Mixed emotions six years after Saddam’s fall
In 2003, when U.S. troops stormed into Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down, I think I must have been elated like many other Iraqis. Today, after the six years of bloodshed and slaughter set off by the U.S. invasion, it’s hard to remember that feeling, which must have been one of enormous relief and joy. Instead I am left with mixed emotions, grateful that the horror of Saddam’s rule ended but also deeply saddened by the horrors that followed his fall.
I was eager to live in an Iraq without Saddam. I always hated his brutal rule of Iraq. He had taken us into wars in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Iraqis might also easily face death if they spoke out against Saddam or criticized his government. But if you kept your mouth shut and did not join any political party other than his now outlawed Baath party, you most probably would have been left alone.
When Saddam was ousted by the invasion, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003, I thought then that Iraq would finally be at peace after a long period of tough times. I never imagined what followed. It never crossed my mind that tens of thousands would be slaughtered simply for being a Shi’ite Muslim or a Sunni, the two Islamic sects in Iraq. Millions would flee their homes. And that bombs laid by insurgents would mow down thousands more.
I sometimes wondered why did we get rid of Saddam if the killing continued, although for different reasons?
The violence has begun to ebb, but still my relatives and friends are scattered to the winds.
As an Iraqi journalist I have explored the social impact of war on my country. I have interviewed orphans and widows, and people whose limbs were blown off by bombs. It has left my heart full of more pain than I ever thought it could bear.
I have also seen Iraq, amid the violence and fear, embrace new freedoms in politics and also in life: we have cellular telephones and satellite television, both restricted or banned in Saddam’s time. Saddam’s government had long lists of forbidden items. One of them was satellite television. Anyone caught watching international news shows could be sent to prison for six months.
It is clear to me that Iraqi society would not have been allowed to develop had Saddam remained in charge. Now despite the dark years that have passed, we can at least cling to hopes of better times. We have a parliament that we elect, and not one-man rule.
This week, an Iraqi appeals court reduced to one year a three-year prison sentence handed to an Iraqi journalist who dared to throw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush. I was impressed and had to raise my hat to the independence of the judiciary. I asked my parents what they thought the journalist’s sentence would have been had he committed the same offence during Saddam’s times. My mother answered: “He would not only have been executed without trial but all of his family would have been erased from the Iraqi map.”