Forgotten Truths

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Removing Saddam from power was not a little affair.

It has never been. Neither for the Iraqi opposition, nor for the US-led coalition, which in 1991 has stopped short of becoming é an occupation force é, as ex-President Bush (the father) put it. The Iranians also had tried their hand at bombing Saddam’s bunkers and caches and sending é death waves é, and other human missiles and suicide brigades, during the eight years of their unreligious war against Saddam (which he himself triggered)é in hope to uproot him from poweréin vain.

The man seemed to be as unreachable as Nabuchodonosor, king of Babylon, who seemed to be so haunting him, that, to match him, he ordered all the Iraqi artists to compete of zeal in making little Saddam as great as Nabuchodonosor.

In that, he almost succeeded. The “almost” makes all the difference here.

There was a museum dedicated only to his portraits and statues of all sizes. I think I have even noticed a giant portrait of him in the desert, when I was traveling in a bus across Iraq a little time ago, if it was not a mirage. I have never been able to understand who ever was going to admire that ugly émonument é in the desert, apart from the snakes, the rats, the Scorpios and the vultures. But there was actually a é wisdom é out there : the mystical megalomania while nourishing Saddam’s mind, was useful in catching the attention of the beduins.

For the tribes crossing the desert , there was God of courseéabove them . But on earth, much closer to them and watchful was little Saddam with his big portraits planted everywhere, and his eyes pursuing them. He was omniscient, and believed to be as powerful as (é) Anyway, one should not anger him. He was as skillful in escaping his enemies’ traps as ruthless in destroying them. In this context, if it is doubtful that little Saddam could ever match the great Babylonian king, maybe he succeeded in matching another of his idols, who could be summarized in three or four, including a fictive one, that is é the godfather é(the pictures), Stalin, and of course Satan. The latter was however more open to his solicitation in recent times. Why, you ask? Simple. It was the Baghdadis themselves who confessed this great truth. When in 20 days, Saddam lost his power, he became synonymous of another entity.

Watching them on the TV last Wednesday, (the famous 9 April) I heard them shouting in the streets of Baghdad:

La ilaha illa Allah, Saddam adu’ Allah”: There is no god but Allah, and Saddam is his foe. Hence we deduce that in their eyes Saddam was certainly the devil’s clone.

The scene was on the American screens as well, and if Mr. Bush happened to be watching at that moment, he would have most certainly rejoiced at the thought that, after all, it was perhaps not that bad an idea to fight Saddam under the general claim of fighting the é axis of evil é. The same idea happened to shock the liberal intellectuals from both sides of the Atlantic, not to speak of the Arabs. But does it matter? Sometimes, history does not need sophisticated theories to go forward. Some punches and kicks- ideas would also perform a lot of progress. Look at that genial idea of Mr. Bush. It was simple and efficient. This is a war between good and evil. He was almost sure that, at thousands of miles from Washington, he would be heard and understood.

That was almost what happened. Still the “almost” !

People heard Bush everywhere and got out to demonstrate and protest against evil. Yet, they pointed to the White House as the source of that evil. For them, evil is synonymous of war. And since the White House was seeking war, it did not matter who the Americans were going to fight. Were it the devil himself, the pacifists and the anti-war activists would have none of it.

The quick defeat of Saddam’s regime (in 20 days) was then a surprise for everybody. Maybe even for the Americans themselves if they did not get a secret agreement with Saddam, as it is now rumored. Compared to the colorless policy of France, Russia, and Germany, the British-American coalition sounded victorious, bright, and efficient. And when the Iraqi people took to the streets welcoming the Americans, the Joy of Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair should have been complete. It was the field reality that was now arguing for them and giving them all reason to have acted without more waiting. For with or without the UN agreement; with or without France-Germany-Russia’s blessing, the Iraqi people seem today relieved. And without this anarchy that would be very destructive to all the efforts consented, the joy of the Iraqis also would have been complete.

Saddam was and still is the evil. That is exactly what the Iraqis are telling us since they grew sure he would not be able to punish them.

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Speaking of Saddam as the devil’s clone, reminds me of another clownish enterprise that got a lot of fame everywhere : as far as I know, he has been quite creative on this level, even preceding the British scientists, since he made himself the model for so many é Dolly ésheepé Sheep with wolves’ teeth of course. Decidedly, he liked multiplying himself. He was so persuaded that he was unique that he launched his most famous charity: self-cloning himself for the é pleasure é of those who would track him. A tortuous mind, to be sure. Now, try to find him in this Iraqi mazeé or in the jungle of South America.

I am sure he is still easier to find than any previous dictator in this case. Why? Because, he did not disappear alone, but with many people, all of them, well known and very attached to him. So if only one of them put his nose outside, all the others would be caught.

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Most people were surprised in the first days of the war, because the Iraqis did not welcome their liberators in the southern cities, which emboldened the “pacifists”

(I wouldn’t say the pacifists) and comforted them in their belief that nothing could be done against Saddam. But whereas they went on ranting and trying to persuade us of the soundness of their view, arguing that, decidedly the Iraqi people refuse to be helped against his tyrant, they were actually unable to see the truth behind the people’s reluctance. As the days went by, the tongues got released. People began to speak, slowly, shyly. The fear was still their master. They told us for instance, that in 1991, when those same Shi’a of Basra and the southern cities, rebelled against the regime, they found themselves facing Saddam’s killers when the allies withdrew. Thousands of them died. Some are speaking of 250.000 to 350.000.

