Deconstructing the Rhetoric in Raghad Saddam Hussein’s 2021 Interview with Sohaib Charair

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. 

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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’’.

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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. 

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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?

Yes Theory Goes to Kurdistan and Calls it Iraq

The hustle and bustle of Erbil’s bazaar from a 2020 or 2021 lens is far different from that in 2017, 2014, or 1990. You cannot argue that there has been progress over the last couple of years. It’s often easy to forget that not too long ago, in 1991, “Northern Iraq” was the site of a mass exodus of indigenous Kurdish populations to neighboring Iran and Turkey after a state-sanctioned military operation to suppress uprisings amongst the Kurds. It’s easy to forget the Halabja chemical attack that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Kurds. It’s easy to forget that the purpose of the Al Anfal campaign, which encompasses many war crimes, was essentially the deconstruction and the Arabization of Kurds. It’s easy to forget when you’re not a Kurd, but when you’re a Kurd, you carry these memories, your children inherit them, your lives are thwarted by them and your successes are shaped by them. It’s easy to forget and disengage when you’re not a Kurd when you refer to Kurdistan as “Northern Iraq” or as a part of Iraq at all. But Kurds will often wonder if Kurds and Kurdistan were indeed a part of Iraq, the systemic Arabization, the pan Arab nationalism, the rampant government-approved executions, the acts of torture, genocide, and imprisonment of innocent Kurds would have never occurred. Therefore as a long fan, follower, and supporter of Yes Theory, I was, and am completely disappointed in their latest video titled, “7 DAYS IN IRAQ… My Unbelievable Trip”. 

I knew Thomas, Lexie, Drew, and Cory had traveled to Kurdistan in late 2020, and I have been patiently waiting for the video to come out ever since. The night before the release of the video, I had gone to my sister’s room and told her that I’m worried that they’re not going to refer to us as Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (as stated in the Iraqi constitution). She told me to not overthink it, and that she’s sure they’ve done their research and that they will not “throw us under the bus”.

So when I checked YouTube the next day and saw that the title indeed referenced Kurdistan as Iraq, I was gutted. I was disappointed, upset, and felt marginalized yet again. My sister and I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, “maybe they traveled to Iraqi cities” we both thought. However, I was already beginning to lose any hope because, in the description box, they had written “So, along with Drew Binsky, Lexie Alford, and Cory Martin, we were taken around Iraqi Kurdistan by our amazing guide, Baderkhan.” They essentially traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan, The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or Bashuri Kurdistan but titled it Iraq. Disappointment is a strong word to use for people you respect and admire, whose ideology you follow every day to the best of your abilities, I went on my first solo traveling experience in Iceland because they encouraged me to, and now I’m left hurt and disappointed. Yes Theory, you should have done better, you should be better. 

Thomas, you say that you visited Iraq, and yet you landed in a Kurdish airport, in a Kurdish city, welcomed by a Kurdish family who cooked Kurdish food, and yet you categorize it as Iraq and Iraqis? You can travel between Kurdish cities, and go into Kurdish bazaars and dance at a Kurdish wedding, wearing Kurdish clothing, under Kurdish flags, at the protection of the Peshmerga who for years have defended Kurds against oppression by the Iraqi government, and it took you 7 minutes into the video to mention Kurdistan at all? In fact, in the brief moment where you did accidentally enter Iraq, you looked like frightened at the thought of entering Iraq, why?

You have nearly 6 million subscribers that changed your life, you can directly feel the impact of that, and you’re aiming to reach 10 million by the end of the year, that’s nearly 1/4th of the Kurdish population, the largest ethnic minority without a state. And I know you know this because you mentioned it, so to reference us, as you did multiple times in the video as “Northern Iraq”, is derogatory. The reason why that is, is because many Arabs in Iraq do not refer to Kurdistan as Kurdistan or even Iraqi Kurdistan, they refer to it as the north, or “al shamal” because to say Kurdistan is beneath them, some don’t realize it and continue to use it because it’s systemic, but others say it to deny a Kurdish state. No one would have penalized you if you had said, Iraqi Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, but you chose not to. Maybe it was clickbait, maybe it wasn’t, but over 40 million in the world are disappointed in you today. 

Despite my disappointment, the content was amazing. I teared up multiple times throughout the video and Baderkhan is truly an inspiring human being, full of compassion and love. He is the ultimate representation of Kurds, thank you for teaching us to laugh it off. The backdrop of Kurdistan and the Kurdish mountains was beautiful. Thank you for spreading awareness on the religious minority of the Yezidis and for introducing us to Zaeem and his contagious smile. There is so much more of Kurdistan left to see and I encourage you to come back again and explore it, I already have a title for you, “7 DAYS IN KURDISTAN… My Unbelievable Trip”. Seek discomfort but also seek the truth no matter how uncomfortable. 

P.S. Zaeem looked like he wanted some Seek Discomfort merchandise, I would love to make that happen if you have some contact information!

Love and Light,

Mardin

28/02/2021

Updated on March 3rd 2021: They changed the title to “7 DAYS IN IRAQ… My Unbelievable Trip (Kurdistan)”.