The final justification for war on Iraq rests with finding Saddam guilty of genocide - and that's no longer a sure thing.

Authoritative reports have now been issued in London as well as in Washington - by Lord Butler and by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee - that confirm what has been obvious for some time:

Saddam Hussein posed no threat whatever with weapons of mass destruction, nor had any ties to Al Qaeda; thus there was no justification for the attack on him in the terms originally proclaimed by George Bush and Tony Blair.

The defence of the invasion - which has cost around 20,000 lives with many more maimed, and stirred up far more terrorism than existed in Iraq before - now rests on one proposition that is still powerful.

This is that Saddam was a murderous, genocidal dictator of whom Iraq, the region and the world are all well rid of.

The explicit proof of Saddam's misdeeds will come when he goes on trial in Baghdad later this year.

For Bush and Blair, their great opportunity for vindication is Saddam being brought to justice, with all the evidence against him being laid out before what will amount to the court of world opinion, and most particularly before the Iraqi people.

But maybe not.

The trial of Saddam may not unfold at all in the way that just about everyone has always assumed it would.

Two fundamental problems can now be identified, entirely apart from the more obvious one of whether Iraqi judges can be, and be seen to be, fair and impartial.

The first is that almost all the reports about Saddam's atrocities have come from exactly the same sources - exiles, dissidents, local opposition like the Kurds - who provided all the grossly inaccurate information about Saddam's programs of weapons and mass destruction and about his links to Al Qaeda.

The second is that the trial of a direct equivalent of Saddam, namely, former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, is going very badly - for the prosecution.

Observers at The Hague now doubt Milosevic can be found guilty of genocide.

His eventual conviction for war crimes isn't doubted, or that this conclusion would be wholly justified.

But with the prosecution's case now completed, not a single witness has been able to describe Milosevic actually ordering an atrocity, nor has any government document been entered into evidence confirming that he did this.

It may all end - after another two years, or four in all - in a downer. The judges, it's now guessed, will have to convict Milosevic for knowing that war crimes were being committed by his troops or by paramilitaries, and for failing to have them halted. This would be a redefinition of war crimes that even if valid legally, would constitute behaviour far less culpable than everyone assumed Milosevic had engaged in, and that the U.S. and NATO used to justify their invasion of Yugoslavia to protect Albanian Kosovars from ethnic cleansing and worse.

A conviction of this kind would be widely regarded as a legalism and certainly not deserving of life imprisonment.

If something similar happened in Baghdad, the last moral case for the war against Iraq would be severely undermined.

How that trial will go can only be guessed.

But, just as Milosevic has performed at The Hague, Saddam has already demonstrated in his brief court appearance last month that he is once again defiant and confident, if not of victory then of defending his record.

A trapped rat is always dangerous.

Further, just as Milosevic has declared his intention of trying to embarrass those who brought him down by calling as witnesses Bill Clinton and Blair, so Saddam is very likely to demand appearances by Bush, Blair again, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

His task here will be much easier than Milosevic's because the U.S. at one time strongly supported Saddam - indeed, did so until he invaded Kuwait.

It may seem hard to credit that Saddam could escape the charge of genocide.

But conclusive evidence for it may not be that easily amassed.

Saddam's worst offences were in the Anfal campaign of 1987-88 against his own Kurds. But no mass graves have yet been found in Kurdistan.

Mass graves do exist in Iraq. But these appear to be of Shiite rebels trying to overthrow Saddam, which, while cruel, isn't genocide.

Certainly, Iraq, the region, the world, are all better off for Saddam's downfall. He was a brutal tyrant.

But these benefits, although real, simply cannot justify the costs - human, political, diplomatic, economic, financial and moral - of the war. And, in the continuing insurgency, those costs are by no means yet completed.

[Source: By Richard Gwyn, The Toronto Star, Can, 18Jul04]

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War in Iraq
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