Ten years on from his capture, Saddam’s legacy still haunts Iraq

FRIDAY is the tenth anniversary of an event that very few people seem to want to celebrate these days – the capture in Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

For most Americans, it is a reminder of a mission that went badly wrong, while for many Iraqis, Saddam’s rule is now looked at as a time of relative peace and security.

One man who likes to remind himself of it every day, though, is Mwaffak al Rubaie, an Iraqi politician who was present when Saddam was subsequently hung.

In the living room of his home in Baghdad, he has a statue of Saddam’s head, complete with the original rope used in the hanging wrapped around his neck (pictured below).

Gallows humour – Mowaffak al Rubaie has a statue of Saddam with the rope that was used to hang him

“I have it there to remind me that my country used to be run by a dictator, and how we should never allow it to happen again,” he told me when I talked him on a reporting trip to Baghdad last week.

I must say, it’s not the kind of ornament I would choose for own my front room. But it is one of the few bits of Saddam memorabilia still around in Iraq.

None of the big montages of him that used to festoon the country are still standing, and the “spider hole” where he was found near his home town of Tikrit is now off-limits.

Back when he was caught, I was working as a freelancer in Iraq, and was one of several hundred reporters to claim a “world exclusive” after being allowed to clamber into the hole by jubilant US troops.

So during a trip to Tikrit last February, I returned to the area to see if we look round it again, only to be told by the man who owns the land that he would get into trouble with the Iraqi government if he let me anywhere near it.

The same goes for the Saddam family mausoleum near his home village of al-Owja, where he is buried with both his sons Uday and Qusay. Fearful that it might become a shrine for Saddam loyalists, the Iraqi authorities now forbid any journalists from visiting or photographing it.

The 25 million dollar man – Saddam spent nearly nine months on the run

Instead, the one thing in Iraq that hasn’t gone away since Saddam’s time is the atrocious violence. When he was caught, it was widely expected that it would be a death blow to the anti-Western insurgency, which was then assumed to be made up mainly of die-hard Saddam loyalists.

Far from it, things simply got worse, as many Iraqis who hadn’t previously avoided fighting for  that they might help Saddam get to power again then felt free to join in. Foreign militants from al-Qaeda were also in on the act by then, fusing the anti-US jihad with a sectarian agenda against Iraqi Shias.

As we report in Friday’s paper, the violence has waxed and waned ever since, peaking at 3,000 deaths per month during the Sunni-Shia civil war of 2006-7, and dropping off to roughly 200 a month for much of 2010.

Now, thanks to a resurgence of al-Qaeda in the past year, it is back to up to nearly 1,000 a month – roughly twice what it was when Saddam was caught.

In al-Owja, Saddam’s home village, locals once proudly told The Telegraph that you could see Saddam’s face in the moon. I suspect that if he’s looking down at Iraq right now, there’s probably a sly grin on his face.


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