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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 10:18 GMT
After Saddam: What next for Iraq?
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East Editor

Long before Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, he had become an historical detail in Iraq.

A big detail, an important one, but part of Iraq's past rather than its future.

Saddam Hussein in court (archive)
For many Iraqis, Saddam Hussein's fate is of little importance

His conviction and sentence simply deepened the feelings that already existed about him.

People who thought he was a monster who had brought disaster down on to his country had their beliefs confirmed. And so did those who looked back on his reign with nostalgia, as a time when Iraq was stable, and the streets were safe as long as you supported his regime.

His chaotic, noisy execution probably won't change that.

The BBC team in Baghdad reports that for every person who saw a leader, bearing himself in his final moments with dignity there was another who saw a brutal dictator getting what he deserved.

Deeper divisions

The bitter sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims might be deepened by the execution.

Iraq is now a major exporter of instability

But thinking too much about Saddam is a luxury in a country that is already in the grip of a series of terrible wars.

The Iraqi people, who suffered grievously under Saddam, continue to suffer.

The next urgent issue is what the United States, the country most responsible for the disaster in Iraq, is going to do next.

Does it have it in its power to make things better? Can it make matters worse? The answer to the first is maybe; to the second, it's definitely.

The one point of agreement in Washington about their position in Iraq is that it is bad.

Even President Bush now says "We're not winning, we're not losing" in Iraq. Soon, he is expected to announce some decisions about what the Americans do next in Iraq.

Taking advice

It looks as if he may not take the advice that was in the recent report by the foreign policy grandees led by the former Secretary of State James Baker and the former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton.

Watches showing images of Saddam Hussein
The clock has stopped for Saddam but his actions continue to affect Iraq

Their opening line was succinct, and more accurate than the President's description: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating."

The Baker-Hamilton report, at first, seemed to offer the Americans a way out. It recommended switching US forces from combat to training Iraqis - and asked for a diplomatic initiative that would engage all the countries of the region.

But the report was also a polite, but firm denunciation of the ideologically driven foreign policy of the Bush Administration.

Even before Christmas, it looked as if swallowing it would be too much for the White House. There was even talk of sending more troops to Iraq.

Neighbours worries

What also emerged much more clearly towards the end of 2006 was the capacity of the killing in Iraq to pull in its neighbours.

The Saudis have been gravely concerned about the impact of the American invasion of Iraq since before it happened, and that feeling has deepened.

A number of recent reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia would intervene in Iraq to protect its Sunni minority, with whom there are strong tribal and religious ties, if the Americans decided to get out.

That may be one factor pushing the Americans to stay the course in Iraq.

The Saudis are acutely conscious of the way that Iran has been, so far, the big winner in the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and its friends.

The US obligingly removed Saddam Hussein, Iran's biggest enemy in the region, and broke the Sunni ascendancy in Iraq.

Thanks to the Americans, Shia Iran has Shia Muslim allies in top jobs in the Iraqi government and military.

Iraq is now a major exporter of instability.

In 2003 the American-led invasion threw a big rock into the pool of the Middle East.

It has kicked up waves, not ripples, which will wash around the region long after Saddam Hussein is dead and buried.




SEE ALSO
Timeline: Saddam Hussein Anfal trial
31 Oct 06 |  Middle East

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