Saddam jailed me but his hanging was a crime. Iraq’s misery is now far worse than under his rule
At 3.30am last Saturday, I was abruptly woken by the phone ringing. My heart sank. By the time I reached the phone, I was already imagining bodies of relatives and friends, killed and mutilated.
It was 6.30am in Baghdad and I thought of the last time I spoke to my sister. She was on the roof of her house trying to get a better signal on her mobile phone, but had to end the call as an American helicopter started hovering above. Iraqis know it is within the US “rules of engagement” to shoot at them when using mobiles, and that US troops enjoy impunity whatever they do. But the call was from a Turkish TV station asking for comments on Saddam’s execution. I drew a deep sigh of relief, not for the execution, but because I did not know personally anyone killed that day.
Death is now so commonplace in Iraq that we end up ranking it in these personal terms. Last month, I attended the a’azas (remembrance events) of three people whose work I highly respected. One was for Dr Essam al-Rawi, head of the university professors’ union who documented the assassination of academics. A week before his killing his office at Baghdad University had been ransacked and documents confiscated by US troops. The others were for Dr Ali Hussain Mukhif, an academic and literary critic, and Saad Shlash, professor of journalism in Baghdad University and editor of the weekly journal Rayet Al Arab, who insisted on resisting occupation peacefully – offering writers, including myself, a space to criticise the occupation and its crimes, despite all the risks involved.
About 500 academics and 92 journalists have been murdered since the invasion of Iraq. Hundreds more have been kidnapped, and many others have fled the country after receiving threats against their lives. The human costs are so high that many Iraqis believe that had there been a competition between Saddam’s regime and the Bush-Blair occupation over the killing of Iraqi minds and culture, the latter would win by far. Sadly, I am becoming one of them.
I am speaking as one who has been, from the start, a politically active opponent of the Ba’ath regime’s ideology and Saddam Hussain’s dictatorship.
At times that was at the high personal cost of prison and torture. In 1984, during the Iran-Iraq war, my family had to pay for the bullets used to execute my cousin Fouad Al Azzawi before being allowed to collect his body.
But I find myself agreeing with many Iraqis, that life now is not just the continuity of misery and death under new guises. It is much, much worse – even without the extra dimensions of pillage, corruption and the total ruin of the infrastructure.
Every day brings with it, due to the presence of occupation troops to protect US citizens’ safety and security, less safety and security for Iraqis.
The timing and method of the execution of Saddam Hussein proves that the US administration is still criminally high on the cocktail of power, arrogance, and ignorance. But above all racism: what is good for us is not good for you. We are patriots but you are terrorists.
The US and their Iraqi puppets in the green zone chose to execute Saddam on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. This is the most joyous day in the Muslim calendar when more than 2 million pilgrims in Mecca start their ancient rituals, with hundreds of millions of others around the world focused on the events. They then further humiliated Muslims by releasing the official video of the execution, with the 69-year-old having a noose placed around his neck and being led to the drop. The unofficial recording shows Saddam looking calm and composed, and even managing a sarcastic smile, asking the thugs who taunted him “hiya hiy al marjala?”
(“is this your manliness?”), a powerful phrase in Arabic popular culture connecting manliness to acts of courage, pride and chivalry. He also managed to repeatedly say the Muslim creed as he was dying, thus attaching himself in the last few seconds of his life to one billion Muslims. Saddam had literally the final say. From now on, no Eid will pass without people remembering his execution.
This was the climax of a colonial farce with the court proceedings’ blatant sectarian overtones welcomed by Bush and the British government as a “fair trial”. The occupation also welcomed the grotesque public execution as “justice being done”. Contrast this with the end of our hopes, as Iraqis in opposition, of persuading our people of the humanity of democracy and how it would, unlike Saddam’s brutality, put an end to all abuses of human rights, to execution in public, and to the death penalty.
It is no good the deputy prime minister John Prescott now condemning the manner of Saddam’s execution as “deplorable” when, as a representative of one of the two main occupying powers, his government is both legally and morally responsible for what took place.
It is hell in Iraq by all standards, and there is no end in sight to the plight of Iraqi people. The resistance to occupation is a basic human right as well as a moral responsibility. That was the case during the Algerian war of independence, the Vietnamese war of independence, and it is the case in Iraq now.
Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi-born novelist and former prisoner of Saddam’s regime firstname.lastname@example.org