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Speaker shares his Iraq experience
Saddams trial turned bizarre
Max wood 1 jd
Max Wood speaks to members of the Rotary Club of Forsyth County on Thursday about his experiences in Iraq. - photo by Jim Dean
Max Wood was so close to Saddam Hussein, he could have reached out and touched — or hit — him as he joked about the missed opportunity.

He shared his story Thursday over lunch with the Rotary Club of Forsyth County.

It was during Saddam’s trial when Wood saw the late Iraqi leader.

Wood was there for nearly a year as only the second U.S. attorney sent to the war zone by the Department of Justice.

He was involved in the formation of a major crimes task force, using several American government agencies to teach an elite group of about 400 Iraqi investigators modern techniques.

“It really was a life-changing experience,” he said. “I feel honored to have served.”

The trial was somewhat less impressive, he said, calling his day in court one of “the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen called a trial in my life.”

“Saddam was yelling at the judges. The judges were yelling at Saddam,” he said. “Then after a couple of hours, Saddam started praising the judges and the judges started praising Saddam. It was crazy.

“He’s the meanest looking person I’ve ever seen, much meaner looking than the pictures in the magazines and on television.”

Wood, an Air Force veteran, talked about his opinions on mistakes made during the early years of the U.S. presence in Iraq. He also discussed the future of the country and what his experience meant to him.

One thing Wood didn’t mention was that he’s also a candidate for Georgia’s attorney general.

It was also a surprise to Rotarian Chuck Welch, who said he didn’t know Wood was running for office, but “certainly seems to be level-headed and he’d make a great candidate.”

“He’s an impressive guy, that’s for sure,” Welch said. “It’s nice to get some insight into what’s gong on in Iraq from people who were front and center for the whole episode.

“The whole Saddam Hussein trial, I thought that was obviously one of those marquee events in your life. And he was as close to it as anybody I’ll ever have the privilege to hear speak ... it was interesting to hear how that whole process played out.”

After Saddam was executed in December 2006, Wood said, the Sunni Muslim population of which Saddam had been a member became more cooperative. But it wasn’t always that way.

Sunnis were “very reluctant to get involved in re-establishing the nation of Iraq and that’s because they were simply scared to death he would come back,” Wood said.

“They couldn’t grasp why we were taking three years to try this guy when they would have taken about three days to try him and it would have been over with,” he said. “They viewed the way we approached this as a sign of weakness.”

Wood said American lives were lost because the trial took so long.

But perhaps the most frustrating part of Wood’s experience in Iraq was that it was “very clear to me that we wanted democracy in Iraq more than they wanted it.”

In 2007, Wood returned to Iraq, this time with the Department of Defense.

He described the scene as much improved and the military morale “was sky high.”

Wood fielded several audience questions, including whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He also was asked what lessons from Iraq could be applied to efforts in Afghanistan.

Despite more than 30 years of Saddam’s rule, Wood said, “Iraq has the potential to make it ... as a democracy.”

“It has great resources,” he said. “There are places in that country that people would visit if they didn’t have to worry about getting blown up.

“Of all the places in the Middle East, Iraq has that potential.”