A wonderful day?

Author:De Vries, Michelle
Position:CURRENT AFFAIRS - Execution of Saddam Hussein - Personal account
 
FREE EXCERPT

MICHELLE DE VRIES was just 21 years old when in 1989 she was contacted by the British Foreign Office and told her mother, Daphne Parish, a nurse working in Baghdad, was being held by the cruel and unpredictable regime of Saddam Hussein having been charged with espionage. Understandable then that Michelle was delighted to see the fall of Saddam's statue in 2003, which heralded to the world that the rule of the tyrannical despot was finally at an end. Now more than four years on--after thousands of dead and with the once beautiful city of Baghdad in ruins-Michelle is not so sure there was much to celebrate that sunny April day.

IT WAS THE afternoon of 9 April 2003, and the statue of Field Marshall Saddam Hussein, "Hero of National Liberation", was falling in central Baghdad's Firdos Square ...

I watched as the pictures flashed across the television news. A small group of men were climbing the pedestal to attach a rope around the statue's neck. It was undeniable. Saddam was finished. His regime was finally over.

It was a wonderful day.

Without a second thought I ran from my office and took a taxi to London's Queensgate. I had been scheduled to attend a meeting in another part of town, but at that moment nothing else mattered to me. There was a much more important place where I needed to be.

The driver dropped me outside the Iraqi Embassy. On the pavement there were ripped-up remnants of Saddam's portraits scattered everywhere, and a group of jubilant Iraqi exiles were gathered on the opposite side of the street.

Earlier that afternoon an overly exuberant mob had stormed the Embassy building which was empty owing to the fact that the last remaining diplomat had been expelled a month earlier. They had hung from one of the large rectangular windows an image of Saddam with his eyes torn out. A man who announced himself as Iraqi opposition member Zuhair Al Maher had passionately addressed reporters: "This is one of the happiest days in the history of the Iraqi people," he said.

It was one of the happiest days in my life too.

By now the group, their enthusiasm slightly more contained, were dancing and clapping their hands in celebration. Cries of "Down with Saddam, Down with Saddam" were interspersed with songs about the homeland and talk of being able to return at long last.

A toothless Kurdish man shook my hand vehemently, after which he poignantly reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a photograph of what appeared to be his very large family. "Except for me and my sister, every person in this picture has died on the rope of Saddam's hangman, so thank you very much for what has happened today." He spoke to me so sincerely, it was as though I had been personally responsible for the liberation. "And now," he added with a beaming smile "this means I can finally go home."

As the only non-Iraqi in the group my presence seemed to bemuse a few people but they were all welcoming nonetheless, inviting me to join in with their dancing and offering me a glass of champagne--which I happily accepted, because unbeknownst to them, I was quietly celebrating for very personal reasons.

In September 1989 my mother, Daphne Parish, had been...

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