Global News Journal
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The blue-domed memorial Saddam Hussein built in Baghdad to honour Baath party founder Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian who started the movement that dominated Iraq for decades and governs Syria today, has been turned into a shopping centre for U.S. soldiers.
Aflaq’s tomb, sitting at the centre of a vault adorned with Koranic verses and Arabesque designs, has been boarded up to make way for a barber shop, a store selling kitschy Iraq souvenirs, a pirate DVD vendor and a ring of other stores.
The new mall at Aflaq’s tomb, located on what is now a U.S. military base in central Baghdad, has thus sealed off a powerful symbol of the deep, and often strained, shared history between Iraq and Syria, one which is being tested in a new feud between Baghdad and Damascus.
Last month, Syria and Iraq recalled their ambassadors after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Syria of sheltering mebbers of the Iraqi Baath party whom he blames for backing attacks that killed around 100 people in Baghdad last month.
The Aug. 19 bombings marked a U-turn in the slow improvement of relations between Iraq and Syria, which for decades had stunted diplomatic relations. Since 2003, they have been at odds over U.S. and Iraqi accusations that Damascus has allowed foreign insurgents to stream across its border into Iraq.
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.