First Published: 2016-12-29

Saddam Hussein 'lives on' in Baghdad shop
While dictator was brutal to those who opposed him, there are those who still look back fondly on his time in power, especially in comparison to following years.
Middle East Online

Iraqi shopkeeper holds watch bearing Saddam's portrait

BAGHDAD - Shopkeeper Anwar offers Saddam Hussein photos, coins and postage stamps that keep the ousted president alive 10 years after his execution and cater to customers nostalgic for his rule.

While Saddam was brutal to those who opposed him, and led his country into two disastrous wars, there are those who still look back fondly on his time in power, especially in comparison to the years of devastating internal violence and ineffective governance that followed his overthrow in 2003.

In his antique shop, Anwar proudly caresses a leather holster stamped with the words: "On behalf of President Saddam Hussein."

"It was a gift that Saddam gave to deserving officers," said Anwar, who may be his own best customer for Saddam memorabilia.

"I am constantly looking for items related to Saddam, but when I find them, I often keep them for myself," said the young man, who mainly trades in more innocuous, non-political items.

Offering a line of reasoning often used to support the ex-president, Anwar said: "Saddam Hussein knew how to control the country."

"And I say this as a son of the south," he said, indicating that he is a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, which along with the Kurds was the target of deadly oppression under Saddam's rule.

It was for the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail that Saddam was found guilty of crimes against humanity, a verdict that led to his execution by hanging on December 30, 2006.

That was "the day of the end of the head of the snake that reduced Iraqis to the rank of humiliated citizens", said Khalaf Abdulsamad, a lawmaker from the Shiite Dawa party which has held the Iraqi premiership since 2006.

Saddam countered dissent with prison, torture and death, started a disastrous 1980-1988 war with Iran, and invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading to years of punishing sanctions.

But his rule also offered stability, quality education, health care, employment and services for most of the population -- commodities that have often been in short supply in the years since his fall.

- 'From serpent to serpents' -

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq unleashed years of sectarian violence, including frequent bombings, kidnappings and executions that peaked from 2006-2008.

That violence was sharply reduced by the combination of Sunni Arab tribesmen joining forces with American troops, and the US military's "surge" of additional forces in Iraq.

But it was not to last: violence steadily rose in the years after the US military withdrew in 2011, driven in large part by widespread anger among Iraqi Sunni Arabs with then-premier Nuri al-Maliki's government.

Maliki's heavy-handed response to anti-government protests led to the loss of control of one entire city and shifting parts of a second in early 2014.

That was followed six months later by a sweeping offensive by the Islamic State jihadist group, which overran swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad.

Iraqi forces have pushed the jihadists back, but doing so has devastated Sunni Arab cities and towns, laying the groundwork for further discontent and conflict.

In Anwar's shop, Abu Osama looks at stamps bearing Saddam's image and a book of photos of the ousted dictator.

He is a Sunni who served as an officer in Saddam's army, but said he is not a supporter of his former commander-in-chief.

"But I love justice, and we are sorely lacking it today," Abu Osama said.

He did not buy anything from the shop, his memories of Saddam's rule preserved in photos he has at home.

The new political class that took power after Saddam's fall has done little to endear itself to many Iraqis, even outside its repeated failure to secure the country.

Corruption is rampant, basic services such as electricity and water sorely lacking, and government riven by sectarianism and political infighting.

Months of protests in Baghdad and elsewhere drew repeated pledges that reforms would be carried out, but little in the way of real or lasting change has taken place so far.

Ilaf, a law student who was visiting Anwar's shop, criticised both Iraq's past and present leadership.

"Saddam Hussein was an enormous serpent," he said.

"Today, it is a multitude of small serpents that lead us."


Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Rebels to evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home