Life In Saddam Hussein’s Era – Abdulrahman Al-Rais, Iraq (Kurdistan)

As a Kurdish child, I grew up in a society in which the people felt extreme hatred towards the previous Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. If his name was mentioned, you could see the hate, spite and painful memories in people’s eyes. As a child I never understood this hatred, until I grew up, and was finally old enough to open history books. Within these books I found a very extensive and horrible history of my country, and I read of awful crimes committed by Saddam’s government against the Kurdish nation, and the Iraqi nation in general. I was taught never to trust history books, so in an attempt to understand ‘Life in Saddam Hussein’s Era’, I looked for a way to go back in time.

Saddam Hussein in 1980. (AFP)

The best way I could see to do that was by talking to people. I conducted a significant number of interviews with people who had lived long enough(20+ years) in that era to help me understand, first hand, life at that time, enabling me to write this article. All the information given in my article was provided by, supported by and agreed on by my interviewees. I wrote this article with the intention of giving a complete insight into this topic to other young people.

Let’s go back to those dark, gloomy days when everybody was in a state of fear, anxiety and insecurity, all at the mercy of one man. Living with no Liberty nor basic human rights. Living with the risk of suffering torture, rape, murder, or forced disappearances at the hands of the government. Everyone was living and being raised like sheep, followers with no opinion, as kids being filled with the ba’athist propaganda and adults unable to make a difference or even form their own opinion about the government. Making people live in these circumstances, with a high rate of poverty, makes me wonder whether I should even consider those people in the government to be humans.

The Ba’ath party was the leading and dominant party in Iraq. Throughout its time in power, the party used many horrifying methods to rid itself of opponent parties, and as the name suggests, the Ba’ath party clearly treated Arabs better than other nationalities, which caused a class system to form in the iraqi nation (Arabs were considered first class citizens and kurds were considered second class, however Saddam’s injustice harmed both). A person who was not a part of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party had no hope and no chances of improvement in their life. The ways the Ba’ath party used to make people become involved in it, shows that getting in, was in fact obligatory and not optional, for example, starting from middle school, students had to fill out forms to confirm that they were willing to be a part of the Ba’ath, and those who refused faced the possibility of sanctions. Also, the Ba’ath party made life relatively easier for it’s followers compared to non-ba’aths, even though most of its followers didn’t participate in the party’s activities. Rather, their existence was mainly for the purpose of increasing the number of followers and supporters of the party.

Responses from my Interviewees:

-What were some of the undesirable, or banned activities and  items at the time?

  • It was dangerous to visit mosques because some anti-government movements were held in mosques.
  • Communism and any other political thinking was banned.
  • Muslim Shi’a religious activities- the Ba’ath arab socialist party claimed they supported all religious populations, rights, and activities, but in reality they were only accepting of the leader, Saddam Hussein’s religion, which was Sunni Muslim.
  • It was generally dangerous to grow a beard.
  • Satellites, cell phones and internet were censored or blocked, in order to make accessing information harder for citizens inside and outside of Iraq, and to make a closed society, with no understanding of how it was being indoctrinated.
  • Freedom of expression didn’t exist.
  • There was no diversity in opinions.
  • Fruit was uncommon because of how expensive it was in relation to the average salary, and people had other expenses to take into account,  for example an average teacher’s salary was(3000 I.D) whilst an average house rent was around (25000 I.D)
  • Desserts were also uncommon and expensive because the government believed that sugar had more important uses than being wasted on desserts. Dessert makers could even face sanctions.

The more I found out about life in Saddam Hussein’s Era from my interviewees, the more I linked what I was hearing, to what I’d heard about today’s North Korea. Despite the terrible situations, I also asked my interviewees about the positives in Saddam’s Era. Their responses to this question can be summarized into two points:

  1. Safety: Many mentioned Safety as the top positivity in that time. Safety does not exist in Iraq today, which causes many people to wish that they were living back in Saddam’s dark days, where there was less robbing, less murdering and less crime between citizens. But why was there less crime? I believe that the reason is to do with the extreme punishments, sanctions, and high fines that the government used- a person would be executed for the slightest reasons. This caused a fear in people that significantly reduced crime. Saddam’s government planted fear in people to control them.
  2. The other positive point mentioned, was the free education and youth recruitments, but these were basically compulsory, and attendance was required by the government.

-How did you imagine the future and does the current situation match your expectations?

Here I wrote some of my interviewees’ answers word for word, as those answers can help explain how strong and dominant the government was and how dark the future was in those black days of Iraq’s history.

  • “Wars made us not think about the future. I never expected that the government would change.”
  • “I thought of the future in a very negative way, as the government was very strong.”
  • “I believed at this time that the probability that Saddam would be removed was very small”
  • “At that time, I felt I was not living for myself but living for other’s agendas. I didn’t see any future.”

Finally, the impact that the USA’s involvement had on Iraq is clear, and the US played a big part in the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Here are some of my interviewees responses on what do they think about the USA:

-South Iraqi: Regardless of what they have done, US will always remain as an occupier country in my eyes.

-South Iraqi: An enemy. Because they conquered our country.

-South Iraqi: Removing Saddam was absolutely the best thing the US has ever done.

-North Iraqi: At the beginning I was happy but after seeing the results I wasn’t pleased with what the US had done.

-North Iraqi: At Saddam’s time, we were dreaming of chicken and meat, Saddam tried to take our dignity and I was very happy about Saddam’s removal.

Clearly there are still conflicting views within Iraq about the USA’s involvement in the removal of Saddam. Nevertheless, after Saddam Hussein’s removal, life in Iraq changed rapidly. For the first few days, Iraq was in complete chaos. Shops, pharmacies and malls were robbed. The Iraqi people’s views and feelings towards the USA varied. Some Iraqi were against the USA, whilst others warmly welcomed the american forces. This chaos created a perfect environment for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda,  which many consider to be one of the bad impacts the USA left in Iraq.

In the long-term, Iraq continues to develop, and is still doing so today. Money is easier to get, freedom of expression is greatly developed, and everyone’s situation became better after Saddam was removed except for that of the people who worked in the Ba’ath government.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 of 1991 was adopted to stop the Ba’ath government crimes against the kurdish nation. Kurdistan became nearly independent between 1991 to 2003(Saddam’s fall). However, it’s important to mention that Saddam’s government didn’t send any money to Southern Kurdistan in that period, and so kurds faced many difficulties during that time. I see resolution 688 as clear proof of the Ba’ath criminality.

Saddam wasn’t a reasonable man who would debate ideas or listen to others. I heard many stories from my interviewees about crimes Saddam committed against the people who didn’t agree with him, stories that are not proven to be true, but looking back at that Ba’ath history, these stories certainly seem likely.

My conclusion:

Saddam’s propaganda was successful in planting hate in the mind of the Iraqi nation, as many southern Iraqis have an unexplained hate for Kurds and vice versa. But there is still much hope for the youth of today. Saddam Hussein was the darkest point in Iraq’s history, and Iraq is still recovering from his era. I see the current situation of the country, and the terrorism within, as Saddam’s bad impact on Iraq rather than the USA’s bad impact, because Saddam’s policy and injustice is what led to Iraq being conquered by the US in the first place.

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