As an Iraqi, I wish to say a word about living under, in opposition to and as a witness to the fall of Saddam and his regime. It can be irksome to hear foreign and Arab commentators argue about what is good and what is not good for us Iraqis. Frankly, most commentators fail the basic test of having direct knowledge and some (more cynical) others attempt to pass off their individual agendas (pro-war, anti-West/globalisation, neo-conservatism, left-over socialism etc.) as relevant arguments and unique insights.
The public debate outside Iraq has been largely irrelevant to Iraqis. While it indulged in spin, point scoring and the churning of intellectual porridge, it missed every opportunity to understand Iraq or its social and political dynamics. It may be useful to remember that your average Iraqi has lived through decades of oppression, violence and crushing economic hardship inflicted by successive dictatorships and culminating in the best-in-class brutality of Saddam Hussain and his regime. Such conditions together with the apathy of the world at large did not leave much hope for Iraqis nor did it encourage them to continue to rise against a regime that had perfected the art of eliminating its enemies and pre-empting any opposition with absolute force.
The material evidence is out there for all who care to see and the memories are still fresh for those who wish to listen. But as far as Iraqis were concerned, life under Saddam was living hell with no end in sight. Before the war there were no Jihadists pouring in to sacrifice themselves for the sake of Iraqis, no thousands of marchers or Hollywood documentaries and celebrities to protest against the Iraqi regime’s treatment of its own people, no teams of lawyers rushing to solicit support for thousands of Iraqis rotting in Abu Ghraib prison and certainly no Arab satellite channels providing 24/7 move-by-move coverage of the endless war launched by Saddam and his instruments of terror against ordinary Iraqis.
It is against this background that we can comment on or judge what is good or not for Iraqis. We must also add to that the facts that the West and many Arab regimes had had a role in allowing Saddam to continue for as long as he did and, to add insult to injury, that the UN chipped in with the most vicious sanctions, which made Saddam and his front men in Amman, London and the UN building richer and drove the Iraqi people even deeper into the ground.
Not many Iraqis longed for war or welcomed occupation. Thanks to more than 35 years of wars, internal conflict and systematic neglect, the Iraqis had become well acquainted with a thus-far locally served diet of violence, terror, execution, torture, lack of electricity, etc. From an Iraqi perspective, the future was not about how M. Chirac, Herr Schroeder or Mr. Bush saw it; it was about what the millions of Iraqis saw and felt every hour of their every living day. To ask Iraqis to simply lay low and allow the process of natural death take care of Saddam and his regime is naïve at best - and to ask them to collaborate with marauding armies and welcome them with a kiss is pathetically simplistic.
But Iraqis wanted out. Out of this hellhole and back to rejoin civilisation and enjoy the simple freedoms of fellow human beings. Many saw the inevitable war as a risk worth taking and a price worth paying for the sake of their future and that of generations to come. They certainly believed that if left alone, the Saddam dynasty would simply continue with two sons and plenty of grandsons to take care of business. And what if Saddam had "done a Gaddafi" and become a born-again democrat and turned a new chapter of friendship with the West? No doubt he would have preferred a stroll around Strasbourg to a hole in the ground in Tikrit!
So please, don’t ask from the Iraqis more than what you are willing to give and certainly not to sacrifice themselves for your arm-chair revolutions! Iraqi self-awareness, perseverance and cultural pedigree shall prevail in the end.
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