March 3, 2008

Iraqi Chief Investigative Judge Al-Saíedi Speaks on Global Issues

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Judge Ra’id Juhi Hamadi Al-Saíedi, the man who indicted former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, met a receptive audience yesterday as he spoke to members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. The talk, according to Chapter Scholarship Chair Steven Sachs ’09, was an attempt “to bring speakers on all sorts of things to the house.”
The former Chief Investigative Judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal, Al-Saíedi currently serves as Cornell’s first Clarke Middle East Fellow.
“If I talk to the law school, I’ll focus on legal issues. If I talk to the government school, I’ll focus on politics. [But at the fraternity], I can focus on anything,” Al-Saíedi said.
The judge, who currently serves as Cornell’s first Clarke Middle East Fellow, posed pivotal questions at the outset of his talk.
“What about the Iraqi people?” he asked. “Are they still with the United States, or are they against the United States?”
Al-Saíedi began by commenting on the recent history of the Iraqi military regime, which in 1988 “killed more than 100,000 Kurdish people just because they lived in the north or Iraq and because the regime was against the Kurds.”
He explained that the situation in Iraq led to an initial appreciation of the American occupation in Iraq, but that the Iraqi economy quickly became a major problem. From 2004 to 2005, “most of the [Iraqi] world was without jobs … [and] there was no plan to find work for them.”
Yet Al-Saíedi said the main issue facing Iraq today is outside forces, not domestic issues. The main opposition, he said, comes from Iran and Syria.
“If the United States succeeded in Iraq, the Syrians would have looked for a similar democracy in their country,” he explained.
Al-Saíedi made clear Iraq’s opposition to Iran.
“Iran is our neighbor … but when the situation got worse, most Iraqis go to Iran, they went to Jordan, Syria and Europe,” he said. “Iran is against Iraq totally, and they don’t want to see Iraq succeed.”
In regard to the current American occupation of Iraq, Al-Saíedi said, “frankly, we [Iraqis] have a very bloody history … [the current War in Iraq] is a small price to pay for a better future for our sons and grandsons.”
Following his talk, Judge Al-Saíedi answered questions from his audience of about 25 fraternity members.
“Most of the [Iraqi translators who assist Americans in Iraq] understand that they may die,” he said in response to an audience member who challenged Iraqi support for the U.S. “But they believe that the American goal is more honored than the Iranian goal.”
When asked why the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently visited Iraq, an enemy country, Al-Saíedi said that the countries’ close proximity demands that they are aware of one another.
“We need to set up support,” he said. “We don’t need fighting all the time.”
Chapter Advisor Father Robert Smith asked if Al-Saíedi had any “special protection.” Smith met Al-Saíedi through a mutual acquaintance at the United Nations and was influential in bringing Al-Saíedi to Pi Kappa Phi.
Al-Saíedi responded that the U.S. embassy in Iraq, the largest U.S. embassy in the world, is situated in front of his apartment. But other than that, Al-Saiedi said, “I have my driver. That’s it.”
One of the final questions for the judge came from a brother who asked if Saddam Hussein is “really that evil.”
“We [needed to] study his personality to understand what kind of strategy [could be] used with him,” Al-Saíedi said. “It wasn’t easy to work with him, but there was a way. He likes to speak, and if someone likes to speak, they will make a lot of mistakes.”