In light of the trauma afflicted on nearly every facet of Iraqi society in wake of the wicked assault levelled against it by Islamic State terror group many Iraqis retrospectively view their lives during Saddam Hussein’s reign with a seemingly odd feeling of nostalgia.
To an outsider this may seem quite bizarre. Of course Iraq has been mired by chaos in the aftermath of the 2003 overthrow of Mr. Hussein has been mired with violence and civil strife. Furthermore corrupt governance didn’t go away with Saddam. Former Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki used state compulsion counter-productively in order to marginalize Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities in the political process. A move which saw the state convulsed by that divisive governance and therefore wholly inept when it came to defending the country against the initial Islamic State onslaught last June.
This doesn’t mean that the Saddam nostalgia sees Iraqis missing the days of the rule of the Mukhabarat terror and torture apparatus, the vicious and depleting war with Iran, the military engagements with America and its allies and the many years of economic sanctions. It is more so a mild nostalgia for a time when the country wasn’t fundamentally breaking up along ethnic and sectarian lines as it is today due in large part of Islamic States brutal attack on an Iraqi society already divided by weak divisive ill-representative central governance.
Interestingly the aforementioned sanction years essentially saw to it that the regime was able to cement its hold on power since the population could barely eek out a basic existence let alone fight the tyrannical system oppressing them. Furthermore the sanctions saw to it that it was the regime that supplied the basic food stuffs to the population and also gave it access to enough financial resources which allowed it to build new and extravagant palaces in each of Iraq’s provinces. The country, along with the majority of its population, was a largely beggared and devastated fiefdom in those years presided over by a brutal family regime.
But the instability was never as bad as it is today. And this is the point that needs to be remembered. As poor as Iraq was and as oppressed as the people were politically they were largely in the same boat to an extent. You didn’t for example have empowered Shia sectarians like Maliki for example using state power in order to sideline and tame the Sunni Kurds but instead you had them under the same collective whip. Today in part due to the legacy of the Iraq War the population is divided and the government and state as a whole extremely weak and ineffective. This weakness coupled with Islamic States ongoing tumultuous assault has crippled Iraq and unleashed more terrors on its people. Whole communities have been destroyed before our eyes and the very fundamental existence of the country has been directly threatened.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing that the Hussein clan was overthrown. When you remove or severely destabilize any brutal central authority in such a society these things tend to happen. When the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union invaded Iraq’s neighbour Iran in 1941 and dislodged the Iranian dictator Reza Shah Pahlavi for example they, whether they intended to or not, brought about severe instability and chaos which nearly saw to the country being ripped apart by the competing powers and driven into turmoil with tribal chieftains, communist revolutionaries and separatists alike vying for power and influence over that massive and diverse country in the vacuum brought about by the sudden removal of a powerful centralized autocracy.
In Syria another Baathist dictator is fighting an uprising and insurgency against his regime. While he wasn’t overthrown by external powers we see that the breakdown in society brought about by that uprising and the brutal attempt by the regime to crush it has seen to the society being divided and the fissures between different religious sects and ethnicities being brought to the fore and even exploited by many sides in this fight – such as Assad’s stoking of sectarian fires in order to get more reluctant Christians and Alawites behind him for their protection. Again not unlike what happened to Iraq when a hitherto brutal centralized force was suddenly unhinged very dramatically.
A feeling of quasi-nostalgia amongst Iraqis for that period should not necessarily be viewed as an endorsement of the past order nor an expression of affinity with the ancient régime. Instead it should be understood as a lamentation of sorts over the fact that since the demise of that brutal regime Iraq has not been fully stable and has to date been unable to erect a system that will allow the country and its varied and various inhabitants to reach and realize their potential. Which is certainly something to despair and lament about.
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