Most of the Iraqis I have met in London either belong to a generation that left the country before the 80s, or are second-generation immigrants, whose idea of Iraq is inherited from their parents. There was no shared memory to reminisce about, nor a shared experience to discuss, but this new acquaintance provided me with what I needed.
Yesterday was our second meeting, and for the second time we spent hours talking about our lives in the 80s and 90s. We shared cultural references that other Iraqis in London do not share, or recognise the significance of. For the 2nd generation young Iraqi with us, we were speaking a secret language, whose references she was unable to decode.
I grew up in a family that was not interested in politics, nor religion. I was one of millions of Shia Iraqis who lived unharmed under Saddam's rule. My only grievances against Saddam are the endless wars we lived - growing up to the sounds of bombing, and women and orphans wailing at the loss of their loved ones.
I am not minimising their significance, but based on my reading, I can't toss all the blame on the shoulders of Saddam or the Baath for the increased number of widows and orphans in the country. There were two countries fighting in the 80s, and Iran had a big share in the blood Iraq shed during this time. I also remember very well how the Kuwaiti delegation was indifferent when Saddam delivered his Arab Summit speech in May 1990, where he warned them against trespassing on Iraqi's bordering oil well.
Was it right for him to invade the country and allow the army to commit all these atrocities? Definitely not. However there is another side to the story, in which the ugliness committed in Kuwait was not entirely Saddam's fault, but had to do with individual human conscience.
When the Iraqi army controlled Kuwait, many Iraqis went there and robbed and plundered the country. Yes, they were not stopped, but that does not make it justifiable. My uncle used to drive a lorry there to sell second-hand goods, but my dad warned my mother not to buy a single thing coming from Kuwait. I still remember the fight when my dad became mad at my mother for accepting a gift from my aunt, which were Kuwaiti dresses. He told her she would not stay at home if she would bring another thing from Kuwait to the house.
During the 90s, all Iraqis suffered because of the sanctions, and Saddam's started a phase of self-adulation, considering himself the hero of Arab Nationalism against western imperialism, a post-colonial rhetoric, that as a feminist from Iraq I refuse to subscribe to. However, the US determination to invade the country, and their dirty game with the so-called Iraqi political opposition gives some credit to this rhetoric.
Millions of Iraqis have rediscovered their history after 2003, under the confusion stirred beneath the interpretation offered by hundreds of media outlets of Iraq's history in the 80s and 90s, and their accounts of the 2003-aftermath. We were told of how Saddam tortured and killed Iraqis who were opposing him, or suspected of opposing him. His sons emerged as sadists enjoying the atrocities they committed against Iraqis. Horrifying stories started to spread - asserting the beastly nature of Saddam and his family, that we no longer thought of them as humans, but as mythic monsters that could have existed only in ancient barbaric times. But these stories did not tally up with the kind of life experiences of most, at least, they didn't match the life I lived.
Do I want Saddam back? Definitely not. Do I have nostalgic feelings toward his rule. Yes, to a certain extent. As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, comparing Iraq then to Iraq now, does not escape me. Even if the comparison results in an illogical conclusion in favour of contemporary Iraq, at least it forces us to contemplate the difference between now and then.
After 13 years of new Iraq and democracy, Iraq is living in conditions far worse than what we had during Saddam's time. This is enough to tilt the scales to his side. The number of Iraqis killed in those 13 years can be compared to 8 years of war, 1991 bombing and the years of sanctions.
If those who rule Iraq today were the opposition Saddam was fighting and tried to isolate his people from, then hats off to Saddam, for they proved him right. These people are too incompetent to be rulers, to be given the power keys to my country.
Those who rule Iraq today have no vision and no plan for the country they rule. They are inconsiderate of the sufferings of Iraqis. They have turned our country to an abyss we want to escape. The only achievement which they take pride in is the religious militancy, and the spread of religious Shia rituals. Yes, marching, chest beating and wailing for the religious leader who died 1400 years ago is far more important than the hundreds of Iraqis dying every week just because they decided to go to work, study and lead normal lives. Religious parades, and loud commemoration of the Taf battle that happened 14 centuries ago is more important than the millions of displaced and destitute Iraqis, inside and outside the country.
They claim to fight ISIS because they reject their militant Islamic state, but they end up banning whatever goes against their version of Islam, forming Islamic armed forces, whose loyalties are torn between Iran and Iraq.
I admit that I miss that solid firm rule; when my country was safe, secular (to an extent), and when education was rewarded. I miss having an identity and culture. I miss having a life that does not involve wailing and mourning for almost a third of the year.