It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The ordinary people of Iraq should have been dancing in the streets by now, overthrowing the Baathists and greeting the coalition troops as saviours. Even as the aid began to dribble in today, no wave of gratitude has washed over the “liberated”. There was something telling on the TV. The Red Crescent were unloading supplies to the people of Safwan. They scrambled into the trucks, our troops looking petrified. Yet for all our “charity” the people still chanted Saddam’s praises. The BBC guy spoke to one Iraqi. “Saddam give eat, water, clothes”, he said.
This reminded me of a conversation I had with a Damascus taxi driver in 1999. In his own way, Assad had been as brutal to Syria as Saddam is to Iraq. Noticing the ubiquity of the Assad portraits you see all over Syria, I asked my driver what he thought of his President. By all accounts, Hafez Assad was a dictator, and the Syrians are hardly “free”, but my new friend spoke his praises – “we have jobs, medicine, food. What else do we need?”
Of course, one wonders what these people really think, and the Iraqis may yet paint Saddam in true colours. But we ought to take note of this salient fact: for most of the world ideas of freedom and liberty and the right to vote for someone every 5 years are a lot less relevant than questions of food, water and life. I suspect that what the Iraqi people want more than anything is simply not to die. They aren’t going to care who can secure this for them.
One funny thing – they asked this guy if he was happy about the aid coming in. “Yes”, he said, “but we want cigarettes”.