How toppling Saddam led to the toppling of Iraq
Ten years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was paraded via mobile-phone photos on international television before being hanged by religious Shia extremists backed by Iran, it is hard to escape the reality that his demise was also the toppling of Iraq as a state and society.
It should go without saying that this does not mean that Iraq always stood no chance without Saddam to lead it because that would be patently untrue.
Iraqis have a long, proud and storied history of not only being a regional centre of learning, commerce and the arts but also of being at the focal point of power in the region. It was in the Baghdad halls of power of the Abbasid caliphate that the Arab and Islamic golden age flourished and reached its zenith. Many Iraqis are descended from that fine stock of centuries ago and their capacity for greatness exists beyond any one particular personality such as Saddam, no matter how dominant.
However, it is how Saddam was removed from power that ensured that Iraq would not flourish after his fall and would tumble into an abyss. Let us be clear: Iraq was not liberated nor was Saddam overthrown by the Iraqis themselves. Iraq was conquered via the means of an illegal US-led invasion with a few token Iraqi opposition groups to lend the destruction of Iraq some misplaced credence with a misinformed and gullible audience that would buy the nonsense that Iraq aided and abetted al- Qaeda.
It has become increasingly exasperating that it is necessary to list facts so people get a measure of the annihilation of Iraq. Prior to 2003, Iraq was stable — fact. Prior to 2003, Iraq was secure — fact. Prior to 2003, Iraq did not have a problem with terrorism — fact. Prior to 2003, Iraq was not rent asunder by brutal sectarianism — fact.
That Saddam was a brutal dictator who would smash any opposing voices is undeniable and naturally can never be condoned. However, that is dwarfed when placed alongside what has happened to Iraq post-2003, which has much in common with a wasteland governed by rival warlords and their gangs and with a government holed up in Baghdad’s Green Zone to give a veneer of a democratic administration being in charge and have everything under control.
In Saddam’s Iraq, even parallel forces to the main army, such as the Popular Army, could not operate anywhere he did not allow them to. Irrespective of his crimes, of which there were many, at least he presided over a functioning state, complete with institutions and some sort of chain of command and accountability both within the military and the civilian bureaucracy.
Can the same be said about the Iraq of today? The answer to that is a resounding no.
Is that the best Iraq can aspire to? Replacing one brutal dictator with multiple sources of endless brutality?