As an Iraqi born in 1977 who was exiled for most of my life, all I knew was the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. I lived my entire life unable to identify with the government that ruled my country and was supposed to represent me, not being able to enter an Iraqi embassy anywhere in the world. The closest I ever got to one was during the many anti-Saddam protests I attended outside the Iraqi embassy in London. I was embarrassed to be an Iraqi, or admit I was from Iraq.
On 28 June 2004, a momentous occasion took place. I was “born again”, with feelings of belonging to a land that in the past, I could only dream of visiting; a land for whom my love knows no boundaries. June 28 was the day Iraqis gained sovereignty, led by a government of fully capable, educated, respectable men and women; holders of degrees and PhDs from some of the best universities in the world. Such a contrast from the previous regime, where the presidential secretary was a truck-driver and the vice-president was an ice-seller: their only credential was belonging to the Tikriti clan.
The new government acquired a violent, chaotic and insecure Iraq, thanks to the “long-term planning and wise decisions” of the US government and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), lead by Paul Bremer. (I hope readers can detect the sarcasm in the previous sentence.) For removing Saddam, I am eternally grateful to George W Bush. But then what?
What followed was the systematic destruction of Iraq, the looting of the libraries and museums, universities and hospitals. Priceless artefacts were stolen or destroyed. The entire contents of Iraq's national library and archives were burned down, destroying priceless records of the country's history. Ministry buildings kept the night sky alive with their raging fires. Crime was all-pervasive. Order and security collapsed. People were living in fear of their lives because of the criminals running around in Iraq. As one Iraqi said on TV: “Before we had one Saddam, now we have 1000 Saddams”.
When a country is in so much chaos, and crime is rife, who can you depend on to bring back some order and security? The correct answer would be the country’s army and police force. What did Mr Paul Bremer do? Exactly the opposite. He disbanded the 400,000-strong Iraqi army and made de-Ba’athification a law, expelling many police officers from their jobs. How can anyone disband an army in a country where the rule of the jungle was law, where criminals, rapists and kidnappers were walking around like they ruled the place? No matter how long and hard I think about the decision to disband the army, I cannot and will not understand the thought process that Mr Bremer and the American administration undertook to reach this decision.
And let’s not forget that extremely wise decision to close Moqtada Sadr’s newspaper in March, for so-called inciting violence against the coalition. The incredible irony is that this newspaper had a very limited circulation and readership, due to the unpopularity of Moqtada. But then, when the newspaper was closed and an uprising declared by this young firebrand cleric, his popularity increased all over the south of Iraq, and US troops had to engage in combat. Soldiers died as a result, an incredible shame since this uprising could have so easily been prevented by the US administration. But as a result of their incredibly idiotic decision, US body-bags had to be flown back to the US to their bereaved families and loved ones. Mothers lost sons, wives lost husbands, children lost their fathers, their lives destroyed and shattered and all for what? Because of a decision to close a newspaper which was read by virtually no-one. What a great, great shame.
With Mr Bremer leaving, we have a new Iraqi leadership which, so far, has the backing of most Iraqis. To all those who claim that the people in the new government are American puppets, I advise you to educate yourself before making such erroneous claims. Could some of you even place Iraq on the map before this country hit the headlines? If not, how is it that you are now such experts on Iraq and the new people running Iraq?
These people have struggled long and hard to free Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam before you knew who Saddam was. They fought long and hard, when the whole world courted and befriended Saddam; their protests and cries fell on deaf ears. They kept alight the flame of hope that Iraq will be free one day, when many Iraqis, including myself, gave up hope. They dedicated their entire existence to the struggle: 35 long, hard and precarious years. They never flinched or moaned. They never became disenchanted, they were the eternal optimists.
Many of these men and women were imprisoned and tortured before their exile. They lost their loved ones in Iraq as a result of their opposition and struggle. They could have remained in Iraq, living comfortable lives but keeping their heads down, following every word of Saddam - but they refused. They wanted to tell the world about the tyranny of Saddam, and they wanted to free their people from the prison they were in. Even in their exile, their lives were in danger by the all-pervasive Saddam agents around the world.
Dr Iyad Allawi, the current PM, had an axe-wielding Saddam agent enter his house in Surrey while he slept next to his wife, and luckily escaped death by a whisker. It took him one year to recover from this attack. The vice-president, Dr Ibrahim Ja’afari was imprisoned and tortured before he escaped Iraq in 1979. Hamid Al-Kifaey, the previous Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) spokesman, had family members imprisoned and killed. Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, previous member of IGC and head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), had over 16 members of his Al-Hakim family imprisoned, tortured and killed by Saddam. His brother, Mohammed Baqr Al-Hakim was the most recent loss, as a result of the terrorist attacks in Najaf in August 2003.
Dr Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) escaped death in 1995 in Northern Iraq, when the Iraqi army moved into the safe-haven and overtook the INC headquarters. Masoud Barazani, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader, lost hundreds, even thousands, of his Barazani clan as a result of the systematic killing of his clan by Saddam and his regime. How can any reasonable, open-minded person, on the face of this Earth, call these wonderful men and women American puppets? It’s a huge insult to them and their loved ones whose blood has been spilt as a result of their struggle.
How many thousands of Iraqis have died in their struggle to free Iraq? How many are buried in the mass graves? We will never forget you, you have not died in vain. Your memory is alive in our hearts and minds and we owe it to you to bring democracy to Iraq. We will make Iraq prosperous again, we will not fail, inshallah (God Willing).
May God bless and protect Iraq and its people.
Long live Iraq, free, democratic and prosperous.
Aash Al-Iraq Al-Hur, aashet Biladu Al-Rafidayn.