Last week the Middle East was entrenched in one of the most captivating interviews of the past two decades. Raghad Saddam Hussein, daughter of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was invited by the Saudi funded channel, Al Arabiya, in an inclusive interview to talk about her father, Iraq, the current political situation, and her future in the political field with Sohaib Charair.
The interview begins with Sohaib Charair asking Raghad Saddam Hussein what happened to her and her family in the last 17 years. Stoic in her appearance, diplomatic in her answer she replies that it has been a difficult 17 years. I agree, It has been a difficult 17 years of bloodshed, lives lost, families torn apart, 17 years of parents burying their children, and grandchildren not knowing their grandparents. 17 years of Iraqis burying their loved ones in unmarked graves or worse, burying pieces of what was once a body of a loved one in a marked grave. 17 years of people trying to survive long enough to leave because hope in Iraq had become a lost cause. It might have been a difficult time for Raghad Saddam Hussein, but I would argue that she is one of the lucky ones, she escaped and found refuge and protection in Amman. It has been 17 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but there are people who will not forget the years of war, systemic genocide, and pan-Arab nationalism that resulted in the purging of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives years before these 17 years. For some people, it’s been 17 years and then some, for others, it’s been their entire lives. It might have been a difficult 17 years for Raghad, but Iraq’s difficulties extend beyond the confines of these 17 years.
She begins by saying that her father was an exceptional man. There is truth to that, he was exceptional in his methods to execute, murder, and commit genocide on his opponents and enemies. His cruelty extended not only to his enemies, but to his family. Saddam Hussein initiated the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people and other minorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Halabja chemical attack whereby mustard gas was used to murder innocent Kurdish civilians, the systematic persecution of the Feylis, the Dujail Massacre of the Shias, the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraq-Iran war, the rampant government-approved executions, acts of torture, and the execution of his two sons-in-law are just a few of his achievements as a leader and as an exceptional man. His leadership has left trails of mass graves, bodies, prisons filled with his opponents, and widowed wives.
Raghad however, portrays a thriving Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, adhered by stability and prosperity. She emphasizes that people were alive. She claims that her father was not a fan of wars, but coincidently, she also contradicts her statement by saying that she has seen a lot of wars. But she interjects that his role as a leader comes with difficult decisions and responsibilities. That often, his position of power may result in a strict and tough demeanor, that Iraq is unlike other “free” nations and requires a strict, strong leader, she shares childhood memories and anecdotes to humanize him. She shares a story to seemingly show the compassion of her father as a child, when he was about to punish her, and offers another harrowing memory of her father at the bedside of his most trusted advisor and friend.These stories and many alike are casually placed throughout the interview series to deconstruct the image of the dictator and offer a more soft and loving father and leader. The same loving father who issued the execution of his two sons-in-law.
She simplifies the rift between her husband and father to a disagreement. When pressed on the “disagreement”, she deflects the topic and barely answers the question, and claims that “a lot of women have lost their husbands”. This critical detail of her life was laid bare publicly she says, and that if it were up to her she would have kept everything in house. This sets up the tone of the entire interview as a version of her truth, it is what she wants the world to know, and she repeatedly reiterates this by saying no family secret will ever come out of her. When Charair asks her who killed her husband, she says it was a tribal matter, and not a decision made by her father, that although she was upset, she never blamed him for the execution of her husband. At one point she mentions that she wanted her husband to stay in Jordan, that a part of her felt that distance and time would allow for these wounds to heal between her father and husband. Maybe she thinks the same can be applied between her family and the Iraqi community, that after all these years, Iraqi’s have healed from the wounds her family has left behind.
Throughout the interview, Raghad mentions the Arab solidarity within Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, almost echoing this pan Arab nationalism ideal similar to that of her father’s. She emphasizes that whether we are Iraqi or Kuwaiti, the Arab brotherhood/sisterhood is far more superior, “we are Arab, we are Muslim and we are one.” And while I appreciate her sentiment, I want to exclude the rest of the Arab world and focus solely on Iraq. Iraq is a beautiful, diverse country, filled with Arabs, Muslims, Kurds, Yezidi’s, Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Turkmen, Armenians, and many more. Her words resonate all too well amongst minority groups because a similar language was used in the mass Arabization and ethnic cleansing of these very groups under her father’s leadership. When Charair asks her if she is worried about a divided Iraq, she replies unhesitatingly, yes. She never wants to see the day where Iraq is divided, and that it scares her that this is even an option on the table. Charair asks her if she sees herself playing a crucial role in politics, and this is the most important and telling question of the interview series. She smiles as though she knows something that Charair and the viewers are not privy to yet, and simply replies “anything is possible’’.
Iraq invaded Kuwait, and yet Raghad claims that both sides wronged the other. She brushes it off and says that Iraqis and Kuwaitis are brothers, and as brothers do, they fight, and that’s normal. When Charair asks her if she thinks her father was wrong in invading Kuwait, she responds again, “we made mistakes, and so did they.” She goes on to say that women didn’t discuss politics at the dinner table. She was not involved in political decisions nor did she ask, so she would never know what her father thought. When Charair would ask a question that has an obvious answer, that could hurt her father’s image, she would deflect answering by saying “women didn’t discuss politics”. When pressed, she says women didn’t have a role in politics, specifically women in the presidential family. She never thought of going into politics and didn’t like the idea of politics at all. She felt safe under the umbrella of men who ran the country and didn’t see herself needing to get involved in politics because she didn’t see anything worth changing. Leyla Qassim was 22 years old when she was executed by Saddam Hussein, it can be argued that she didn’t feel safe under the Baathist regime, it can also be argued that there indeed was a need for women in politics. It was only after her father’s capture, did Raghad see the need to engage in politics.
