BAGHDADHickmet Hassan stood at the gate of his house in front of his carefully cultivated rosebush, watching the soldiers walk by. A retired high school English teacher, he greeted soldiers with a large hello. Hassan said he was a happy man. "We are welcoming you," he said. "The vast majority of Iraqis consider you liberators."
For the first time in decades, Hassan said he had reason to enjoy life. As he watched the soldiers in front of his home, Hassan mused about his country's past and its future. Under Hussein, all criticism and intellectual debate were crushed, Hassan said. "He was a brute, an oppressive man .... He knew he was hated by Iraqis."
Saddam won elections by spreading rumors that the ballots were marked with secret numbers. People were told those voting against him would see their families executed. Like most of the residents of the southern neighborhood of the city, Hassan is a Shiite. He said he felt betrayed by America in 1991 when the United States failed to back the Shiite uprising against Saddam.
In his retirement, Hassan writes poetry in Arabic and English. The fall of Saddam, he said, had prompted him to write a poem. His English verse was not great poetry but it was heartfelt. "The End of a Tyrant" was a list of Saddam's crimes, like building underground jails, gassing his people, and wasting the country's wealth. "This man was a traitor, an authoritative dictator," Hassan recited. "A beast without compassion, a veteran of repression, a vile crime organizer, a bloodshed legalizer, a fiend who had affection for causing mass destruction."
Hassan said he hoped American soldiers would stop the looting going on all around Baghdad. He said he hoped for an occupation that would last long enough to impose order and rebuild democracy, akin to what America did in Germany and Japan.
But that opinion did not appear to be the majority view. As soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division walked through southern Baghdad, one man, a dentist, greeted Spc. Kenneth West. "How long you stay?" the dentist asked. The dentist said he was thankful Saddam was gone but now wanted the Americans to leave. As the dentist and soldiers talked, West got the impression that the man did not like the United States. "Is there a reason you hate America?" West asked. The dentist's wide smile faded. "There are many reasons," he said. "Not the people of America. The government. They attack everything. They attacked Afghanistan." West replied: "New York. The city was attacked by Afghanistan."
The man then blamed the 9/11 attack on Israel, puzzling West. The dentist perhaps sensing West's confusion, waved and left. "He wants us to kill Saddam," West said to Sgt. Jason Sypherd. "They all want us to leave," Sypherd replied. West shrugged. "It makes me feel better that they want us to take out the government."