The ever thoughtful Juan Cole indulges in some numerology, wherein Iraqis are in effect judged to have been better off under Saddam:
Iraq Body Count, Reuters says, estimates that 38 Iraqis die in violence every day. Over thirty-five years, that would amount to nearly 500,000 dead. In fact, it is estimated that the Baath party killed 300,000 Iraqis, so the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate. (The number of civilians killed by the Baath is probably in fact exaggerated. Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far.)
One scarcely knows where to begin with this disgusting statement. Are we to congratulate the Baath for their relative restraint? Of course not. Nor does it seem likely that we are to applaud the ex-Baath/Sunni/Shia butchers for their recent industry. The upshot of course is that Iraq was better off under Saddam – especially given that "only a few thousand" were likely killed. This would also appear to mean that you can't have the omelet of successful Arab nationalism without breaking a few eggs, but never mind.
But on the point of mass graves Cole misrepresents the documentary and forensic evidence. For example, for someone who prides himself on his daily news roundup from Iraq, he seems to have overlooked an item available even to lowly English readers, from a Shia newspaper detailing the discovery of a mass grave containing some 15,000 bodies. Exaggerations all? Propaganda, only understandable in the context of the mystifying and labyrinthine politics and culture of southern Iraq, accessible only to scholars such as Cole's (skilled in the hidden ways of the Oriental)? Perhaps. How about the Anfal Campaign, as reported by Human Rights Watch? Gullible Western do-gooders? Must be. One could rely on pictures, such as contained in this USAID report. Or how about this atlas of pictures?
But pictures are deceiving, they can be staged, and in any event, wasn't it Iran that really used the chemical weapons against the Kurds, to frame Saddam, during a period when Saddam was a US ally? Cole hasn't signed on to all of this yet, but tomorrow is another day.
As Cole describes it, Iraq seems just an somewhat unpleasant and perhaps mildly repressive place until the Americans got there:
Iraq has been turned, by the mismanagement of Bush and the Neoconservatives at the Department of Defense, into a hellhole of suicide bombings and subterranean campaigns of ethnic cleansing.
The convolutions necessary to exonerate Saddam, blame Iran, but yet protect Iran from any future "US aggression," and blame the US for having been an ally of Saddam against Iran are exceeded only by those necessary to understand the Plame affair.
On this latter affair the masochists among us may examine Cole's unceasing comments on this and ponder his Grand Unified Theory of Conspiracies to Invade Everywhere in Order to Defend Israel. This involves Rove in Aspen at some rodeo with Judith Miller, who neutered the NY Times on behalf of Fox News ("The wider context is that Rupert Murdoch, and Richard Mellon Scaife, and other far rightwing billionaires have deeply corrupted our information environment. They are in part responsible for what happened at the NYT."), Franklin giving up AIPAC officials, something having to do with Michael Ledeen, Italian intelligence, and the shadowy P2 Masonic lodge, as well as a whole bunch of other stuff I don't have time to look up, much less think about.
Now I love a good conspiracy as much as the next person but the all-encompassing one being cobbled together by Cole and others strikes me first of all as bad historical analysis (on which more another day), and bad politics. More to the point, there is something deeply unhealthy about reducing Saddam Hussein to the drab assessment that "he caused a lot of death and destruction." If you want to argue that the US shouldn't have invaded Iraq then fine, argue that, but don't define mass murder down to "only a few thousand bodies." Come right out and say he killed hundreds of thousands of own people, invaded other countries and the like, but none of this is our concern. Then we'll know where you stand.