On the US invasion, Raghad says she never expected her father to get caught by the Americans. She expected him to die on the battlefield. He fought the enemy until the very end she says, despite being found in a military bunker. The capture and subsequent images of her father saddened her, and she continued to say that it was obvious to her that the Americans deliberately drugged Saddam Hussein to showcase to the world his weakness and to shatter the symbol of strength. It’s also important to note that Al Arabiya decides to showcase a video montage of his capture, arrest, and inspection, the network chooses to play somber music, attempting to play and toy with the viewer’s mind to feel for Saddam Hussein. The question of whether it worked or not lingers and people who have context and a broader understanding of both sides will see it for what it is. The worry is in the new generation of young children born into today’s Iraq that see this interview and with no context glamorize Saddam Hussein and Iraq without really understanding the weight of these views.
She goes on to say that the trial was unfair because it had a predetermined verdict. However, she fails to acknowledge the wrongdoings and actions of her father. The trial was fair. The verdict would have always been the same, and the only way he wouldn’t have been executed is if the trial was unfair. This is a man who committed executions regularly, what makes him different to receive a lesser crime for a greater punishment? Raghad claims that the Baathist party did not die with Saddam Hussein, the Baathist party is an idea beyond one person, that it lives with the young men and women of today. She says that Iraqi’s are stronger than ever before, and that their sentiments are just as powerful, and that there are a lot of leaders that can take on the role of the leader of the Baathist movement. When pressed on the topic she says that she must serve her country in the best possible way that she can, and not to avenge her enemies. That she sees herself coming back to Iraq, no question about. She says that people often claim that she has her father’s fierce eyes, and how much she sees herself in her father is ominous to those who know very well the dangerous crimes he’s committed.
I believe in freedom of speech, and so while controversial, giving her a platform is essential to democracy. But I also believe in the other side, in fact-checking and reality. And while she is entitled to her experiences, her emotions, her feelings, and her opinions, she is not entitled to rewriting a history that people have lived. And while giving her a platform is important, I would argue that the other side also needs a platform, everyday regular people need a platform, where are the stories of the people hurt by a dictator? Why is he being humanized? Why are we silencing the other side? When you go on YouTube and on the Al Arabiya Channel, the comments are turned off, why? Hitler too was a father, a husband, a son, I am sure that he too can be humanized in the eyes of his children, but realistically no one ever depicts that side, and even if they did, you have an entire flip side to that picture.
I also believe that journalists have the responsibility to uncover the truth and ask hard-pressed questions, what Charair and Al Arabiya did was ask pre-approved questions that refines Saddam Hussein and in the off chance that a difficult question is pressed, they allow Raghad to avoid and deflect her answers. This is the antithesis of journalism, and unnerving to people watching with real reparations. I continued to wait for the difficult questions to come and yet they were never posed. I acknowledge my biases toward the Kurdish cause, but how can he not mention the Al Anfal campaign? What is Sohaib Charair’s agenda? What is Al Arabiya’s agenda? What is Raghad Saddam Hussein’s Agenda? Who sanctioned this interview and who benefits from it? Does Iraq want Saddam Hussein’s family back in charge? Is this an attempt to rewrite history?
We’re in the TikTok era, our attention span is 1 minute long at best. We take things at face value and many viewers do not fact-check these statements. The newer and younger generation have no recollection or awareness of Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, they will watch this and fantasize about an Iraq that never existed. It’s easy to blame Iran and the USA, but a question that presents itself is, do we think that in the absence of the US or Iranian influence, that Saddam Hussein could have survived the Arab Spring? Would people to this day stay silent and claim that he is and was always great for Iraq? And in my biases, I would have to ask, would Kurds exist in the way that they do today in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? Would there be more government-approved executions, acts of torture, and massacres? Any sensible person will claim “just because things are bad now, doesn’t mean they were better off then”.
Raghad Saddam Hussein is a woman entitled to her feelings, and at the end of the day she was a daughter, and Saddam Hussein was her father, being empathetic, having compassion, and showing her love is natural, and she repeatedly mentions that culturally, and religiously she cannot scathe him. And while I understand the deep-rooted issue of respecting your father in a Muslim, middle eastern society, that does not mean you can re-write history, undo events that occurred, and erase the memories of the lives lost. She claims her love for her father is unconditional, but people will respect her if she were to say her love was conditional, that she loves her father but disagrees with his politics and decisions, but she didn’t. She took a side and it spoke volumes.
It seems that Saddam Hussein’s daughter and granddaughter are mobilizing for something. First, Raghad’s daughter, Hareer, comes out with a memoir, and now Raghad is planning on releasing journal entries of Saddam Hussein and hers about details before, during, and after the US invasion. She’s only now releasing the memoir as a fresh look into Saddam Hussein as a family man and a leader. She says that she expects people will read the book because they love her family, her father especially. There seems to be an endgame, but what is it? And what about Al Arabiya? Why is Al Arabiya, a Saudi channel, giving Raghad Saddam Hussein a platform? The interview concludes ominously, Raghad claims that within the year new things will come to Iraq, some may be good and some may be bad, things that Iraq may want and things it might not, what is she referring to? Is this her prefacing her return to Iraq? And in what capacity will we see her in Iraq, is this the rise of Saddam Hussein’s legacy, and should we be worried?