Dilip Hiro / The Guardian & Sudarsan Raghavan / Washington Post – 2007-04-09 23:25:31
Four Years After Hussein’s Fall, Regret in Iraq
Harley Fan Who Helped Topple Statue
Wants Old Order Back
Sudarsan Raghavan / Washington Post
BAGHDAD, (April 8, 2007) — In a garage filled with classic motorcycles, Khadim al-Jubouri stared at the four-year-old magazines he usually keeps tucked inside a wooden desk. All of them contained photographs of a lone, burly man wearing a black tank top and swinging a sledgehammer into the base of a tall, bronze statue of Saddam Hussein. The man was Jubouri.
Just days earlier, he might have been executed for his actions.
But it was April 9, 2003.
Crowds of chanting Iraqis, some clutching stones and sandals, swarmed Firdaus Square to deliver blows to the statue. Then, with the help of an American tank and a winch, it toppled, creating one of the defining images of the U.S.-led invasion. Over one photo of Jubouri, a headline reads: “The Fall of Baghdad.”
“It achieved nothing,” he said, after he had put away the magazines.
Four years after that moment, with violence besieging the country, Jubouri is concerned with neither benchmarks nor timelines, troop strengths nor withdrawal dates. What he cares most about is security and order, of which, he said, he has seen very little. He blames Iraq’s Shiite-led government and its security forces, and wishes for a return of the era led by the man whose statue he helped tear down.
“We got rid of a tyrant and tyranny. But we were surprised that after one thief had left, another 40 replaced him,” said Jubouri, who is a Shiite Muslim. “Now, we regret that Saddam Hussein is gone, no matter how much we hated him.”
His faith in the United States has also vanished, he said. But he still has a passion for one thing uniquely American: the Harley-Davidson. On the wall of his cluttered office, next to medals he won as a champion weightlifter, hangs a tapestry emblazoned with an American flag, a bald eagle, a Harley and the words: “Born in the USA.”
On most days, however, he cannot afford to buy gas for his own Harley, a 1982 Fat Boy.
His country today is politically fractured and struggling to find direction. He has seen four Iraqi governments since the fall of Hussein. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. At least 3,260 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
But the numbers that most directly affect Jubouri are these: Seven of his relatives and friends have been killed, kidnapped or driven from their homes. He gets four hours of electricity a day, if he’s lucky. The cost of cooking gas and fuel have soared, but his income is a quarter of what he used to earn.
“It’s gotten worse,” said Jubouri, 50, a barrel-chested man with a thick neck and an oval, cleanshaven face. “We can hardly make both ends meet.”
When he passes Firdaus Square these days, he says, he feels a mix of happiness and sorrow. He has no plans to celebrate on Monday.
“It is an ordinary day,” he said.
Jubouri, a father of four, said he once serviced classic motorcycles owned by Hussein and his son Uday. They included a British-made 1937 Norton that Hussein rode to flee Iraq in 1959 after he took part in a failed attempt to assassinate the then-prime minister, Gen. Abdul Karim Qassem. Hussein later housed the bike in a museum that proclaimed his glory.
Jubouri bought up Harleys that Iraqi soldiers had stolen in Kuwait after Iraq invaded the neighboring country in August 1990, triggering the first Persian Gulf War.
“I would dismember them and smuggle them out” to Lebanon and Turkey, said Jubouri, wearing a white T-shirt printed with an Iraqi flag and the slogan “King of Harley.”
In the mid-1990s, he was jailed for a year and a half for criticizing the government, he said. A few years later, workers began installing Hussein’s statue in Firdaus Square, not far from a gym where Jubouri was a member.
“I told myself that my hope in life is to bring that statue down,” Jubouri said.
On April 9, 2003, when it was clear that American forces had taken control of the capital and Hussein had fled, he took a sledgehammer from his garage and made his way to the square.
“As I hit the statue, I was out of my mind. I was full of hatred,” Jubouri recalled. “When it fell, I was so happy. I thought things were going to improve.”
Initially, life did get better. Under Hussein, average Iraqis could not import or export motorcycles. Suddenly, Jubouri could buy them from Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon by calling his suppliers on once-unavailable cellphones. The Syrian border was easier to cross, too, he said.
“I bought Mafia-smuggled motorcycles from Syria,” he said. “The borders are so open you can even bring TNT.”
Jubouri sold Harleys to American diplomats, and some months earned as much as $5,000, he said. Whenever U.S. soldiers entered Battaween, a rough, industrial neighborhood in central Baghdad known as a hangout for prostitutes and thieves, the Americans would stop at his garage to admire his Harleys, he said.
That did not mean he approved of the U.S. presence in Iraq, Jubouri said, but he blamed that on Hussein.
“I hated this guy because he’s the one who brought the Americans, and we hate the Americans and the occupation,” he said.
By 2005, many of his customers had begun leaving the country, at a pace that quickened last year as sectarian violence deepened after the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra. He has sold only four motorcycles in the past year, he said.
He called the new Baghdad security plan “a failure from the beginning.”
Although he has noticed that Shiite militias have faded from neighborhoods, suicide bombings have not stopped, he said. Every time he hears an explosion, he worries that his friends and relatives are among the victims.
Under Hussein, he never faced day-to-day corruption, Jubouri said, but now he must pay bribes just to get a license or file a police complaint.
“I feel lost now,” he said.
