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Trump Portrays Saddam Hussein as Strong Against Terrorists

FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2006 file photo, former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein sits in court in Baghdad, Iraq, during the "Anfal" trial against him.

Saddam Hussein has been dead for nearly a decade. The longtime Iraqi president was hanged after a tribunal found him guilty of crimes against humanity in 2006.

On Tuesday, Hussein was one of the top trending topics on Twitter after U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump offered more praise for his style of leadership.

"Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights, they didn't talk. They were a terrorist, it was over," Trump told his supporters.

He has made similar statements in the past few years, including in 2014 when he wrote on Twitter that Iraq was more dangerous than it ever was under Hussein.

"War was a mistake, as I said from the very beginning. Bush and Obama should apologize."

But days after U.S. forces found Hussein hiding in a hole near the city of Tikrit in December 2003, Trump appeared more supportive of the Iraqi leader being pushed from power.

"Some people agree and some people don't agree, but we are there. And if we are there, you have to take down Saddam Hussein," Trump said in an interview on Fox News. "And they have done that, and they did it maybe not as quickly as they thought in terms of finding him, but they found him. And that is a huge day for this country."

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump comments about his hair while speaking at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump comments about his hair while speaking at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

Bush's justifications

Former President George W. Bush, who launched the Iraq invasion, cited among other justifications Iraq's repeated violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including one barring it from allowing any terror group to operate on its soil.

"Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments," he said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly in late 2002. "Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder. In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and a former American President."

That former president was Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who was in office when U.S. forces led the defeat of Iraq after Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait. President Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes against Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad after getting what he called compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the assassination plot.

Sponsor of international terrorism

Judith Yaphe, a former senior Middle East analyst at the CIA told the U.S. commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that Iraq under Hussein's leadership was a "primary sponsor of international terrorism."

"Baghdad actively sponsored terrorist groups, providing safe haven, training, arms, and logistical support, requiring in exchange that the groups carry out operations ordered by Baghdad for Saddam's objectives."

She said that support included the Abu Nidal Organization and the Palestine Liberation Front, as well as Hussein offering $25,000 to the family of any Palestinian who died carrying out an attack on Israelis.

"Saddam's regime first and foremost was a skilled user of terrorism to intimidate Iraqis and eliminate opponents, real and imaginary," Yaphe said. "Saddam's multiple security services succeeded in its internal goals and in eliminating its critics, defectors, and enemies abroad."

Loss for words

After hearing Trump's comments Tuesday, former Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily said he was at a loss for words.

"As a diplomat, I tried to keep away from this, but as an Iraqi and a victim of Saddam's ethnic cleansing of us Failys I say get your facts first," he wrote on Twitter.

Criticism also came from the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in the November election.

"Donald Trump's praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds. He has applauded the strength China showed in the Tiananmen Square massacre, offered admiration for Kim Jong Un's murderous consolidation of power in North Korea, and consistently lavished praised on Vladimir Putin," said Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan. "Trump's cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as Commander-in-Chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks."

Trump unfazed

Trump is unlikely to be fazed by the criticism. Throughout the campaign he has portrayed himself as the candidate best able to respond to the current threat posed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.