Beyond the World news headlines
U.S. invasion of Iraq — For better or worse?
The Iraqi government says it is negotiating a “time horizon” with the United States for withdrawing its troops from Iraq.
That has Iraqis like me thinking back to how the Americans got here in the first place, and whether the U.S. promises of peace and democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein five years ago have been fulfilled.
To sum it up in a phrase: Saddam, for me, was not a good leader but what we have witnessed in the following years has not been any better.
Back in 2003, despite the bellicose rhetoric on both sides of the conflict, never in my wildest dreams did I believe U.S. soldiers would be patrolling Baghdad’s streets. We had seen plenty of war under Saddam, the unforgiving leader who ruled Iraq for nearly a quarter of a century from 1979. But Iraq had never been overrun.
Between 1980 and 1988, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed in a war with Iran over pockets of southern territory. Two years later, Saddam ordered his Republican guard to advance on Kuwait, only to see his forces humiliated by a Western-led alliance. Afterwards, he showed little mercy as he crushed an uprising across Shi’ite-dominated provinces and from the northern Kurdistan region, killing tens of thousands.
Through the bloodshed, we Iraqis came to accept that Saddam and his family would rule Iraq until its dynasty died out.
In 2003, as the drumbeat of war grew louder in the West, Saddam assured us that our military would resist attack. At the time, I was confused about Saddam’s bravado. Did he
think we would get away with defying the United States? Did he think we could really win a war if one occurred?
Despite my skepticism an invasion would ever happen, we took precautions. The women in my family took refuge at my grandfather’s house in northern Baghdad and my brothers and I hunkered down to defend our home against any looters.
Even as ground forces drew closer, Iraq’s Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf assured residents in news conferences that Iraq was giving the Americans a thumping. We had heard rumours that Baghdad’s international airport had been taken by U.S. troops, but Sahhaf insisted that Iraq had regained control of the airport. In fact, it was a bloody battle but U.S. troops ultimately prevailed.
Afterwards, black market videos sold in a Baghdad market showed Iraqi soldiers during the airport battle slitting the throats of wounded U.S. soldiers.
The city fell to U.S. forces on April 9th. A friend who lives in western Baghdad told me about the ferocious battles there between U.S. soldiers and Saddam’s Fedayeen fighters.
By the time U.S. tanks reached my neighbourhood, people were rushing into the streets to cheer them. I needed to see it with my own eyes. I ran out of my house dressed in my pajamas. When I saw U.S. soldiers’ helmets peeking out of the top of the tanks passing by, I was overwhelmed with a mix of elation and despair.
What did this mean for my country? Would it bring the democracy and prosperity promised by the United States? Or would it be a new stage in Iraq’s long oppression?
(Khalid al-Ansary is an Iraqi reporter in the Reuters Baghdad bureau)