The fall of Saddam Hussein and his subsequent execution was not a fresh start for Iraq, as it spawned a regional power vacuum filled by Iran that has now claimed millions of lives across Iraq and Syria.
Ten years ago today, former Iraqi president and dictator Saddam Hussein was executed on the eve of the Islamic sacrifice festival – full of symbolism – by hooded Shia militiamen. The militants were chanting the names of clerics, such as that of firebrand Muqtada Al-Sadr, and were baying for Saddam's blood as he stood calmly on the scaffold. Saddam even managed a few quips mocking their manhood and uttered the Islamic declaration of faith before he was finally killed by hanging. However, his blood did not slake the thirst of the Iran-backed "de-mock-racy" that replaced his dictatorship, and the violence continued unabated and spread to neighbouring Syria, including the insane slaughter in Aleppo that we all witnessed on our screens.
Cracking the Arabs' skull
Depending on where you are from in the world and your experiences, you will reminisce about Saddam differently. The average Westerner would more than likely look upon the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a disaster, but will only see Saddam as a madman bent on killing Kurds and Shias and everything in between. This distorted view is as a result of the equally mad rush to vilify Saddam in the run-up to the Gulf War in 1990. However, a perspective rarely presented is one where Saddam's Iraq was the very Eastern Gate of the Arab world, and its hardened skull, as the famous Arab saying goes.
The Eastern Gate was held fast against a threat that has now permeated and spread like a biblical plague across the region, claiming millions of lives and shattering countless millions more. For a very long time, Iraq stood firm against this threat and held it like a dam holds back great rivers and stems their powerful currents. Iraq saved the Arab world from the deluge of suffering that this threat would bring.
That threat was sectarian Iranian Shia fundamentalism that is currently overseeing a genocide against the largest demographic in the Middle East – the Sunni Arabs. The skull of the Arabs, Iraq, was shattered and the Eastern Gate of the Arab world smashed open. This happened tragically with the aid of Arabs such as Saudi Arabia under King Abdullah and others from the Arabian Gulf who worked hand-in-hand with the United States. These same countries are now ruing the day they betrayed not only Saddam, but Iraq as a nation and a people, and only because the sectarian pestilence and imperialist ambitions of Iran are now threatening to swallow them whole.
As Aleppo has breathed its last as a partially free city, one must also bear in mind how Saddam opposed the Syrian Ba'athists as he viewed them as antithetical to the dream of Arab unity. Iraqi Ba'athism, adopted by the Syrian-Christian founder of the movement, Michel Aflaq, still believed in uniting the Arab world. Aflaq and the Iraqi Ba'athists denounced the Syrian Ba'athists and especially the Assad regime – then under Hafez Al-Assad – as being motivated only by personal ambition without promoting the cause of Arabism.
It is for that reason that Saddam backed the Syrian revolutionaries in 1982, ironically supporting the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately for the Syrian people and the Arab world, the uprising failed and resulted in the massacre of Hama that killed about 40,000 men, women and children – a veritable molehill compared to the mountain of skulls Hafez's son, Bashar, has amassed in Syria today.
'We now have 1,000 Saddams'
The above is how many Arabs, not just Iraqis, remember Saddam Hussein. People may be viewing the past with rose-tinted spectacles, but that is a simple measure of how atrocious things have become in Iraq and the wider region since the Iraqi dictator was toppled by a foreign coalition, with Iran and its allies as the main beneficiaries.
There is little doubt that the man was a brutal dictator who quashed any alternative voices and destroyed any who opposed him. I was raised in the United Kingdom and dispossessed of much of my rights and heritage because of Saddam's oppression and inability to accept an idea of such a thing as a political opposition, even coming from those Sunni Arabs (like my family) who opposed the Ba'athists. Contrary to accusations of him favouring the Sunni Arabs, however, I will be the first to say that the man was no sectarian.
Many of the Ba'athists who worked with him were Shia. A cursory glance at the infamous pack of cards used by the US to identify Ba'ath fugitives will reveal a large number of non-Sunnis in his inner circle, including Shias such as Muhammed Hamza Al-Zubaydi, a particularly vicious example of Saddam's Ba'athist elite. Saddam's foreign minister was also Tariq Aziz, a Christian Chaldean, who recently died after being mistreated in the Iraqi de-mock-racy's gulags. Saddam simply destroyed anyone who approached his throne, whether Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd, Shia, Christian or anyone else, and it was as simple as that.
A man who gained fame for taking a sledgehammer to Saddam's statue in Firdaous Square in central Baghdad in 2003 has recently said he wanted the dictator back. Kadhim Hassan Al-Jibouri, himself a Shia Arab, and therefore one of those apparently specifically targeted and "oppressed" by Saddam, lamented modern Iraq: "Now, when I go past that statue, I feel pain and shame. I ask myself – why did I topple [Saddam's] statue? I'd like to put it back up, and rebuild it…if I wasn't afraid [the militias] would kill me."
"Saddam has gone, and in his place we now have 1,000 Saddams," Al-Jibouri told the BBC.
I would say he is only partially right. Saddam Hussein at least never betrayed Iraq, even if he was a brutal dictator. Instead, those who replaced him willingly and gleefully sold the country and its people first to the US and then to Iran, and left the Iraqis to languish in a state far worse than what Saddam left them in.
Should anyone complain about why Saddam is lionised by many across the Arab world today, they need only look at what has happened once dictatorship was removed, and de-mock-racy implanted in its stead, and all the death, murder and destruction that this false edifice created.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.