THE MEDIA are demanding Saddam Hussein be put on trial. But the people who should be in the dock are those who brought him to power, and then armed and financed his regime for years.
That would mean putting half the US government on trial.
For it was the CIA that first brought Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party to power in 1963. And at key points over the next three decades it was successive US presidents, Western leaders, CIA directors and army chiefs of staff who kept him there.
In 1963 the regime of radical Iraqi army officer Abdul Karim Kassem was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA. A million people had celebrated on the streets of Baghdad five years previously when Kassem toppled the British-installed Iraqi monarchy.
Western leaders feared that one regime after another across the Middle East would fall into the hands of anti-Western leaders. The US in particular set about planning a coup, which came on 8 February 1963. A CIA radio station in Kuwait broadcast the names of Communist activists, which had been gathered from Saddam Hussein among others, to the Ba'athists and army officers who toppled Kassem.
The US recognised the new government within hours. A bloodbath followed as the Ba'athists and their allies butchered thousands of Communists and Kassem supporters. The US then began flying weapons to Iraq for the Ba'athists to use against Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq
The toppling of Kassem was later described as the CIA's 'favourite coup'. James Critchfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East later admitted, 'We regarded it as a great victory.'
The general secretary of the Ba'ath Party said, 'We came to power on a CIA train.'
The Ba'ath regime was deeply unpopular among ordinary Iraqis, and fell from power shortly after the 1963 coup. So the CIA helped it back to power five years later in 1968. Saddam soon became second in command.
He used his control of the Ba'athists' paramilitary wing to eliminate opposition from all quarters. They hanged Communist leaders with the nodding approval of the US president Nixon and his foreign policy chief Henry Kissinger.
When the US said 'You are a force for moderation'
THE US and Russia both courted the Iraqi regime in the early 1970s.
But the US's main ally in the Gulf was Iran, Iraq's neighbour and rival. Both the Shah of Iran and Israel armed and trained Kurdish guerrillas in 1973 to fight the Iraqi army.
Then in 1975 Iraq and Iran came to an agreement. Suddenly, the US and Iran cut off aid to the Kurds, who soon found themselves at the mercy of the Iraqi army. That same year the US government allowed the Pfaulder corporation to supply Iraq with blueprints for a chemical warfare plant.
Saddam became formal leader of Iraq in 1979. He immediately executed a third of the Ba'ath Party leadership. It was also in that year that revolution in Iran toppled the Shah, a key US ally.
Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran inspired a wave of anti-Western feeling across the Middle East.
The US under President Carter and then under Ronald Reagan moved decisively to back Saddam Hussein as a counterweight to Iran. He launched war against Iran in September 1980. Western arms sales to Iraq soared. So did direct US military assistance.
Evidence of mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops emerged in 1984. US president Ronald Reagan vetoed condemnation of Iraq. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to shake hands with Saddam Hussein and the US reopened its embassy there in 1984.
The New York Times last year revealed that the US 'provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war'.
That backing encouraged Saddam Hussein to again use poison gas in 1988 against Kurdish civilians.
The US government under George Bush Sr doubled aid to Iraq in the 12 months after the massacre. Major figures in and advisers to the US government at the time included Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld.
The US and its allies increased support for Iraq during the war with Iran. The US shot down an Iranian civil airliner in 1988, killing all 290 people aboard.
In 1989, with Iran weakened, US assistant secretary of state John Kelly visited Saddam Hussein and told him, 'You are a force for moderation in the region, and the US wants to broaden her relationship with Iraq.'
...and how they fell out
IN AUGUST 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The US turned against him, believing the invasion would upset their dominance of the Middle East.
But just before the Iraqi troops entered Kuwait, US ambassador April Glaspie reassured Saddam that the US had no opinion 'on your border dispute with Kuwait'. Five days later John Kelly told a Congressional committee in Washington that there was no obligation for the US to use its forces if Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The end of the US-led war against Iraq in March 1991 brought yet another cynical betrayal of the people the West claimed to be liberating.
George Bush Sr called for an uprising by the Shias and Kurds. They did rise up as the Iraqi army retreated. Then the US and its allies did everything possible to undermine the rebellion. They feared a successful Shia rising would strengthen Iran and that a Kurdish state in the north of Iraq would spur on Kurds in Turkey who were fighting for independence.
So the US allowed Iraqi helicopters to breach 'no-fly zones' to crush the rising.
Dictators are backed by US
IT'S NOT only in Iraq that the US has backed dictatorship. It has sponsored brutal rulers on every continent.
UZBEKISTAN: the regime of Islam Karimov has one of the worst human rights records in the world. There are thousands of political prisoners, who face 'routine torture' according to the Human Rights Watch monitoring group. Abuses such as boiling people alive easily rival what took place under Saddam Hussein's regime. Karimov came to power when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. He has continued to run it as a fiefdom. He is a US ally and Uzbekistan is now home to a huge US military base.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA: the US has thrown its weight behind president Obiang Nguema, who rigged elections. International monitors record appalling human rights abuses. But, as the Financial Times puts it: 'Equatorial Guinea is part of a group of oil-producing states in West Africa which is attracting interest from the US as a possible bulwark against problems with Middle East crude oil supplies.'
ISRAEL: the US's biggest ally in the Middle East has nuclear weapons, occupies the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and systematically oppresses the Palestinians. The only concern of the White House is whether such rulers accept their place in the US-dominated global system.