November 25, 2019
When a video of an Iraqi graduation began to circulate online, the president of the university in the Shi`a majority province of southern Iraq swiftly issued a statement of condemnation. “The university had no knowledge of the planning of the ceremony and did not condone it,” he said. The controversy stemmed from the music played at the graduation—an anthem associated with Saddam Hussein.
Over the past several years, Iraqi support for Saddam Hussein has surged. Iraqis are increasingly defying the 2005 ban on any form of support for Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, which is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Most manifestations of nostalgia appear benign: wristwatches featuring Saddam’s image, candies embossed with his profile, and poems penned about his rule. Still, those displaying affection for Saddam are often arrested, as was the organizer of the graduation ceremony.
The disorder of today’s Iraq leads many Iraqis to miss the old Iraq, in which life was predictable and the state provided for its citizens. Saddam’s image has not only struck a chord for Sunni Iraqis who share his sectarian identity. In Saddam’s Iraq, Christians and Yazidis were protected minorities and never had to fear the likes of the Islamic State group.
And despite the former dictator’s notorious hostility to Iraq’s Shi`a majority in the 1990s, Saddam enjoys a surprising amount of support from Shi`a now. A former minister of the interior—who came out of a Shi`ite opposition party that fought Saddam for decades—recently spoke appreciatively of how Saddam “preserved the state,” and a YouTube video with a Shi`ite woman calling to “Bring Saddam back” went viral and has been viewed more than two million times.