Iraq: The Silly President
Saddam will go to the gallows, but without my signature. I'm going to take a day of vacation, and the Vice Presidents will sign.
QALACHWALAN (Iraqi Kurdistan) — As a member of the Socialist International, Jalal Talabani signed the worldwide petition againt the death penalty. As President of Iraq, he faces the dilemma of signing the sentence of death by hanging for Saddam Hussein.
Q. President Talabani, what will you decide to do?
I am not going to sign. Not his death sentence or any other.
Q. Do you mean that Saddam does not have to fear for his life?
I said I would not sign, not that I'm opposed to the sentence.
Q. Excuse me?
I will take a day of vacation. The two Vice Presidents will sign in my place, if they choose to do so. This is what we've done for more than twelve capital offenses. (President Talabani has consented to an interview with Il Corriere della Sera in this military citadel in the mountains. He fought Saddam from here for decades. His Kurdish bodyguards, who protect Jalabani armed to the teeth in Baghdad, are superfluous here in Qalachwalan. A portrait of Talabani hangs in every office; the region has voted as solidly as granite for him. Here he can invite guests to dinner without a tank escort.)
Q. So you don't want to soil your hands by signing? Isn't that somewhat hypocritical?
(Talabani displays a disarming smile.) Are you joking or what? Do you know who we are talking about? A war criminal, a hated dicator, comparable only to Hitler. Your Mussolini was a pussycat by comparison. [Geez, ask any Ethiopian or Italian partigiano or communist, Mr. Talabani! What wilful ignorance--Nur].
Q. But you are a lawyer. How can you accept a trial in which the principal charges are embedded in the Preable of the Constitution? Saddam's death sentence is now in the DNA of the new Iraq.
Saddam isn't just anyone. We have tons of documents implicating him. He's not innocent. When 8,000 Kurds of the Barzani clan were murdered, Saddam went on TV, saying he had sent them to hell. He said that himself--a spontaneous public confession!
Q. So why are your wasting your time?
Even if you are caught in flagrante, you'll still get a trial. Even Saddam has that right. I once asked Saddam about the Kurds he gassed in Halabja. I'm sorry, he answered. If you ask him again, he'll blather something out defense of the nation or patriotic concerns. He'll tell you anything. The tribunal will decide his fate.
Q. The death sentence, then?
A very independent judge is conducting the trial. A Kurd from around here, but a member of a different political party. When someone tried to ask him a favor...he turned away, just like that! He's a man who can be counted upon to guarantee that justice is served. But it's a fact that Saddam is hated by the Iraqis. Even the Sunnis, if they were less afraid, would want him dead.
Q. Do you really believe that? What about the guerrillas?
I disagree. What are the guerrillas, or as one leftist extremist in Europe called them, the Resistance. I was once a guerrilla. I fought the dictator's army in the mountains. But neither I nor the Italian partigiani massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians. Those who are doing the killing today in Iraq, they're terrorists. Of course, well-equipped from abroad, but criminals nonetheless.
Q. Someone is assisting the insurgency? Who is that?
Radical Islamic groups. But also neighboring countries.
I never used that word.
Q. What about Iran? Is it true that it controls the Shi'ite south?
It is certain that Iranian intelligence agencies have deployed thousands of agents to Iraq. But who controls the South? That I don't know. Our Shi'a are different from the Iranians. First, they are Arab and not Persian. Iraqis don't like it when one of their women marries a Persian, even if he is Shi'ite. Second, the Shi'ite ideology is imbued with Arabism. They believe that government should be in the hands of the descendents of the Prophet. Arabs, not Persians! Third, al-Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf, is against a government run by clerics like that following the Khomeinist revolution. So, what would Iran expect to control?
Q. You are a leftist, yet Spanish PM Zapatero has abandoned you. And Prodi promises to do the same.
The trouble with the European left is that it is infected with anti-Americanism. I know d'Alema as a reasonable person. But if Prodi wants to abandon us, it's not important, thanks just the same.
Are the Italian troops in Nassiriya there to defend the interests of the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (Italian National Hydrocarbon Consortium)?
That's ridiculous. They are there to help us against a terrible dictator. And they're doing it effectively. I've seen only Russian, US, Turkish and Chinese oil companies around. Not one hint of an Italian oil presence.
In order to become President of Iraq, did you have to forget about Kurdish independence?
Irresponsible young people are asking that question. Very well. Let's ask that question. Tomorrow our neighbors will have no need to invade us. They'll simply close their frontiers and we'll die of hunger. Even if we were to have oil to sell, we wouldn't be able to export it. Independence remains a dream, but not autonomy and democracy. They were never material things.