Saddam Hussein fell. Then violence in Iraq spiralled – Middle East Monitor


When US-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, Adel Amer celebrated what he thought was the end of two decades of war and isolation under sanctions that had brought Iraq and its people to their knees.

“I was dancing like crazy and I couldn’t believe that Saddam was gone. I felt like a bird released from a cage,” said Amer.

But it was only the beginning of another era of conflict and chaos that saw insurgency, the rise of Islamist violence and sectarian strife that deepened the suffering of Amer, now 63, and his family.

Amer’s troubles began long before the US-led invasion, launched on March 20, 2003. He left the Army during Saddam’s war with Iran in the 1980s.

“I was tired of facing death all the time and seeing my friends killed or maimed by heavy Iranian shrapnel all the time,” said Amer.

He fought back tears as he spoke to him Reuters and took out an old picture of himself and his fellow soldiers when he was 20, inside a ditch during the conflict, which claimed a million people.

READ: Iraqis recount their struggles after the fall of Saddam Hussein

“I told myself it’s time to flee the Army. I knew I would be killed if I got caught, but it was worth staying alive and I did it. That’s why I’m alive today,” said the white-bearded Amer, who looked weak and tired after a lifetime of travails.

Amer fled his family home in a rural area near Baghdad Airport to live in an orchard owned by his brother-in-law. He grew a long beard and worked as a farmer to avoid detection by Saddam’s security forces.

He took another risk in 1990-1991, when Saddam’s forces invaded its neighbor, Kuwait, a move that turned Iraq into a pariah.

Iraqi forces were blocked by a US-led coalition, and the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for more than a decade.

Amer avoided military service in Iraq’s seven-month occupation of Kuwait, even after Saddam issued a decree that deserters would have part of their ears cut off or an X mark branded on their foreheads.

He was hated by his former colleagues in the army and most of the residents in his neighborhood, although no one took him in because they knew he would resist execution.

“I suffered a lot and sometimes I was thinking of ending my life but I told myself that there is always hope, even if it was a little.”

When Saddam’s long dictatorship ended in 2003, Amer threw an extravagant party at his home. He wouldn’t have to run for his life again, now that US troops had taken control of the country, so he thought.

US President George W. Bush and his Generals promised to deliver a successful democracy and a successful economy – a stark contrast to Saddam’s rule, when innocent people were tortured and killed and billions of petroleum were wasted.

Instead, more violence followed. Al Qaeda began a disastrous insurgency, dropping bombs and killing people. Soon, Iraq would be caught in a sectarian civil war in 2006-2008 mainly between Sunnis and Shias. Bodies could be seen floating in rivers.

In search of their loved ones

Amer and millions of others would fear, once again, as Sunni militant groups and Shia militias, many backed by regional power Iran, terrorized Iraqis and fought US troops.

In October 2004, Al Qaeda-affiliated Sunni insurgents kidnapped Amer’s father, brother and cousin from the family compound while they were working, and took them to an unknown destination because they were Shias.

READ: Americans’ ambush in Iraq mocked ‘Mission Accomplished’

“I was shocked and blamed, fearing that the worst would happen to my father, brother and cousin. I was not ready to live in fear again,” said Amer.

Amer spent about a year trying to find out if his relatives were dead or alive, and often visited the morgue in Baghdad where the unidentified bodies of those killed in communal violence were brought in.

“About a year after the kidnapping of my father with a brother and cousin, police came to my house and asked them to go to the central morgue in Baghdad, after they found the remains of three bodies dumped in a swamp not too far away from them. my area.”

Amer remembered how he went to the morgue in Baghdad, and saw corpses stacked one above the other everywhere in the building.

“I knew one body from the watch that was still around the wrist bone. It was my brother Kadhim’s,” he said.

He took the bodies and buried them the next day in the Shia city of Najaf and set up a funeral tent right at the same place where he celebrated Saddam’s death in 2003.

Amer went into hiding again. He rarely went out, except to buy food for his wife and three daughters.

Life looked up in the end.

Amer found a job with a foreign construction company in 2010.

But more trouble came three years later. Amer was captured by a militia close to Asaib Ahl Al Haq backed by Iran, and was beaten and dumped on the side of the road with a broken arm, rib and three teeth.

“They said I must work for a US company because this will make me look like a spy,” he said.

“It was too difficult for me to accept this situation. I told myself that I did not suffer much under Saddam’s regime because my family members would be lost to terrorists and then tortured and humiliated by my colleague Shias, but because I was dreaming . a better life.”

Amer quit his job, fearing for his life and made up his mind to flee to Turkey in 2015. He paid $5,000 for a fake passport to flee to Europe through Greece, but police arrested him at Athens Airport and imprisoned him for a week and then. sent him back to Turkey.

“I was tired of my country. It was hell for me to stay in Iraq, and I decided to continue trying to emigrate even if it costs me my life,” he said.

In 2016, Turkish police stopped a bus owned by a Turkish illegal migrant smuggler with 20 Iraqis, including Amer on board, trying to cross to Greece by boat. Amer said he had to return to Iraq a month later, where he now lives for fear of being hunted by the Shia group.

Amer said he is still determined to leave Iraq, two decades after US and Iraqi troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad.

“I was hiding under Saddam’s regime, and now I’m hiding again,” he said. “Before the invasion, there was only one Saddam. Today there are many more.”

READ: US confronts forces released by Iraq invasion, 20 years on

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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