Last December, thousands of people in the Middle East took to social media to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Iraqi dictator’s execution. Some even gathered in person for informal memorial services. Gilad Shiloach comments:
The support for Saddam . . . shows that many still consider him a symbol of Arab nationalism and that, a decade after his death, he is still popular in some Middle Eastern circles, perhaps more so among [non-Iraqis]. . . . From [his admirers’] perspective, . . . “Islamic State would not have come about under Saddam,” and his mortal enemies from neighboring Iran are the main beneficiaries of his ousting. . . . Others . . . wrote that the day Saddam was executed was also “the day that Iraq was put to death,” and protested the fact that Americans had turned Iraq over “to the filthiest creatures of Allah—Shiites.”
Within Islamic State (IS), [however], there is also commemoration of Saddam, with posters of him displayed in the organization’s explosives factories and command posts in Sunni strongholds like Fallujah. This symbolism [reflects the fact] that many senior officers in IS are former officials of Saddam’s regime. . . .
The events that occurred in the Middle East following Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003 led to his centrality in a number of myths. The most prevalent narrative in [social-media] posts published by Sunnis represents Saddam as the ultimate defender of Arabism against Iranian-Shiite expansionism. These posts laud Saddam’s success in maintaining the region’s—and especially Iraq’s—Arab identity and territorial integrity.
There is no disputing that Baghdad, currently under Shiite leadership, no longer serves as a counterbalance to Tehran’s influence. As Iran strives to achieve regional hegemony, Iraq has ceased to play a central role in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf. Instead, Iraq has become a failed state, succumbing to Sunni-Shiite conflict and jihadist terrorism. As such, expressions of support for Saddam . . . were more extensive this year [than previously].