1992: 42 Iraqi merchants

On this date in 1992, 42* Baghdad merchants who were among several hundred rounded up over the preceding 48 hours were executed at Saddam Hussein‘s command at Abu Ghraib prison and the Interior Ministry compound.

A year and change on from the close of the Gulf War, Iraq’s economy was groaning under a murderous program of economic sanctions.

The merchants were accused of profiteering by manipulating food prices — a chilling threat to businessmen, but one that had little power to arrest the wreck of Iraq’s economy. Prices for food, and everything else, were spiking under the blockade.

“Hardly any Iraqi trader sent anything to his country from our warehouse” after the executions, according to a Jordanian exporter quoted by Reuters.** “They tell us even if the goods are given to them for free, they are not ready to risk their lives.”

These executions have put some former Iraqi officials at risk of their lives in American-occupied Iraq.

The country’s longtime Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was tried for his life in 2008-2009 for ordering these executions; Aziz received a 15-year sentence.†

But at the same trial, two of the late dictator’s half-brothers, Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, drew death sentences for the same affair.

Just days ago as of this writing, those two gentlemen were transferred from American to Iraqi custody, where they figure to be put to death very soon — though this is a matter of ongoing political wrangling.

* It’s not completely unambiguous to me that the “42 merchants” at issue in several post-Saddam trials were all executed on July 26 (though Amnesty International seems to think so); the roundup and execution process was less than orderly. But it’s certainly the case that at least many died this date.

Some testimony and trial documents related to the incident are available in pdf form here.

** Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 3, 1992.

† Aziz has subsequently received a death sentence in a different and politicized case; that sentence was internationally condemned and Iraq’s president has stated that he will never implement it.