Those people trusted the Americans, though. It is even believed that they have been encouraged to rebelling, as have been the Kurds in the north. But on both sides, Saddam was able to strike and kill a lot of them, despite the fact that two no-fly zones had been settled, with British-American sentinels. Yet, nothing hindered Saddam from leading another internal war against his people.

The Iraqis did not forget their deads. Who could? Who would blame them? Like many Arabs outside Iraq, they were the victims of Al Sahhaf propaganda. Do not forget, please, that thousands of volunteers flew to Iraq from many Arab countries, to take part to the fight against é the invaders é. It would be naive to think that nobody encouraged them at the highest level, when we all know how difficult it is not only to get a visa from an Arab country to another, but also even a passport. That thousands of volunteers were able to flee safely to Iraq in a few days, could neither be a coincidence, nor as simple as it seems. Without an organization, and without official green light, such a collective rush cannot occur in a relatively short time. That’s why there is one of two points: either these thousands of volunteers have never existed, and all the reports about them are bogus; or they exist, and there is no doubt then that they were being flown to Iraq by the Arab governments.

For my part, I do not believe there were thousands of them, but perhaps a few hundreds who rushed from neighboring countries, where Al-Qaeda have recruits, unless there is evidence of the contrary.

Today, I heard in the French radio one of those Arab volunteers blaming the Iraqi people because it turned against him and his companions. At least 250 of them have been slain in the streets by the Iraqis. The others were forced to flee. Those who were unable to escape are beggars in the streets. But people do not help them.

The volunteer who was being interviewed by the French radio was quite angry. He blamed the Iraqis who revealed to be “ungrateful”. He said: “I was ready to give my life for Iraq, but the Iraqis despised us and made us unwelcome.”

It seems that nobody volunteered to tell this guy é and many others like him é the truth.

Why were they unwelcome? Wasn’t that a fight against the wicked crusaders? That’s what he was told, though. That’s what some official Arab press was also saying. I underline official because in this affair, the state-directed mass media, bypassed even the boldest dreams of Osama Bin Laden, who would seem moderate compared to them.

No kidding. When you are in power, either you take responsibility of what your people are doing and saying, or you are out in touch with the reality. In this case, you would be more dangerous to your people than Al-Qaeda, because a state has always more means than any terrorist organization. Thus, some Arab official media missed a good opportunity to be wise, at least in taking a neutral professional tone while reporting and commenting.

The truth nobody of them wanted to see was hidden deeply in the heart of Iraq. And fear was the sentinel guarding the entry of that Ali Baba cave. It is well in Baghdad that after twenty days of fighting, the American soldiers discovered it. Once they shot dead the sentinel, the cave opened; and like in the Arabian nights, the spell was broken. People rushed into the streets, free, joyous, and they began to talk. At the same time, in Basra and the other cities, the same phenomenon happened, for everybody got the word and it was known by then that Saddam has fled and his dwindling regime fell, like a ripe fruit from its tree.

The truth was thereby revealed by the people itself.

It is noteworthy that even the exiled opposition was not trusted by the majority of the Arabs, for some of the opponents were believed to be pawns of the CIA or the British Intelligence Service, as if Saddam’s regime monopolized the nationalism in the eyes of those same Arabs. By naiveté or calculation, it was thought to be safer not to mix between é liberation é and é invasion é. The majority of the Arab media decided that this was rather a war of invasion than a war of liberation. The untold message was: How possibly could liberation come from America, which is the main supporter of Israel’s wars?

In some way, this is not entirely false. America is still backing Sharon, at the same time that it is pretending to liberate the Iraqi people from dictatorship. That the Arabs blame this behavior is not a secret. That the same behavior sounds illogical and even schizoid is also true. For if America discovered recently é since 1990 as Saddam was considered a friend prior to his Kuwait adventure- that Saddam is a dictator, the Arabs have always known that Israel is a thorn in their rulers’ eyes since its creation, and would remain so as long as there is no solution for the Palestinians.

However, this Arab behavior was no less illogical than the American. Why? Because they have all omitted that it is well the Americans who led the liberation of Kuwait. At the time, they were even grateful to them. So, if the Americans could not be trusted as liberators, why did they trust them in 1991? And if the Iraqi opponents could only be treated as é agents é of the Americans and the British, for they asked for their military assistance to remove Saddam from power, how would the Kuwaitis, the Saudis, and all the Arabs of the Gulf, plus Syria, Egypt, etcé – how would we label them? Didn’t they ask for US and British military assistance to help ousting Saddam from Kuwait? In some way, they have even given the model to follow for the Iraqi opposition, and maybe for other opponents in next days.

“If your house is made out of glass, don’t stone people,” says the old dictum. That’s a wise advice, in these troubled times.

Now, all this does not mean that everything is at its best in the best possible world, as regards the Iraqi opposition as well as the é liberators é. There are still many unanswered puzzling questions, such as:

Why did the Americans reject any involvement of the opposition forces in the fighting?

Why did they order the soldiers to protect only the oil ministry and the mukhabarat building, while allowing the mob to plunder the other ministries?

Why did they choose to be passive while mayhem and looting and anarchy were going on?

Was that only because they sought sympathy from the mob? Or merely to make the Iraqis feel how better they would be with an authority, even if it was American? Do we need to remind anybody that in general the mob has no feelings at all, and that those who seem today so happy with their é liberators é would tomorrow fight them, if they think they have become an é occupation force é, to use the famous expression of Mr. Bush father ?

And last-but not least-, who would really find any pleasure from the plunder of the Archaeological museum of Iraq or the arson of the national Library or the universities? I mean who, but those who want absolutely to show that Saddam was at least securing those sites, which are the propriety of the Iraqi people.  So why should this same people destroy its own possessions?

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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