A decade has passed since George Bush issued an ultimatum, demanding that Saddam Hussein and his sons were to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face an invasion by the US. Bush's rhetoric made frequent mention of a 'free' Iraq, a country that would be 'liberated' from a dictator, yet the events that transpired from that ill-fated speech have devastated a country.
For my family, both those still living in Iraq and those here in England, this recent anniversary was a painful remembrance. It brought back bittersweet memories of my own time in Iraq, just months before the invasion. My recollections of those few happy months in Mosul and Baghdad just does not resonate with the footage of army tanks and gunfire that dominates our television screens, although there was certainly a feeling of unease and everyone seemed to recognise that we were on the brink of monumental change.
Saddam Hussein was openly criticised around the house, but I was strictly told not to repeat any such insults in public for fear that someone would be listening. The man himself was a ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, as his picture was hung up in every restaurant or shop that we visited, often depicting him as a devout Muslim praying towards Mecca, while vertiginous murals loomed over every street corner. Everything seemed to be stamped with his image and his authority, even our smiling family photographs are captioned with his name; 'standing on the observation deck of the International Saddam Tower', 'arriving at the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad'. In a dusty old box of childhood keepsakes, his face stares back at me from the Iraqi dinars I kept as souvenirs, the same currency that was bundled into sacks and burnt by the Central Back of Iraq after he was overthrown. Underneath old stamps and scrawled notes is a faded postcard, a relic from the time that Iraq could have been considered a destination for tourists. 'Greetings from Iraq' is emblazoned in cheery type, depicting some of the Mosul's most treasured archaeological history: the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh. It was here that we visited the Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque, a religious shrine said to house the remains of the Biblical Jonah and a whale's tooth from his famous adventure at sea. Looking at that postcard reminds me of one of the other great tragedies of the war: the looting and destruction of many of the country's cultural treasures.
One of the most iconic moments of the war in Iraq was the toppling of the Saddam statue. It signalled the end of the personality cult and I, like many others watching events unfolding at home, was hopeful that this would be symbolic of a liberated Iraq. Sadly for my family and for many like us, the invasion nicknamed 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' by the American forces offered no such recompense. The UN refugee agency estimates that there are around 1.2 million internally displaced Iraqis in need of humanitarian assistance and sustainable support. My own family have made a number of unsuccessful relocation attempts, with some moving to Syria and then Jordan and others choosing to stay in Iraq. This chaotic sense of displacement is one of the reasons that my father's face looks increasingly frustrated each time he returns from Iraq; it just isn't a place he feels at home in anymore.
A decade after the invasion, what do the beneficiaries of the so-called 'Project Iraqi Freedom' truly have to show for it? Corruption is rife, with Transparency International ranking Iraq as the eighth most corrupt country in the world, families have been separated and forced to flee their own homes and security is fragile, with daily stories of kidnappings and attacks making it impossible for people to feel safe. My parents, who opposed Saddam for most of their adult lives, were glad to see him toppled and welcomed in a new era of democracy. However, the current state of the country is not what they had hoped for. Ten years after the invasion, it is a great shame that significant progress is yet to be made and that they, like many other Iraqis, reluctantly wish that the invasion had never happened and that Saddam was still in power.
Security remains a problem for the people of Iraq, as demonstrated by the recent provincial election--the first ballot since the departure of US forces in 2011--where fourteen contenders have been assassinated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged those afraid of a return of violence and dictatorship to 'fight by casting ballots' but, despite almost 14 million Iraqis eligible to vote, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission announced that the overall turnout was only 51%, a rate that reflects a sense of increasing political disillusionment in Iraq.