4 Years After Hussein's Fall, Regret in Iraq
Washington Post
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 9, 2007; Page A08

BAGHDAD, April 8 -- In a garage filled with classic motorcycles, Khadim al-Jubouri stared at the four-year-old magazines he usually keeps tucked inside a wooden desk. All of them contained photographs of a lone, burly man wearing a black tank top and swinging a sledgehammer into the base of a tall, bronze statue of Saddam Hussein. The man was Jubouri.

Just days earlier, he might have been executed for his actions.

But it was April 9, 2003.

Crowds of chanting Iraqis, some clutching stones and sandals, swarmed Firdaus Square to deliver blows to the statue. Then, with the help of an American tank and a winch, it toppled, creating one of the defining images of the U.S.-led invasion. Over one photo of Jubouri, a headline reads: "The Fall of Baghdad."

"It achieved nothing," he said, after he had put away the magazines.

Four years after that moment, with violence besieging the country, Jubouri is concerned with neither benchmarks nor timelines, troop strengths nor withdrawal dates. What he cares most about is security and order, of which, he said, he has seen very little. He blames Iraq's Shiite-led government and its security forces, and wishes for a return of the era led by the man whose statue he helped tear down.

"We got rid of a tyrant and tyranny. But we were surprised that after one thief had left, another 40 replaced him," said Jubouri, who is a Shiite Muslim. "Now, we regret that Saddam Hussein is gone, no matter how much we hated him."

His faith in the United States has also vanished, he said. But he still has a passion for one thing uniquely American: the Harley-Davidson. On the wall of his cluttered office, next to medals he won as a champion weightlifter, hangs a tapestry emblazoned with an American flag, a bald eagle, a Harley and the words: "Born in the USA."

On most days, however, he cannot afford to buy gas for his own Harley, a 1982 Fat Boy.

His country today is politically fractured and struggling to find direction. He has seen four Iraqi governments since the fall of Hussein. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. At least 3,260 U.S. soldiers have been killed.

But the numbers that most directly affect Jubouri are these: Seven of his relatives and friends have been killed, kidnapped or driven from their homes. He gets four hours of electricity a day, if he's lucky. The cost of cooking gas and fuel have soared, but his income is a quarter of what he used to earn.

"It's gotten worse," said Jubouri, 50, a barrel-chested man with a thick neck and an oval, cleanshaven face. "We can hardly make both ends meet."

When he passes Firdaus Square these days, he says, he feels a mix of happiness and sorrow. He has no plans to celebrate on Monday.

"It is an ordinary day," he said.

Jubouri, a father of four, said he once serviced classic motorcycles owned by Hussein and his son Uday. They included a British-made 1937 Norton that Hussein rode to flee Iraq in 1959 after he took part in a failed attempt to assassinate the then-prime minister, Gen. Abdul Karim Qassem. Hussein later housed the bike in a museum that proclaimed his glory.

Jubouri bought up Harleys that Iraqi soldiers had stolen in Kuwait after Iraq invaded the neighboring country in August 1990, triggering the first Persian Gulf War.

"I would dismember them and smuggle them out" to Lebanon and Turkey, said Jubouri, wearing a white T-shirt printed with an Iraqi flag and the slogan "King of Harley."

In the mid-1990s, he was jailed for a year and a half for criticizing the government, he said. A few years later, workers began installing Hussein's statue in Firdaus Square, not far from a gym where Jubouri was a member.

"I told myself that my hope in life is to bring that statue down," Jubouri said.

On April 9, 2003, when it was clear that American forces had taken control of the capital and Hussein had fled, he took a sledgehammer from his garage and made his way to the square.

"As I hit the statue, I was out of my mind. I was full of hatred," Jubouri recalled. "When it fell, I was so happy. I thought things were going to improve."

Initially, life did get better. Under Hussein, average Iraqis could not import or export motorcycles. Suddenly, Jubouri could buy them from Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon by calling his suppliers on once-unavailable cellphones. The Syrian border was easier to cross, too, he said.

"I bought Mafia-smuggled motorcycles from Syria," he said. "The borders are so open you can even bring TNT."

Jubouri sold Harleys to American diplomats, and some months earned as much as $5,000, he said. Whenever U.S. soldiers entered Battaween, a rough, industrial neighborhood in central Baghdad known as a hangout for prostitutes and thieves, the Americans would stop at his garage to admire his Harleys, he said.

That did not mean he approved of the U.S. presence in Iraq, Jubouri said, but he blamed that on Hussein.

"I hated this guy because he's the one who brought the Americans, and we hate the Americans and the occupation," he said.

By 2005, many of his customers had begun leaving the country, at a pace that quickened last year as sectarian violence deepened after the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra. He has sold only four motorcycles in the past year, he said.

He called the new Baghdad security plan "a failure from the beginning." Although he has noticed that Shiite militias have faded from neighborhoods, suicide bombings have not stopped, he said. Every time he hears an explosion, he worries that his friends and relatives are among the victims.

Under Hussein, he never faced day-to-day corruption, Jubouri said, but now he must pay bribes just to get a license or file a police complaint.

"I feel lost now," he said.

In his garage are dozens of classic motorcycles -- Harleys and BMWs, Triumphs and BSAs. Many are old and rusty, badly in need of repair. But the violence has shut down many nickel and chrome factories. And without electricity, how can he operate his equipment? And without customers, why bother?

"Now, Friday is better than Saturday, and Saturday is better than Sunday," he said, looking longingly at his Fat Boy.

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