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Worry for the future trumped my first taste of freedom. The scars of what Saddam left behind persist.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Since Iraq became independent from the British in 1921, it has undergone 11 coups. However, for the better part of the 20th century, the structure of the state had never experienced significant change.
April 9, 2003, however, saw the end of the Iraqi state and the chaotic beginnings of a new state. On that day a line was drawn to distinguish between two eras. It was the first day of my life to live without Saddam.
Saddam was not just a dictator ruling an authoritarian regime. Under his reign, the character and meaning of Iraqi life changed. He confiscated Iraq’s history, civilization and substance. His image and shadow invaded all spaces, even our living rooms. The state that was built by Saddam when he seized power in 1968, the year I was born, was based on two pillars: fear and servility. The people, the state, and material resources were used for more than three decades to serve one man and achieve his brutal goals.
For all Iraqis that could not flee, the end of Saddam was an unattainable dream. It was all the more unimaginable for my generation, whose youth was effectively stolen by the regime. Saddam understood one language: “force.” We were hopeless and powerless. We realized that the end of Saddam could only be carried out by a foreign power, regardless the cost. Eventually we discovered that the cost was high indeed when we became a free people but were without a state.
Three weeks after the U.S. troops’ crossed the Kuwait border to invade Iraq, on that fateful April 9, I had to venture out of the house to see what was going on. There was no television, no newspapers, there was only a transistor radio offering little information.
I saw that the Baath party militia had left their bunkers at the corner of my block and the cars of the undercover intelligence had also gone. That gave me an indication that the war was over and Saddam had been defeated. For the first time in my whole live I felt I was a free man, even the dusty air I breathed was different because it was the air of freedom.
People were pouring out into the streets. Some were carrying booty from state buildings. Others looted the police stations, taking weapons. Witnessing this scene, observing the absence of the rule of law, I immediately felt so deep a worry for the future that it trumped the happiness of having tasted freedom for the first time.
We did not know what was happening at Firdus Square when the American soldiers toppled the statue of Saddam. Eerily, the scene was watched by people all around the world but was witnessed only by few Iraqis.
A friend of my family brought me to see someone who might help to find my brother, Sadun, who had been missing for 10 years. Since Sadun’s kidnapping in 1993 by Saddam’s security police, I had devoted all my time and effort to the one goal of finding Sadun, my elder brother and a father of three. For 10 years, I had been trying to find him to no avail. Sadun’s story was similar to hundreds of thousands of people who had disappeared under Saddam Hussein's rule.