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So Long, Saddam? By: Ferry Biedermann
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 19, 2003


The Victory Leader Museum in Baghdad is supposed to be a celebration of the life of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. It houses, among other knickknacks, the gifts he has received and the books he has written. A ballroom-sized hall is dedicated to a description of his life in pictures and accompanying text. In the police state that is Iraq, the museum should actually be off-limits to the people, for it is beyond comprehension that any visitor could fail to see it for what it is: A megalomaniac's blinkered description of how he has run a wealthy and rapidly developing country into the ground.

"In any other country, the leader would have resigned by now, don't you think?" an Iraqi government employee, who for obvious reasons does not want to be named, asks imploringly. A local political analyst who is normally much more cautious says angrily, "What kind of government is this? It drags its people into all kinds of dangerous adventures without even consulting us."

In whispering, cautious tones, such criticism has become much more widespread than before the latest crisis that has befallen the country. U.N. Resolution 1441 and the American threat of imminent military action have at least prompted some people to feel more free to speak their minds. These tend to be people who firmly believe that in the end the Iraqi regime will be removed. "A superpower like the USA cannot afford to let a Third World country like Iraq win this confrontation," says the analyst.

The Victory Leader's Museum makes it clear that Saddam Hussein was not always on such bad terms with the world. "We have gifts from all over, including from France and the USA," says a guide. He walks along rows of glass cases housing elaborate silver trays and plaques from countries such as India, Argentina and Ivory Coast. The only American items on display are a seal of the Senate of California, given in the 1980s, and, incongruously, a signed New York Giants football, "given by the coach in 1998," the guide claims.

Ironically, this grandiose celebration of Saddam's life brings home just how precipitously Iraq's fortunes declined after he rose to power. Just one year after being sworn in as president, he launched a disastrous war on Iran that left hundreds of thousands of people dead, created untold hardship and destruction and ruined the country's economy. The even more devastating economic effects of the Gulf War of 1991 and the ensuing U.N. sanctions have overshadowed that somewhat, especially for the young people inside Iraq.

Sarar Ibrahim feels that she has been deprived of an important part of her life. "I have only known sanctions," says the 25-year-old employee at an import-export company. With her blond-highlighted hair and gaudy pink sweater, she is the very picture of a modern Iraqi girl. Sarar wanted to study English abroad and become a teacher but that was impossible, she says, because of the sanctions. "Nothing was possible, I have not had a normal life."

The Ibrahims live in a government quarter of gray concrete flats, near the ministries. Her father, Harith, works at the Ministry of Trade in a low-paid job. Before 1991, government salaries were decent and the area is actually still known as "upper-middle class." The flats look dilapidated now, and inside the homes, too, the effects of sanctions can be seen.

Harith, 55, sits in his pajamas on the couch and tells about life after 1991. "We had to sell the car, the jewels, even some furniture and art." The room looks a little bare, although the family, like most Iraqis, can still afford a television. "I sold so much and we used up everything," says Harith. "Now if something bad happens, for example a war, we don't have anything left to help us survive."

He does, however, put his daughter's complaints somewhat in context. He took his last trip abroad in 1975; in the early '80s the economy had already started to go bad. "The Iran-Iraq war swallowed up everything after 1980 for eight long years, with a lot of blood and destruction." That time, he tells his daughter, was even worse than now. Sarar says that she cannot stand the current tension; she even seems a bit disappointed that the crisis has not come to a head yet. "It's like reading a novel and it stops every time before the story reaches its climax."

On the outside, the Ibrahims are staunchly pro-government. To be anything else would, of course, be suicidal, especially since all visits by journalists to Iraqi homes are supervised by minders from the Ministry of Information. Still, even here some doubts about an Iraqi victory shine through. Sarar has many family members and friends who serve in the army. She confesses to being worried about them: "The Americans say that they will not hit civilians, but the army will definitely be a target and many may die." A little later she emphatically corrects her fatalistic remark: "The army is of course very well prepared to fight the enemy."

The Victory Leader Museum in Baghdad is supposed to be a celebration of the life of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. It houses, among other knickknacks, the gifts he has received and the books he has written. A ballroom-sized hall is dedicated to a description of his life in pictures and accompanying text. In the police state that is Iraq, the museum should actually be off-limits to the people, for it is beyond comprehension that any visitor could fail to see it for what it is: A megalomaniac's blinkered description of how he has run a wealthy and rapidly developing country into the ground.

"In any other country, the leader would have resigned by now, don't you think?" an Iraqi government employee, who for obvious reasons does not want to be named, asks imploringly. A local political analyst who is normally much more cautious says angrily, "What kind of government is this? It drags its people into all kinds of dangerous adventures without even consulting us."

In whispering, cautious tones, such criticism has become much more widespread than before the latest crisis that has befallen the country. U.N. Resolution 1441 and the American threat of imminent military action have at least prompted some people to feel more free to speak their minds. These tend to be people who firmly believe that in the end the Iraqi regime will be removed. "A superpower like the USA cannot afford to let a Third World country like Iraq win this confrontation," says the analyst.




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