Saddam nostalgia lives on

March 12, 2013

SCRIPT: Cheers for a native son. Although Saddam Hussein was tried for war crimes and executed in 2006, sentiment for Iraq’s longtime dictator in his hometown of Tikrit is as strong today as after his death. SOUNDBITE 1 - Abu Hussein al-Mussawi (man), farmer in Salaheddin province (Arabic, 17 sec.): "We cherish Saddam Hussein even more than the others who cherish de Gaulle, because this man served us, served the citizen, served the land, and if I want to talk about his achievements and about what this man has accomplished, I will need a whole day or maybe more." Iraq’s strongman was finally found by US troops cowering in a hole near Tikrit in December 2003, eight months after Baghdad fell to a US-led coalition to oust his regime. Today, the country’s now divided political class fuels nostalgia for a man who was an international pariah and responsible for ordering the deaths of countless Iraqis. SOUNDBITE 2 - Um Mustafa (woman), school teacher in Tikrit secondary school for girls (Arabic, 14 sec.): "Despite the failures that occurred in the time of the former regime, it is not comparable to the number of failures by the politicians and the current government. Now our country is occupied by the United States from abroad and occupied by Iran from the inside." Political disillusionment goes hand-in-hand with frustration over the slow pace of rebuilding in the post-Saddam era. Many Iraqis still suffer from poor basic services and high unemployment, which some say they would exchange for the domestic stability they enjoyed under Saddam. SOUNDBITE 3 - Abu Ali al-Tikriti (man), retired former Iraqi army officer (Arabic, 22 sec.): "We've not seen the government do anything but marginalisation -- three-quarters of the former security forces do not receive salaries -- sabotage the country, explosions, security is missing, and all the issues that the citizen needs are not available to him." Today in Tikrit, Saddam’s grave is closed to the public, but memory of the man looms large. SHOTLIST: TIKRIT, IRAQ, APRIL 28, 2009, SOURCE: AFPTV/M. SALIH - VAR of people gathering to pay respects at the tomb of Saddam Hussein TIKRIT, IRAQ, FEBRUARY 25, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV/N. ABDUL JABBAR - VAR of Abu Hussein al-Mussawi - SOUNDBITE 1 BAGHDAD, OCTOBER 18, 1995, SOURCE: AFP - Photo of Saddam Hussein waving to his supporters in his first public appearance since he was reelected as president for seven years in a referendum with 99.96 percent of the votes TIKRIT, IRAQ, FEBRUARY 6, 2004, SOURCE: PENTAGON - VAR of Saddam Hussein after he was captured *NO RESALE FOR NON EDITORIAL PURPOSES* BAGHDAD, SOURCE: AFP - Photo dated from the early 1980s showing Saddam Hussein in his office in Baghdad BAGHDAD, NOVEMBER 25, 2010, SOURCE: AFPTV/N. ABDUL JABBAR - WS of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the presidential palace IRAQ, SOURCE: AFP - Combo photo showing undated portraits of Saddam Hussein in different outfits TIKRIT, IRAQ, FEBRUARY 25, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV/N. ABDUL JABBAR - MS of Um Mustafa - SOUNDBITE 2 - VAR of city of Tikrit - VAR of Abu Ali al-Tikriti - SOUNDBITE 3 TIKRIT, IRAQ, APRIL 28, 2009, SOURCE: AFPTV/M. SALIH - WS of building where Saddam Hussein's tomb is kept BAGHDAD, NOVEMBER 20, 2000, SOURCE: AFP/K. SAHIB - Photo of Saddam Hussein saluting the crowd during a military parade /// ---------------------------------------------------- AFP TEXT STORY: Iraq-war-10years-Saddam Saddam nostalgia lives on by Salam Faraj TIKRIT, Iraq, March 4, 2013 (AFP) - A decade after the US-led invasion of Iraq, years of violence and disdain for the country's current political class fuel nostalgia for Saddam Hussein -- the man the foreign troops fought to oust. Though accusations of ties to Saddam and his regime are used to tar politicians in Baghdad, residents of his hometown, Tikrit, express fondness for a man who, though responsible for ordering the deaths of countless Iraqis, is remembered for having imposed stability, which has long been missing. "I will remain proud, and remember Saddam," said Khaled Jamal, a watch-seller in Tikrit. "Our country has not changed or developed in the past 10 years." Along with his frustration over the slow pace of rebuilding -- many Iraqis, not just in Tikrit, suffer from poor provision of basic services and high unemployment -- Jamal also voiced another commonly-cited frustration: the apparent rise in sectarianism since Saddam's fall. "There was no sectarianism, no Sunni and Shiite," Jamal said. "But now, that is the first question you hear when you meet someone," he added, referring to queries over a person's province of origin, often used to find out their religious background. Saddam was born on April 28, 1937 in the village of Al-Oja, just south of Tikrit, which lies north of Baghdad. An activist in the now-banned Arab socialist Baath Party, Saddam was sentenced to death in 1959 for plotting to kill Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qassem, and was a senior figure in the party when it took control of Iraq in a 1968 military coup, though he only rose to power 11 years later. Domestically, Saddam espoused a secular vision for the country and presented himself as an Arab leader who would stand up to neighbouring non-Arab Iran, but was brutal with his opponents. He is held responsible for the killings of tens of thousands of Kurds in the "Anfal" campaign, and of up to 100,000 people who took part in an uprising against his rule after the 1991 Gulf War, as well as other massacres. Internationally, he fought a costly and deadly 1980-1988 war with Iran and invaded Kuwait in 1990 before being evicted by a US-led international coalition, leading to crushing sanctions and a trade embargo against Iraq. Saddam was an international pariah by the time of the 2003 invasion, his subsequent capture in 2004 and execution in December 2006. But in Tikrit, he is remembered far more fondly as a leader who fought for Iraq and was at the helm at a time when Iraqis enjoyed relative domestic stability, especially compared to the brutal violence that followed his ouster. Saddam lavished attention on Tikrit, to the detriment of other, particularly southern, Iraqi cities, but as a result his legacy in the city remains strong. "It is natural that we remain proud of him," said Umm Sara. "Despite the circumstances Iraq was living with, he was leading the country without problems." "Saddam helped us a lot, so it is natural that we cherish him just as others are proud of Charles de Gaulle," said Abu Hussein, referring to the former French president. "Saddam had a strong personality -- he imposed it on those inside and outside the country." -- 'They make us love Saddam' -- -------------------------------- Residents who lived through the chaos of the post-2003 period, during which tens of thousands were killed in a bloody sectarian war, recall a pre-invasion time when violence was concentrated in the hands of the security forces and Iraqis could -- in theory -- avoid their wrath. And though public services were poor -- Baghdad residents received full electricity, but those elsewhere saw far less -- the regime ran a substantial food-for-the-poor scheme during the UN embargo era in a bid to curb opposition to Saddam's rule. Now, Iraqis are reliant on private generators to fill the substantial power gap, jobs remain scarce, corruption is rampant and some are dissatisfied with their current elected political leaders. "I am thankful to the current politicians," said Ines, a 37-year-old teacher in Tikrit. Referring to the struggles many Iraqis still face, and the frustrations they feel, she said: "They make us love Saddam, they make us proud of him, they make us miss those days." sf/psr/wd/hc