Legends of the fall

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Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column

The images streaming out of Iraq this past week have been mind-boggling. The quick capitulation of Baghdad was surprising to some (including the author) and “shocking” to many in the Arab world. The most “shocking,” however, was the subsequent lawlessness, chaos, and looting that ensued after the collapse of the Hussein regime. It was heartbreaking to witness, and I pray that order is restored to Iraq and the United States and United Kingdom uphold their responsibility to maintain that public order.

The pictures and footage I saw told many tales, many legends. When the small group of Iraqis, with the help of the U.S. Marines, tore down the (hollow) statue of Saddam Hussein, it told the melancholy tale of a downtrodden and oppressed people. It told of their suffering, their heartache, their long-standing punishment under the boot of Saddam Hussein, and it told of the relief of the people at his removal from power. A report on National Public Radio told of an elderly Iraqi man, with pain exuding from his face, beating a picture of Saddam Hussein and blasting him for destroying a country that was once one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan in all the Middle East. A sad story indeed.

The pictures of U.S. armed forces capturing the palaces of Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants told another story: that of a group of ruling criminals lavishing in the finer things of life while their people starved and suffered. The Iraqi people could not afford to buy even fool’s gold jewelry, yet Saddam had sinks and toilet-bowls plated in pure gold. While the Iraqi people starved to death, Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, collected matchbooks from restaurants in Paris, Amsterdam, and Damascus. While the Iraqi people died of easily treatable disease, Saddam Hussein’s palace had a fully-appointed dental office, optician’s studio, and beauty salon. A terrible tale, as well.

The quick capitulation of Baghdad told yet another story: that of rulers who had no stake in the country they ruled. The Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Al Sahhaf, who gave daily delusional accounts of the war’s progress to Western reporters in Baghdad, suddenly vanished in the face of the advancing U.S. soldiers. And so did all of the other government officials. They did not care about the welfare of their people; they did not wonder who will turn on the power and water after they are gone; they did not give a passing thought about the civil unrest and lawlessness that may follow their abrupt departure. No, they cared solely for their own skins, and to hell with the Iraqi people. It is a testament to the irresponsibility and sheer brutality of that regime and to the illegitimacy of their rule. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the old adage goes. The pictures from Iraq this past week were worth millions of words, enough to fill volumes for years to come. My hope now is that the pictures which will come out of Iraq in the coming days and weeks will tell stories of a people finally getting the humanitarian aid and public order they so rightly deserve; of a country getting back on its feet after a devastating war; of an army finally coming home to anxiously waiting loved ones; of a world that will no longer see pre-emptive armed conflict as a solution to its disputes.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN)He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press).

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