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Better Off Under Saddam



Saddam Hussein is bad man. As a 22 year old he worked with the CIA on a botched effort to assassinate Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim. The CIA and Egyptian intelligence got him out of Iraq and to Lebanon, where the CIA paid for his Beirut apartment, and then to Cairo. In 1963, under the new government headed by President ‘Abd as-Salam ‘Arif, he was placed in charge of the interrogation, torture and execution of communists whose names the CIA happily provided the new regime. He rose in the Baathist party ranks, and although jailed between 1964 and 1966, grabbed power in 1979. The Reagan administration cozied up to him after he attacked Iran; Donald Rumsfeld met with him twice and provided his regime with invaluable intelligence abetting his aggressive war on Iran in the ’80s, which took a million lives. A bad man and bad regime. The propaganda of the occupiers requires that we believe things have improved since his fall. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Women were better off under bad Saddam, one-time U.S. ally.
According to Houzan Mahmoud from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, “Under the previous dictator[ial] regime, the basic rights for women were enshrined in the constitution. Women could go out to work, university, and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house.”

Islamists are imposing the traditional Islamic dress code on women, and the general climate of lawlessness causes many women to adopt it for self-protection. “Dalal Jabbar, 19, a resident of Sadr City, a poor Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Baghdad, said Iraqi women are more afraid today than ever before. ‘There is no law to rule the country,’ she said. ‘I see the scarves as the best way to protect ourselves in Iraq now. When I walk in the street, I know I’ll have no trouble, because men prefer to look at others without a scarf, more than me.'”

Christians were better off under bad Saddam, one-time U.S. ally. According to Simon Calwell of The Times, “in the Shia-dominated south of the country[a]ll women, including Christians—who under Saddam could wear the latest fashions and make-up, and go to work—are under pressure to wear the hijab.” Churches have been bombed by Islamists, priests have been abducted for ransom, liquor shops owned by Christians have been targeted.

Baathist Iraq was a basically secular state. The current Iraqi constitution composed under occupation declares, “Islam is the official religion of the state,” “a source of legislation,” and “No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam” may be enacted. Thousands of families have fled across the border to secular, Baathist Syria—another country targeted by the U.S. for regime change.

Gays were better off under bad Saddam, one-time U.S. ally. According to Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi man recently interviewed by Amy Goodman on MPR’s Democracy Now! Program, “Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was—I mean, I’m talking about as a gay Iraqi—it was not as bad as we can see now… There [were] no homophobic attitudes toward gay and lesbians. Most of them[were] welcomed in the community and the society It’s a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and bisexuals in Iraq right now. And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific. We were very modern. We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to the rest of the Middle East. Why it’s been shifted to this Islamic dark ages country? [Saddam was] the worst thing that ever happened to Iraq, maybe, until we saw these religious mullahs who were brought to the government to lead this country. We were much better off in the Saddam time, although he [was] a tyrant.”

Intellectuals were better off under bad Saddam, one-time U.S. ally. The Times Higher Education Supplement noted in September 2004 “a widespread feeling among the Iraqi academics that they are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq.” According to the Monitoring Net for Human Rights in Iraq, over 1,000 Iraqi academics and scientists had been shot to death between the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion and late 2005.

According to Dr. Saad Jawad, a prominent political scientist at Baghdad University, ” because of the chaos, the systematized assassinations of Iraqi intellectuals have gone largely unnoticed in the outside world. Iraq is being drained of its most able thinkers, thus an important component to any true Iraqi independence is being eliminated.”

People in general were better off under bad Saddam, one-time U.S. ally.
According to John Pace, former director of the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Under Saddam, if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK. But now, no. Here, you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone.” Under Saddam the scale of abuse was “daunting,” but now, “It extends over a much wider section of the population than it did under Saddam.”

I doubt it was the intention of the Bush administration, once it decided to conquer Iraq and humiliate its former ally, to empower the religious fundamentalists who’ve launched their reign of terror on all these communities. But the administration does include some extreme Islamophobes who may delight in the general chaos they’ve inflicted on a mostly Muslim society, and who may see in the worsening situation a launch pad for more chaos in Iran. All this Islamic badness in Iraq, they’ll say, is encouraged by next door Iran. Things will only improve, “democracy” will only prevail, when Iran too enjoys a violent encounter with American goodness. As the bloody “creative chaos” they’ve unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan spreads, they’ll depict it as the necessary cure for religious fanaticism—the very fundamentalist fanaticism which secular Baathism was designed from its inception to prevent, but which in its fundamentalist Christian variety (as manipulated by secularist neocons) helps drive Bush’s apocalyptic provocation of the Islamic world.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at:




Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at:

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