. It is time to give them another ultimatum, and let Iraqi oil reach the market with or without U.N. action to lift sanctions. The Security Council is not a serious place. We should treat it accordingly.
If the U.N. doesn’t act quickly to lift the sanctions on Iraq, we should indicate–in the strongest terms–that we no longer take it seriously. In our role as a permanent Security Council member, we should veto everything–yes, everything–it proposes until the Iraq sanctions are lifted. Permanent gridlock in the Security Council would be far preferable to what goes on there now.I have one other suggestion for the U.N., which I hesitate to write. Mr. John Negroponte is a serious man in an unserious place. If the U.N. continues to fail, Mr. Negroponte should be reassigned and replaced with someone more appropriate to the dignity of the U.N. Unfortunately, Groucho Marx is dead.