In his garage are dozens of classic motorcycles — Harleys and BMWs, Triumphs and BSAs. Many are old and rusty, badly in need of repair. But the violence has shut down many nickel and chrome factories. And without electricity, how can he operate his equipment? And without customers, why bother?
“Now, Friday is better than Saturday, and Saturday is better than Sunday,” he said, looking longingly at his Fat Boy.
The New Power in Iraq
Dilip Hiro / The Guardian
LONDON (April 9, 2007) — It will probably be a long time before the world again witnesses the downfall of a dictator, captured dramatically by the toppling of an imposing statue in the glare of TV cameras — as happened to Saddam Hussein’s bronze image in Baghdad on April 9 2003.
But little did global viewers of this historic event imagine that the collapse of the ostensibly secular Saddam would be followed by rise — unseen — of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive 73-year-old Shia cleric based in the holy city of Najaf. For all practical purposes, Sistani is the single most important leader in Iraq today.
To add insult to injury, it has been established that the dramatic event of four years ago was far from a spontaneous action by the Iraqis celebrating their liberation from Saddam’s tyranny by the benevolent troops of America and Britain.
It was stage managed. The jubilant crowd consisted mostly of the members of the Free Iraqi Force militia of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress who had been ferried into Nasiriya a week earlier in US helicopters and then flown into Baghdad. The very convenient arrival of the US Marines along with a crane was part of the show as well.
Now, far more telling is the statement of Kadhim al-Jabouri, an Iraqi weightlifting champion who, in front of TV cameras, pounded through the concrete plinth bearing the statue.
“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” he said, on the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion. “We no longer know friend from foe. The situation is getting more dangerous. People are poor and the prices are going higher and higher … Saddam was like Stalin. But the occupation is proving to be worse.”
The prime occupying power, America, is allied with the government of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a leader of al-Dawa al-Islamiya, a religious Shia party.
Al-Dawa is an integral part of the Iraq United Alliance (UIA), a coalition of religious Shia parties, conceived and blessed by Sistani.
Sistani does not dabble in day-to-day politics. He speaks through his aides only on the issues of prime importance. For instance, he disapproved of the wholesale privatisation of the 192 public sector companies that Paul Bremer, the US pro-consul in Baghdad, ordered in September 2003. He also declared that hydrocarbons belonged to the nation, thereby discouraging Bremer from seriously considering privatising the oil industry.
By calling for huge, peaceful demonstrations for direct elections to the transitional parliament charged with drafting the constitution in January 2004, Sistani squashed the American plans for a hand-picked body of Iraqis, guided by American experts, to draft the constitution along secular, democratic and capitalist lines.
When the US-appointed prime minister, Iyad Allawi, began dithering about holding elections to the interim parliament by January 2005, as stipulated by the UN Security Council Resolution 1546, Sistani informed UN secretary-general Kofi Annan that he would call for popular non-cooperation with the occupying forces if the promised poll did not take place.
Allawi yielded. In that election, the UIA won a majority of seats, and became the chief architect of the constitution. It stipulates that the Sharia law is the principal source of Iraqi legislation and that no law can be passed that violates the undisputed tenets of Islam.
Ibrahim Jaafari, a Dawa leader, became the first elected prime minister. Once the constitution was drafted and ratified in a referendum, there were elections to the 275-member parliament in December 2005. The UIA emerged as the dominant group, just 10 seats short of majority.
Though Jaafari won the contest for the UIA leadership by one vote, he was not acceptable as the prime minister to the Kurdish parties and to Washington and London. A crisis paralysed the government. It was Sistani’s personal intercession that led Jaafari to step down, making way for Maliki.
In December 2006, when US officials urged Maliki to postpone Saddam’s execution until after the religious holiday, it was to Sistani that Maliki turned for his religious opinion. Sistani reportedly gave his assent to an immediate execution.
Now, even when a major constituent of the UIA feels dissatisfied with the Mailiki government’s action, its leaders dare not break away. They know that such a step would anger Sistani and lose them popular support among Shias.
The latest example of Sistani’s unmatched power is his disapproval of the Washington-backed legislation to allow thousands of former Baath Party members to resume their government service. With that, this proposal is dead on arrival.
Little did US president George Bush realise in April 2003 that out of the ashes of Saddam Hussein would emerge an Islamist leader in the shape of a bearded and turbaned Sistani.
White House Downplays Iraq Demonstrations
WASHINGTON (April 9, 2007) — The White House on Monday downplayed anti-US rallies in Iraq called by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and said such demonstrations were a hopeful sign of freedom.
“While we have much more progress ahead of us — the United States, the coalition and Iraqis have much more to do — this is a country that has come a long way from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein,” said spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Thousands of Shiites [sic -hundreds of thousands states BBC] carrying Iraqi flags converged Monday in the holy city of Najaf as the war-torn country marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Large crowds of men, women and children, holding flags and anti-US banners, gathered in Najaf and the nearby twin city of Kufa for the protest which is also seen as a show of strength for the cleric.
“I note today that Sadr called for massive protests. I’m not sure that we’ve seen … the numbers that he was seeking in his call from his hangout in Iran,” said Johndroe.
“But Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions. And that was something they could not do under Saddam,” he said as President George W. Bush came here to push his immigration policy.
Johndroe stressed that Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia was “operating outside the rule of law in Iraq” and that such groups “will be dealt with.”
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