Euphoria at Saddam’s fall becomes a sigh
I still remember what my father-in-law told me that fateful day in 2003, as we sat riveted by the sight of American soldiers on television pulling down the iconic statue of Saddam Hussein from its pedestal in a Baghdad square.
My father-in-law, whose brother had fled Iraq after being jailed for a few days after Baathists took the power in 1969 and who was never a Saddam supporter, was reflective.
“The only thing I fear is that a day will come in which we will regret Saddam’s fall,” he said.
During a visit a couple of months ago to Jordan, where my children, my wife and her parents have lived in self-exile for almost two years, I asked my father-in-law whether he had come to regret the end of that era.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said, his voice filled with disappointment. Since then, I haven’t been able to drive his response from my mind.
For five years, I have been asking myself the same question: how did it come to be that Iraqis like my father-in-law, driven to live as an illegal immigrant outside Iraq, rue Saddam’s fall?
I can say without hesitation that many Iraqis share my father-in-law’s feelings. Not because they supported Saddam, although there are many who still do, but because the hopes of a better life that were born in April 2003 have been crushed.
Iraqis today spend a great deal of time comparing their lives today to the situation before 2003. It’s not a winning comparison. Unbelievable bloodshed, a lack of basic services from electricity to clean water, and widespread unemployment have made life hellish for many Iraqis.
It is true that there is less violence today than there was a year ago, but assassinations, bomb attacks and other grim acts still occur on a daily basis. All this casts a dark shadow on the security situation in Iraq and reminds us of the fragility of Iraq’s vaunted turnaround.
A conversation with any person on any Iraqi street will be one marked by disappointment. Anger is particularly sharp at Iraq’s political class, which is now locked in a fierce power struggle at the highest levels while most ordinary Iraqis struggle to simply get by.
After waiting for decades for democracy, many believe it has brought nothing but chaos and bloodshed, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of millions more. Three successive governments that have ruled since 2003 have delivered empty promises but little more.
These concerns and many others are what lie behind a growing desire for a strong, powerful ruler like Saddam. Many Iraqis believe that they need such a strongman to bring stability to this complicated country.
An Iraqi I once interviewed in Baghdad commented to me that the only thing that had changed in Iraq since 2003 was that we had replaced one dictator with many.
One of my Iraqi colleagues, who stayed here in Baghdad when his family fled to Amman three years ago, says we don’t have a future because there is no clear vision of what Iraq can become.
Even I, someone who makes a living from the printed word, cannot seem to find the right terms to describe how so many Iraqis came to long for Saddam.
With such unbelievable destruction and death across Iraq, it makes one wonder whether in 10 or 20 years we will be gazing up at statues of Saddam in an Iraqi square once more.