Oxford, England — Iraqi writer Ghassan Atiyyah was moved to tears in a London studio as BBC broadcast live scenes of Iraqis, with Americans, pulling down Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s central Firdos Square.
“I thought I would never live to see his demise,” Atiyyah said against the background of Iraqi men dragging the head of Saddam’s metal statue along the streets of Baghdad. “I really hope that Iraqis see this on television.”
But despite Atiyyah’s hopes, most Iraqis remain in the dark. Their television network was knocked out by coalition forces, and many are still hiding from American bombs, Saddam’s militias, and looting gangs. The hope of British Prime Minister Tony Blair is that the “scales of fear [are] falling from the eyes of the people of Iraq.”
Those pictures of crowds on the streets of Baghdad, broadcast worldwide, are as important to us as they are to Iraqis. This time, the rest of the world is not in the dark about what is going on in Iraq. Yesterday’s fall of Saddam is one of the very rarest of events in human history. Yet my generation has been fortunate enough to witness more than our fair share of these tremendous shake-ups on the world scene.
My own education at Yale, in many ways, started with scenes of the fall of Berlin Wall in John Gaddis’ history class and ended by reporting about the fall of Slobodan Milosevic from the streets of Belgrade.
And today in England, I can report about a sense of a momentous achievement and, less dramatically, simple relief. In his march to war, a once popular and much-loved Prime Minister had alienated millions of its supporters and set back British relations with its EU partners. Together with the United States, Tony Blair also did not help save the United Nations from Iraqi defiance, and consigned NATO to a fate of little relevance for international peace and security. We cannot know today whether the payoff to Iraq and the world will be enough to offset these costs.
But we do know that the fall of Saddam has strengthened the Anglo-American alliance and given the two countries’ foreign policies a renewed sense of purpose. In this war, democracies have proven unpredictable. Protests against the war in Britain and the United States have rightly shifted focus to Iraqis’ interests and deterred the two governments from forms of invasion, occupation or foreign rule of Iraq.
At the same time, the threat of Western isolationism has found new roots in Paris and Berlin. The Iraq war debunked the fears that the world’s superpower will stand on the sidelines, in prosperity, and watch the rest of the world slide into post-Cold War chaos.
Another symbolic victory in Iraq, in addition to that in Baghdad, was scored not by Americans but by their allies. First, the British scored a major military victory in Basra and are now helping organize a local Iraqi administration there. But a couple of days ago, the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment was welcomed by thousands of cheering Iraqis in the Marsh Arab area of Al Qurnah, according to BBC. The legend has it that Al Qurnah was the birthplace of mankind, the site of the Garden of Eden.
It is difficult to moderate the feeling of enthusiasm at times of victories like these. Certainly, they should not be defamed with references to imperialism, crusades and invasions. Caught up in the moment, an American soldier draped the stars and stripes banner around Saddam’s statue before it was pulled down in yesterday’s symbolic moment of victory. And another soldier in a convoy entering the city was caught on BBC camera waving an American flag.
Repeatedly, the Pentagon had asked its soldiers to take down American flags and allow Iraqis to wave their country’s flag in celebration of Saddam’s fall. And the British commentators have equated the images of American flag to blunders and potential political horrors for Tony Blair’s war case.
Yet the spring of freedom in Iraq is worth getting caught up in the moment. The coalition soldiers, and the world, deserve it. America has already scored the most important victory.
Marcus Alexander ’01 is a graduate student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. He is a former Yale Fox Fellow and Yale Daily News editorials editor.