Many argue that we have entered a new era of the ‘strong man.’ World attention now focuses on figures such as Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping.
Against this backdrop, it is salutary to remember that Iraq was for a long time lead by its own ‘strong man’ - the ruthless and cunning persona of Saddam Hussein. No one can remember Saddam with fondness. He was a despotic generalissimo. However, it is worthwhile comparing Saddam’s Iraq (with all its faults) and the shattered, riven ruin that is Iraq today.
Under Saddam’s fiercely secular regime, creed, ethnicity and class were all held in the balance. People had food, education and health care. Some of the best trained engineers and agronomists ensured that the fabric of the country was managed to good effect - for all Iraqis.
Saddam was also implacably opposed to the germs of foreign terrorism that occasionally sprouted in Iraq. His actions against terrorists were always swift, absolute and ruthless. To put it simply he would not tolerate any group who challenged his authority or that of the secular Baathist vision of Iraq.
It is certainly true that there were disappearances and liquidations under Saddam, but for the most part everyday Iraqis lived far better and more prosperously than today. The ‘strong man’ brought certainty and a deal of stability that Iraqis have not known now for years
Remembering Saddam as the powerful despot is in no way to wish him back, or to celebrate him at all. Rather, in remembering Saddam, we should ask questions about the utter catastrophe that has now befallen Iraq. It is to ask what has been done and is being done to make Iraq a better country.
Cronyism, corruption, sectarianism, foreign intervention, massacre and barbarism are livid wounds upon the soul of the new Iraq. The chances for a better Iraq have been lost again and again. As Tacitus said ‘They made a desert and called it peace.’
There must surely come a day when this Iraqis who have endured so many years of misery will be able to see that the country is better than Saddam’s Iraq, instead of worse.