In the imagocratic world which inhabits us, one image is usually repeated ad nauseam until it secures its permanent place in this or that grand narrative as the moment par excellence. Such is the case with the toppling of Saddam’s statue at Al-Firdaws Square in my hometown of Baghdad a few days ago. For the majority of this planet’s inhabitants that image will crystallize the so-called “liberation” of Iraq and the end of Saddam’s dictatorship.
Like millions of Iraqis, I have spent years fantasizing about Saddam’s demise. I used to scout the murals in our neighborhood and had planned to rush to the closest one as soon as Saddam was gone to start my revenge against his likeness. I thought of adding two horns to his head, or even giving him a long tail. But, alas, I fled the country after the 1991 Gulf War and Saddam was still in charge (thanks to the US which had bombed Iraq back to the pre-Industrial age, but left Saddam in place). The very last glimpse I caught of Iraq as the bus crossed the border to Jordan was yet another mural of Saddam in military attire.
However, the relief and joy I felt upon seeing Saddam’s statue toppled lasted only a few seconds. The scene was marred by the presence of American tanks and soldiers who, before reaching that square to help a few Iraqis topple down the statue, had slaughtered many civilians and left a trace of blood and destruction.
Alas, tyranny is now replaced with colonialism. Let us not be intoxicated by that image and let it erase the fact that this “liberating” power itself was complicit in propping and supporting Saddam throughout the 1980’s when he waged his war against Iran and killed one million Iraqis. All those Iraqis were not worthy of liberation back then, because they were serving another function: fodder for weapons and for containing Khomeini’s Iran. I remember seeing Rumsfeld shake hands with our oppressor on Iraqi TV back in the early 1980’s and both Bush I and Reagan supplied him with weapons and military intelligence while he was gassing Iraqi Kurds. No wonder it was difficult to topple him without his original sponsors who came uninvited and with ulterior motives that have become painfully obvious by now.
Yes there were Iraqis cheering and dancing, but that should not be (mis)interpreted as rolling out the red carpet for American tanks. The crowd at Al-Firdaws square was a few hundred and no more. Baghdad is a city of 4.5 million. Some were cordial towards US troops, but the great majority in other parts of Baghdad and the country at large were looking through the rubble of their lives and counting the dead and the wounded.
After surrounding the statue and announcing the end of Saddam’s era to the world, the liberators stood still and watched the country descend into lawlessness. The power vacuum unleashed the violence and repression of three decades of tyranny and exposed the total erosion of Iraqi social fabric (thanks to twelve years of the most draconian sanctions in history). Even if there were some Iraqis who had given the US the benefit of the doubt, they have changed their mind by now and one can see their anger everywhere. It is surely no coincidence that the only ministry protected from looting is the Ministry of Oil!
Bush’s first words to Iraqi soldiers on the first day of the war were “not to burn the oil wells.”
There is much more than misplanning and blatant disregard of the responsibilities of an occupying power towards the occupied population. The chaos and anarchy allowed by the US in Iraq will be used as a justification for a longer military presence in Iraq. The latter will, in turn, ensure the emergence of an Iraqi regime totally beholden to US interests.
One other important detail erased by the image of liberation is the sight of American corporations salivating like hyenas and waiting for the prey to give out its last breath so they can jump in and sink in their powerful claws. Make no mistake about it. Every single item looted and destroyed will be replaced by an American corporation and paid for by Iraqi oil. The more the merrier. The Lebanese-American apologist Fouad Ajami was right when he called the war “the acquisition of Iraq.”
“Al-Firdaws,” the name of the square where “liberation” took place, means “paradise” in Arabic. The hawks promised that a post-Saddam Iraq would be a paradise for Iraqis. It seems that that future paradise has already been lost!
* Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi poet
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