By lex, on May 21st, 2011
Absence makes the heart grow fond in Iraq, where some citizens – including Shiites who were ruthlessly tyrannized under the ancien regime – are starting to miss Saddam Hussein:
It has been four years since the former Iraqi leader was executed, and over that period it has been rare to see any more than a trickle of Iraqis show up to pay tribute in the village where he was born, just outside Tikrit.
But over the past few months, the crowds have begun to grow.
On some recent weekends, more than 100 people at a time have crowded the mausoleum, somehow compelled to travel to the shrine of the man who once terrorized large parts of the country’s population. Some visitors say they are acting out of nostalgia, not just for a safer Iraq but for a more stable Middle East, like the one that predated the upheaval of the current Arab Spring.
“He was the lion of the Middle East; he was stronger than all of the other Arab leaders. Look at them, they are falling now like flies,” said Abu Hanza al-Khazraji, a Shiite who this week spent a morning driving to Hussein’s grave with a carload of elders from the village of Dujail…
Nevertheless, Abu Hanza al-Khazraji, one of the group from Dujail, left no doubt that what he mourned was the loss of a strong Iraqi leader.
“Our nation is gone,” Khazraji said. “He represented Iraq, and when we lost him, we lost our pride. We were once a proud people.”
Saddam’s strength came chiefly from his willingness to crack his own citizens’ skulls, or feed them into the grinder of his senseless wars.
And they miss that.
Update: In better news, Michael O’Hanlon toured southern Afghanistan, where he found reason for optimism –
Last year in southern Afghanistan, Afghans made up about half of all the combined forces used to clear the region of most Taliban weapons caches and strongholds. According to the International Security Assistance Force, roughly two-thirds of all Afghan Army battalions nationwide now score at least a 3 on a military-readiness scale from 1 to 5, meaning that while they still require outside help, they are quite effective when conducting missions with NATO troops.
Police and army pay is now adequate by national standards, and local recruiting goals for the Afghan Army and police in Helmand Province have been largely met this spring for the first time since the war began. Desertion rates are still too high, and Afghan troops too often overstay their military leaves, but the trends point in the right direction.
During my travels, several Marine officers who also had experience in Iraq told me that Afghan police officers and soldiers were better fighters than their Iraqi counterparts. Routinely, in towns like Musa Qala that are still tense, Afghans provide half the personnel on most foot patrols — and I was told that they do not shrink from fighting when they run into trouble.
They are Afghans, rather than Arabs, and wildly independent. While three decades of war have taught them to always have a finger to the breeze, and the boys will never be safe, by all accounts they are fierce fighters. The Pashtun ethical code of Pashtunwali – “the way of the Pashtuns” – teaches that every man is the equal to every other man.
This makes for difficult governance, but effective fighting – especially in small unit actions. And there will be no nostalgia among them for tyrants.