Saddam Hussein remains a popular figure in some segments of Arab society, particularly among Palestinians and their descendants in Jordan and elsewhere. And now the late Iraqi dictator can add another person to his fan list: Donald Trump.
Speaking Tuesday, the likely Republican US presidential nominee said “Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right?...But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good.” Naturally, the comments evoked emotional responses among Iraqis and Middle East analysts.
Iraqi journalist Hayder Al-Shakeri penned an op-ed in The Guardian following Trump’s remarks entitled “Trump is wrong about Saddam Hussein. Take it from an Iraqi.” He wrote “Saddam led Iraq into long wars lasting several years, during which Iraqis had to fight for what he believed in. He committed genocides against his people and eventually Iraq had up to 250 mass graves spread around in the country.”
Some academics and critics of the US invasion praised Trump, however. “If you consider the 13 years of war that have wracked the country -- in which a quarter of a million have died -- and add that Saddam brutally repressed all dissent, including groups such as al Qaeda, and also add to this that ISIS is itself a fruit of the Iraq War, it's a far more defensible position,” wrote CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen.
Arabic media widely reported on the remarks, and it was a hot topic on Twitter in both Arabic and English this week.
Trump has been a long-time critic of the 2003 Iraq War, which left hundreds of thousands dead and resulted in no discovery of weapons of mass destruction, but also removed Hussein from power and led to Iraq’s first free elections in decades.