15 years after Saddam’s fall, Iraqi hopes fade

After the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq, freed from nearly a quarter century of dictatorship, descended into violence. Getty Images
Updated 07 April 2018
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15 years after Saddam’s fall, Iraqi hopes fade

BAGHDAD: Fifteen years ago, Abu Ali was thrilled to see American soldiers enter Baghdad. “The tyrant is finished,” he remembers saying, imagining a bright future for Iraq without Saddam Hussein.
But the years that followed have brought only misery, he said, looking at photos of three of his sons killed in attacks in the ensuing chaos.
After the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq, freed from nearly a quarter century of dictatorship, descended into violence.
Sectarian clashes and jihadist attacks divided families and killed tens of thousands of people, leaving behind wounds that have yet to heal and a lagging economy.
In July 2007, Abu Ali’s eldest son, 18 at the time, was killed when a car bomb hit a busy street in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood.
He had been selling watermelons to passers-by trying to escape the summer heat.
Six years later almost to the day, the taxi driver’s two younger sons, Alaa, 23, and Abbas, 17, were also killed in an attack.
The losses are written in deep lines along his face, aged well beyond his 61 years.
Abu Ali used to dream of lives for his children that would be better than his own, but now he only visits them at the cemetery.
“I go to their graves every week, I feel like they’re sitting near me,” he said, wearing a white scarf and a traditional beige robe.
Abu Ali’s hopes for a brighter future have faded. “The situation does not bode well... no one thinks of the people,” he said. “The parties only seek to win seats.”
Things were different before, said Qais Al-Sharea, a hairdresser in the capital.
“Saddam Hussein was the strong man, the one who controlled everything and scared the entire world with his chemical weapons,” he said.
Each morning, when he opened his salon in Al-Ferdous Square in the heart of Baghdad, the dictator’s colossal statue stood guard outside.
On April 9, 2003, Sharea, who had stayed at home that day, watched on television as US soldiers with an armored vehicle helped a crowd armed with a sledgehammer pull down the bronze statue in front of his shop.
“Baghdad fell when the statue fell,” he told AFP at the foot of the giant platform, now covered with rubble poorly hidden by crumpled sheet metal — the site of a construction project that has so far failed to take shape.
Sharea, 27 at the time, thought “like all young people” that Baghdad would soon be filled with nightclubs and restaurants.
“We (thought) we would travel the world,” he said.
But instead of progress and opening to the world, life in Iraq has turned into a case of “one step forward and five back,” said Sharea.
Mahmoud Othman, a 65-year-old Kurdish politician who served as a member of Iraq’s transitional leadership after Saddam’s fall, dreamed of a better tomorrow.
But if “the Americans had a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they had no agenda for post-Saddam,” said Othman, who had been a Kurdish peshmerga fighter since the age of 18.
State institutions and Saddam’s all-powerful Baath Party were dismantled as opposition figures returned from exile.
But corruption and sectarian tensions — fueled by militias born in the security vacuum created by the dismantling of the security forces — flourished.
“We thought we’d have a federal and democratic system, but we’ve had sectarianism and chauvinism,” said Rauf Maaruf, leader of the Kurdish opposition party Goran.
Members of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities say they have paid the highest price for the past decade-and-a-half of chaos.
“Our country has been going through catastrophe after catastrophe,” said the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, who has watched his community shrink.
Every institution has been affected, according to Abdel Salam Al-Samer, a 58-year-old university teacher for the past three decades.
“The situation in Iraq has deteriorated and so have our universities,” said Samer, who has seen political factions interfere in education and colleagues killed by militias.


US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on top of a building on February 17, 2019, in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 55 sec ago
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US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

  • Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it wanted to ensure foreign terrorists remain off the battlefield as it weighed options on an American detained in Syria who says she wants to return home.
The United States has urged European powers to take back hundreds of their citizens who fought with the Daesh group in Syria, but acknowledged the situation was complex in the rare case of an American terrorist.
Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old from Alabama who became a prominent online agitator for the extremists, said in an interview published Sunday with The Guardian that she had been brainwashed online and “deeply regrets” joining the movement.
While declining to discuss Muthana’s case specifically, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that the status of US citizens detained in Syria “is by definition extremely complicated.”
“We’re looking into these cases to better understand the details,” he told reporters.
Palladino said that the United States generally did not see a different solution between what to do with US fighters and with foreigners, saying the fighters pose “a global threat.”
“Repatriating these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin, ensuring that they are prosecuted and detained — that’s the best solution, preventing them from returning to the battlefield,” he said.
The situation of foreign terrorists detained by US-allied Kurdish forces has taken a new urgency as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces say they may have to refocus on fighting Turkey, which has vowed to crush Kurdish fighters it links to separatists at home.
Trump has contemplated reopening the US military base at Guantanamo Bay to take in new foreign inmates, while Britain on Tuesday revoked the citizenship of a female terrorsist who wanted to return home with her newborn baby.
Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution.
Muthana, who was married three times to terrorists and has a son with one of her husbands, fled her family in 2014 to join the Daesh group in Syria, where she took to Twitter to urge attacks on fellow Americans.
In the interview with The Guardian, Muthana said that she was “really young and ignorant” when she joined Daesh and has since renounced radicalism.
“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East,” she told the newspaper.
Hassan Shilby, a lawyer for Muthana, told ABC television’s “Good Morning America” that the young woman had been “brainwashed and manipulated” and is “absolutely disgusted” by the person she became.