Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
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.
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.”
By Waleed Ibrahim
Before making a recent speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the following: “I was given a specific time in which to talk, so I have to be brief. I was informed that there are other people speaking after me.”
I was shocked. Did I just hear an Iraqi leader sound and act as if he were
an ordinary citizen who had to make way for others? Maybe he was joking, but he looked serious. Could this really be an Iraqi leader who wasn’t going to pontificate on and on to his heart’s content?
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.
Iraq’s leaders have overcome many hurdles in their struggle to rebuild their country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But agreeing on the fate of the “ethnic tinderbox” of oil-producing Kirkuk is a particularly testing one.
Why has Kirkuk proven to be such an obstacle? For many, settling its fate seems to be an easy task.
Five years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq is throwing open its oil sector to foreign oil firms in a way Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others in the region are reluctant to. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani says no company will have any special privilege.
Some analysts take a different view. They reckon U.S. and British oil majors are in a strong position to help develop the world’s third-largest oil reserves. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP head the queue. They have already built up a relationship with Iraq’s oil officials by negotiating short-term technical deals.