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This Weekend in 1968

This Weekend in 1968: Iraq

Ann Heppermann

Kara Oehler

Ali Adeeb al Naemi

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Head of Nuisance
(Ali Assaf/Iraq Memory Foundation)
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Forty years ago, at the end of July, 1968, the Ba'ath Party took over Iraq's government. Saddam Hussein was a part of the regime, which stayed in power until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. We had some people share their memories and feelings about those events. They include: Mona Sulaiman, an Iraqi who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. Sulaiman left Baghdad in 2002 just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq because she was receiving chemotherapy. When the invasion of Iraq became imminent, her doctor recommended she leave the country in order to continue her chemotherapy treatment.

Layla Abdul-Ghani lives in Dearborn, Mich., with her husband Farouk Saloum and their children. Abdul-Ghani is a social worker who came to the United States in the late 70s to attend graduate school in Kalamazoo, Mich., on a scholarship from the Iraqi government.

Nabil Roumayah left Iraq in the 70s and didn't return in order to avoid possible persecution (his family suffered greatly under the Ba'ath regime). Roumayah currently lives in a Detroit suburb with his wife and children. He is the president of the Iraqi Democratic Union.

Ali Adeeb al Naemi is an Iraqi journalist who was a news editor for the New York Times' Baghdad bureau. He came to Michigan as Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow in 2007. Al Naemi will begin graduate school at NYU this fall.


Layla Abdul-Ghani: It happened early in the morning...

Mona Sulaiman: I was at my aunt's house. And we were still sleeping and my uncle came and he said, there is a revolution. And you know, Iraqis they usually run to the radio.

Layla Abdul-Ghani: Every time we have a coup attempt, this music comes.

Mona Sulaiman: But this one, 1968, we remember very well because it was a different kind of a revolution. It was called the "White Revolution."

Farouk Saloum: Really there is nobody killed.

Abdul-Ghani: They announce that it's the Ba'ath party, a lot of people were so afraid.

Nabil Roumayah: My name is Nabil Roumayah. I was in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968 a young man, but I have to take you back a few years to tell you why I remember that day.

We knew what Ba'ath was. We saw them in 1963. A very bloody coup. Thousands and thousands died, and my uncle who was in opposition to the Ba'ath and he was imprisoned in '63. My aunt was imprisoned, my sister was imprisoned. I was young, and me my two sisters had to leave the house for nine months, hidden somewhere else.

So yeah, I was at home, and I remember it because my uncle said, "Not again. Not one more. We cannot take this one more." So he just drove out to try to get out of the country before they consolidate their power. But about eight hours [later], he was back because they close all the borders.

Sulaiman: I lived in Baghdad until 2003. Saddam means "clasher." You know, when you have a car crash. It's a Saddam. So Saddam is the one who crashes. Or clashes. That's a very powerful name.

Abdul-Ghani: I am a social worker and we have been living in the United States for 26 years. Not everything that that government did was bad. I mean, they nationalized the oil. Art and literature became very important and free education and free healthcare. I mean, those are good things that that revolution brought to the country.

Sulaiman: Americans think that we used to live in horror, terror, you know, like, he kills left and right. But we were trained since we were children. And we train our children not to interfere with politics. If you want to live a good life, don't meddle in politics.

Roumayah: There was a lot of struggle inside the Ba'ath Party to consolidate powers. And the move was led by Saddam Hussein and his gang, because he took over the internal security of the party. And eventually that secret organization took over the country and got rid of [then Prime-Minsister and Hussein's cousin Ahmed Hassan] al Bakr.

Abdul-Ghani: The more he became totalitarian and a dictator, this is when you feel that this is not the same person and I respected and I liked. It's a person who became blood-hungry.

Sulaiman: Gradually, we started hearing things. Like people disappearing. Started attacking the Communists. Anybody. Anybody who was against what he wants.

Ali Adeeb al Naemi: We're related on my mother's side to the late minister, Doctor Riyadh Ebrahim. He was the Health Minister in the late 70's early 80's. And we were very close and I used to call him ammo, you know, my uncle. Doctor Riyadh was a Ba'athist and he was very close to Bakr. So when Saddam took over, he just got rid of all the people who were close to Bakr and we received a phone call. I woke up and my mom was crying. And the phone call was simply saying that Doctor Riyadh has gone to visit his parents. His parents were dead. So that was the code, because they know that people were listening to phone calls. And we couldn't really show our grief because you didn't really know who was with the government at that time. Who was writing reports. Later on when my mom went and visited, she saw her uncle, who told her [that] when they went to the morgue and got the body and signed for it, he told us basically what he saw: They have taken off his nails. One of his eyes was gone. There were holes in his chest. The scene was horrible. And the death certificate said he died of a stroke. And this was one of hundreds of thousands of tragic stories in Iraq.

Roumayah: It was an organized terror by the government. Nobody was safe in Iraq.

Sulaiman: You can't even tell a joke. Sometimes, I'm with friends and we're laughing talking. And I say something, like a joke. And then I go home and I can't sleep all night waiting for the door. You know...the bell rings and somebody will come and take me.

I left after Christmas 2002. I left to Amman, Jordan. I had chemotherapy and my oncologist told me to leave the country because if I stayed I wouldn't be able to continue my chemotherapy if the war starts.

When I heard of the invasion, I was staying with friends and they were out and I just saw Baghdad burning. It was so, so sad. It was the saddest day of my life, I was so sad and I called my friends and I say, 'Come back,' and they say 'Why?' and I say, 'Baghdad is burning.'

Roumayah: They had a great military success, two weeks and the country was gone. Great, but then what?

Abdul-Ghani: I think there are people who regret supporting [the] invasion of Iraq and they wish that they didn't do it, because it put us in the situation where we have terrorists. We have drugs. We have fighting between religious sections. It's a mess over there now.

Sulaiman: I remember the day he was caught. I was asleep here in Phoenix...

Roumayah: Spontaneously we had a little party going, celebrating end of era of Saddam, he was arrested and maybe things will happen better now so...

Sulaiman: But how do I describe it? It's like a bitter feeling. It's like Iraqis should have caught Saddam. Iraqis should have tried him.

Abdul-Ghani: I was at work when they hanged Saddam Hussein and when I came home and I saw the video of it. It was a mixed feeling, feeling that it was an end of era that finally there will be no terrors and no crimes and no killing, but then, it was also a sorry feeling for someone who, for a while, you were looking up to and felt that he was going to bring Iraq to the top of the whole world.

Roumayah: In 40 years of Saddam there was nothing, no progress in Iraq. What's happening today is a result of the mistrust that he built in the people, the separation he did to the people, built in the people, led us to what he have now.

Abdul-Ghani: The psychological component of [the] Iraqi person had changed. They are afraid. They are hesitant. And Iraqi people are the nicest most generous people in the world. He changed them.

Roumayah: When somebody say, "I wish Saddam was back," they say it out of desperation, out of hurt, not because they want Saddam back. The difference is very simple, I tell people. The difference between the Saddam era and this era is hope. In Saddam time, we did not have hope.

Sulaiman: Sometimes I feel hopeful that maybe things will change. I don't know. There is this thing that all Iraqis say, things change from worse to worse. And it did happen now. Saddam's gone and it changed. And it's worse now.

More stories from our This Weekend in 1968 series

Comments

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  • By Jason Wilson

    From Hollywood, CA, 08/01/2008

    The was glad to see this story did not recognize the reality in Iraq *today*. I's important that people not get the whole story. Another great job, guys.

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