The legacy of US President George H.W. Bush, who passed away Dec. 1, is associated with important events in Iraq’s history. His actions left a fingerprint on even the finest details of life in Iraq. Some Iraqis see a direct link between his policies toward Iraq and his son's 2003 invasion.
The elder Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, helped liberate Kuwait in 1991 from the Iraqi invasion. He's also tied to the years-long economic blockade that wrapped up with Saddam Hussein’s ouster during the younger Bush's presidency in 2003.
Abdul Hadi Saadawi, an Iraqi parliament member for the State of Law Coalition, told Al-Monitor recently, “The late US leader is the one who saved Iraq from dictatorship. … The fall of Saddam's regime in the [George W.] Bush era [2001 to 2009] is the result of [his father's] policies.” Saadawi added, “The late US president’s character and bravery in waging the war on the Saddam regime allowed the region and the world to be free from the danger, and rescued the Iraqi people from injustice.”
Abbas Abboud, editor-in-chief of Iraq’s al-Sabah daily, shares the same opinion. He told Al-Monitor, "[The elder Bush] had positive [character] traits that many US presidents don't have. His professional record is overflowing with political and security dossiers that were efficiently steered, particularly those relevant to Iraq.”
Abboud continued, “[His] desire was for Iraq to assume a regional role, and [he] aspired for good US-Iraq relations. He demanded that Saddam Hussein refrain from [hijacking] international and US public opinion so that Iraq could break out of the siege. … Saddam, however, overlooked the political calculations and variables that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union's disintegration and the fall of the Berlin Wall had imposed.”
Abboud recalled, "While Saddam was aiming to assume an expansionist role in the region, Bush was convincing him to back down on his reckless [policy], through advice and envoys. Nevertheless, Saddam did not give in and ended up invading Kuwait, which forced Bush to make the decision to free Kuwait by driving the Iraqi army out of it.”
However, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, a political writer, analyst and secretary of the National Media Center, has a different view.
"Regardless of its consequences, the policy of [the elder] Bush was not intended to benefit the Iraqi people as much as it sought to serve [US] interests," he told Al-Monitor. "As he joined the Gulf War, he reinstated a power guaranteeing his interests in Kuwait, while he destroyed another country, namely Iraq. This caused the infrastructure to be dismantled and subsequently killed thousands of people either in the war or the siege.”
Ali Hasan al-Fawaz, a writer for Iraq’s al-Sabah daily, has a similar opinion. "The name of George [H.W.] Bush is associated with bloody events in the Iraqi memory, namely [Kuwait’s liberation], foiling the Iraqis in their uprising, and the US presidency’s role in the US siege on Iraq," he told Al-Monitor.
“I don't believe that the US wanted to liberate Iraq. Rather, it sought to strong-arm [the country] and undermine Saddam’s ambitions, which was a regional, more than an Iraqi, demand.”
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Abdel Zahara Hindawi, a journalist with al-Sabah al-Jadeed newspaper and a researcher for the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, said, “The circumstances that prevailed in Iraq, before and after 2003, caused differing views among Iraqis regarding the various issues, including the [elder] Bush's policy toward their country.”
He added, "The injustice and oppression, and restricted freedoms under the rule of Saddam, prompted [Iraqis] to crave change. … Given that the forces at home were powerless, the Iraqis were hoping to dispose of the existing regime via an external force. The US was apt to assume this role as a result of the consequences of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.”
Hindawi continued, “The Iraqi regime used challenges and instigations as a tool, and this had a role in [the younger] Bush bringing down Saddam later on, bringing about freedom and democracy to Iraqis for the first time."
In contrast, Hindawi noted, “A negative perception was produced later on, due to the deteriorating situation at all levels in Iraq after 2003. This is behind the many Iraqis bitterly recalling the past.”
Haidar Assayed Hussein al-Yasiri provided Al-Monitor with a realistic summary of the elder Bush's link to Iraqis, politically and psychologically. Yasiri, a former professor at the University of Baghdad, participated in the uprising against Saddam. He was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia’s Rafha camp, where the oppositionists to Saddam's regime where hosted. In 1991, he traveled to the United States, where he still lives.
"The Iraqis perceived [Bush] as a savior following his decision to drive Saddam's forces out of Kuwait, and hoped for the regime to be destroyed," Yasiri told Al-Monitor. "This is true particularly since Bush addressed the Iraqis before Congress, [declaring] his readiness to support them. Yet the unforeseen cease-fire [in 1991] was disappointing for them and provided the Saddam regime with an opportunity to crack down on the revolution in Iraq.”
George H.W. Bush played a major role in shaping today's Iraq. His page in the country’s history will long remain a matter of debate — a page Iraqis will re-read and draw lessons from. The United States is obliged to further its support for Iraq, and strive to repair the psychological and physical effects of the wars, to boost trust between the two countries.
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