Few fond memories of Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq

Former US defence secretary, who died Wednesday at age 88, played key role in country since 1980s

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For Iraqis, Donald Rumsfeld’s legacy in the country dates back nearly two decades before the 2003 US-led invasion that he orchestrated to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Rumsfeld's face became familiar to them during the bitter eight-year war between Iraq and Iran in 1980s, when former US president Ronald Reagan’s administration provided Saddam with intelligence, military and economic support.

“He was a man of war and advocate of creating wars for the benefit of weapons manufacturers,” Iraqi political thinker and researcher, Ghalib Al Shahbandar, told The National.

“He was cunning and played a key role in keeping Saddam’s feet in that war in order to prolong it,” Mr Al Shahbadar added.

Many Iraqis commenting on Rumsfeld's death on social media shared a photograph of his meeting with Saddam on December 20, 1983, during his first visit to Iraq.

The photo shows the then-special envoy of the US president smiling as he shakes hands with the Iraqi dictator. The two countries began to restore official ties after that visit.

“Reunited in hell. How fitting,” Twitter user Hassan Hadad commented on a post containing the photo.

“In 1983, Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam Hussein and twenty years later, he toppled him, opening a door to hell in the Middle East,” another Twitter user, Tamis, wrote.

“The first one [Saddam] destroyed [Iraq] from inside and the latter continued the destruction project.”

Rumsfeld's family announced his death on Wednesday. He was 88.

The statement did not provide additional details but said he “was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico”.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.

As secretary of defence for George W Bush, Rumsfeld oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan and was the main architect of the Iraq war. He was among those who played a major role in selling the false allegation that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction, justifying the war.

He later admitted that he was wrong in claiming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, writing in his memoir: “I made a misstatement.”

But for Iraqis, his legacy will always be linked to the disastrous 2003 invasion and the scandal over the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.

He was criticised for failing to send enough troops to maintain security in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam. One of his most famous comments was “stuff happens”, in response a reporter’s question about the looting and vandalising of the Iraqi National Museum and government offices in the aftermath of the invasion.

“For history, the man [Rumsfeld] was supportive of all Iraqis, especially Shiites, and he was pushing for reforms and building strong institutions in all his meetings,”
Senior Shiite politician

“Americans wanted that chaos to engulf Iraq after the invasion in order to bring former Baath party members to surface and to keep Iraqis busy on things other than the presence of the US troops,” Mr Al Shahbandar said.

But for some Iraqi politicians who still feel beholden to the US for overthrowing Saddam, Rumsfeld was a supporter.

“What the Americans did for Iraq in terms of removing the dictator is something that can’t be ignored and is unfair to forget,” a senior Shiite politician told The National.

The politician, who has held several senior positions since 2003 and attended two meetings with Rumsfeld, preferred to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of being accused of having links to Americans amid the current anti-US atmosphere in Iraq, mainly among Shiites.

“For history, the man [Rumsfeld] was supportive of all Iraqis, especially Shiites, and he was pushing for reforms and building strong institutions in all his meetings,” he said.

To him, it is unfair to blame the Americans for all the misery Iraqis have seen since 2003.

“We, mainly the Shiites, should be blamed as well for not being real statesmen — instead, we were busy with settling scores with others,” he said.

Baghdad resident Raheem Mohammed says what hurts him is that “people like Rumsfeld die naturally in their beds and among their family, instead of spending the rest of their lives in prison”.

“How many families lost their loved ones because of his policies in Iraq?” he asked. “What about those who were tortured at the hands of his soldiers in Abu Ghraib and how that changed their lives?”

Updated: July 01, 2021, 3:29 PM