Saddam’s long shadow — even his victims miss him

October 13, 2008

saddam.jpgIn 2004 I was kicked out of a Jordanian taxi, late at night in the middle of nowhere, for criticising Saddam Hussein. “Get out! Traitor! Coward!” shouted the Palestinian driver.

 In the Middle East, small talk often turns to politics. And that’s where Saddam usually comes in.

 In my travels in Syria and Egypt, I have been told by many people they saw Saddam Hussein an Arab hero who faced down the
United States and Israel. Others criticised Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government as
Iranian-backed usurpers of a true Arab nationalist.

 Earnest dissent from me, who was born in Iraq but grew up in east London, was often met with derision. I chalked such sentiments up to Sunni Muslim fears of Iraq’s emerging Shi’ite power or a lack of awareness of Iraqis’ suffering under Saddam.

 Barring Kuwait and Iran — with whom Saddam fought wars — it has seemed almost everyone in the Middle East liked Saddam.

 But what has amazed me most is to hear Iraqis voice support for him to this day.

 Since coming to work in Iraq this year, it has been disheartening to see many Iraqis, fed up with years of violence and deprivation since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, long for
the relative stability of Saddam’s reign. And not just Saddam’s Sunni co-religionists, who were less likely to be persecuted by his regime.

 I found some residents of the mainly Shi’ite town of Dujail pining for Saddam — even
relatives of those who had been killed or imprisoned in his infamous retribution on the town in 1982.

 After a failed attempt on his life in Dujail, Saddam ordered the torture and killing of 148 of the town’s men, the only crime for which he was tried, and for which he was hanged in 2006.

 I had gone to Dujail hoping Saddam’s conviction had helped the town to move on and prosper.  What I found was a run-down place that was reeling from a car bomb that had killed 30 people a month earlier. Some Shi’ite men, random passers-by on the town’s main high street, said life was better under Saddam’s ruthless iron rule.

 More disheartening was praise for Saddam among Dujail’s boys, the next generation of Iraqis, who instead of looking ahead to a better future were looking back to a brutal past.

 They sang Saddam’s praises, complained of a lack of clean water and electricity, and jokingly warned of cholera-spreading bogeymen among the town’s residents.

 To me and my peers, growing up as an Iraqi in exile, Saddam Hussein had been the bogeyman. Everyone we knew had stories of killings, imprisonment and close escapes.

 We joined demonstrations and carried banners through London against Saddam’s regime in the 80s and 90s. Along with other boys, I would sneak peeks at the horrific images of death and torture in material distributed by anti-Saddam activists.

 A photo of my mother’s cousin has sat next to the family television set for years, a young man murdered by Saddam’s regime on accusations of being a member of an opposition group.

 What we wanted was a democratic Iraq, free of tyranny, and a state that can protect all its citizens regardless of religion. 

 In Iraq today, aspirations for many seem reduced to a reliable electricity supply, clean water, and being able to leave your home without being randomly blown up or shot.

 Many who miss Saddam say that if you kept your mouth shut and didn’t get involved in politics, you’d be fine. In a region flush with autocratic rulers, leadership expectations are low.

 I’m cautiously optimistic about Iraq’s new leaders. Key laws have been passed paving the way for sectarian reconciliation and fresh elections. Violence is at four-year lows.

 Still, bombings and shootings are still at levels that would traumatise most other countries. Simple political decisions are dogged by bickering and threats of violence, and state services are sorely lacking. Maybe my expectations are too low now too?


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There will never be anything but political bickering and hate in the middle east…We should just leave them alone and let them kill each other off….there is no hope for a people that will blow up women and childern.

Posted by oldewok | Report as abusive

Those who think Americans and British invaded Iraq to help Iraqis should read the news about British Petroleum and ExxonMobil being given eight oil fields, which represent some 40 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves.
Saddam never wanted to sell his country and his people’s future to Americans and to British and that was why he was murdered.
Any Arab who thinks American invaded Iraq for anything other than securing Israel and stealing Iraq’s wealth need to go and read the history of Middle East and, and specifically, how British and Americans have destroyed their countries.

Posted by observer | Report as abusive

He didn’t deserve to die this way.
Honestly, Iraq should love him because the state they are in now and will be in the near future is worse than it was with Saddam.

Posted by Alex D. | Report as abusive

nobody likes the killing of the innocent, but the invasion allowed all kinds of groups to show up to the surface and produce more victims than ever befor

Posted by reader | Report as abusive

Saddam Hussein is a truly great man. He is a hero of not only the arabs but of all the emerging nations of the world. The west has never seen anything good in up-coming nations trying to keep to their self-determination. They murdered him out of envy even with the collaboration of some of his dog-faced kinsmen traitors.

Posted by Bertrands | Report as abusive

I once met two Iraqi Christians who supported Saddam Hussein. Perhaps they didn’t know of the crimes he apparently committed. But the Anglo-American establishment blitzkreig (‘shock and awe’) destruction and invasion of Iraq is one of the most dishonourable episodes of modern history – an invasion based on lies and lust for oil resources and strategic power. I support the right of any nation to remain independent of the global Anglo-American power elite, who presume the right to crush any such expression of nationalism. The ‘democracy’ they espouse is a lie and a cover for control of economies by global corporations.

Posted by Mel Cameron | Report as abusive

Almost every war in the middle-east since WW2 has been caused by the US and/or Israel. Look it up.

There is no absolutely substitute for the strategic control of the worlds oil reserves when it comes to maintaining the USA’s supremacy. Their own most celebrated strategists state it just as blatantly.

Stability and democracy in the Middle-East are intolerable for the US who only supports Israel (saudi dictators, Saddam, the Shah and Kuwait) so blatantly to provoke instability in the region, otherwise they would have no reason to be there.
Every single action in the region by the US will prove this.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive