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In Spokane, a sense of justice done

When an Iraqi television station first proclaimed Saddam Hussein’s death, Wafa’a Assi, of Spokane, felt mixed emotions.

Death is always a sad event, she acknowledged. But as an Iraqi native forced to abandon her homeland, she also couldn’t help but rejoice.

“I feel both happy and sad,” said Assi, who fled Saddam’s dictatorship nearly six years ago. “I feel sorry for him because he will now face God with his crimes and sins … but he deserves it. Saddam committed many crimes. He forced us to leave our country, our friends and our family.”

Assi’s husband, Sattar, had to leave Iraq in the 1990s after he protected a friend who was considered an enemy by Saddam’s Baath party. Sattar lived for five years in Jordan, where Wafa’a Assi joined him in 2001. They were married in March of that year. Three months later, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Relief helped them resettle in Spokane.

While Iraqi expatriates throughout the world celebrated the news of Saddam’s execution Friday night by dancing in streets, waving Iraqi flags and throwing parties, Assi – one of the few Iraqis in Spokane – has no such plans. She’s too busy taking care of her two young children while preparing for the holy feast of Eid al-Adha, which started Saturday for Sunni Muslims and begins today for Assi and other Shi’ites.

But she will keep her TV tuned to Al-Iraqiya, a Baghdad station that broadcasts worldwide via satellite. Iraq has become a very dangerous place, she said, and she worries about her siblings and relatives. Earlier Saturday, one of her sisters called to assure her they were safe.

Ayad Rahmani, an associate professor of architecture at Washington State University, was born in Lebanon but grew up in Baghdad. Like others who lived under Saddam’s regime, he learned to live with the pervasive fear that if you questioned the government, you would suffer.

Rahmani, who left for the United States in 1982, described Saddam as a brutal dictator who squandered Iraq’s many historical, cultural and intellectual resources.

“But while it is important to comment on the end of his dark era, it is also important to put into perspective his impact on the Iraqi consciousness,” Rahmani wrote in an e-mail. “Saddam repeatedly pulled the rug from under the Iraqi’s legs, displacing him or her away from his or her home and essentially sending that individual into eternal exile, both within the country and outside of it.

“For years, the Iraqi has been in search of a home and once finding it he or she found him or herself both appreciative and docile. Whether this home found expression in America or in Europe, Asia or South America, the Iraqi to whom it belonged retreated into the background in fear that he or she may be discovered and sent into exile once again. In his brutal repression of the Iraqi people, Saddam … inevitably generated in the Iraqi identity an enormously submissive and highly disciplined character – one that never took anything for granted and one whose main aim was to stay to itself and ensure a productive future ahead. It is perhaps no accident that out of the entire collection of individuals who perpetrated the tragedy on 9-11, there wasn’t a single Iraqi on board.”

While Saddam’s execution will be welcomed by many, particularly those who have had a brutal encounter with the dictator and his party, there will still be some who will always see him in symbolic terms – as the only Arab leader willing to sacrifice himself to resist Western ideology, Rahmani said.

Assi, however, remains hopeful that those devoted to the dead dictator will back down and that the violence in the country will diminish.

“I think his followers believed he would come back to power,” said Assi, a teacher’s aide at the Institute for Extended Learning. “But when they saw on TV that he was really gone, they saw that they might not have any future.”

Rahmani, however, isn’t as optimistic. “In the long run, his demise is definitely a good thing,” he said. “But for the short term, those already awash in violence will use (Saddam’s death) as an excuse to continue along those lines. I hope I’m wrong.”


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