In the days preceding the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, on April 9, 2008, the Arab liberal e-journal Elaph published a number of articles and interviews with leading Arab liberals on the Iraq war and its aftermath.
The following are excerpts:
Iraqi Journalist 'Abd Al-Jabbar Al-'Atabi: Despite It All, April 9 is a National Holiday
In an April 9, 2008 article in Elaph, Iraqi journalist 'Abd Al-Jabbar Al-'Atabi wrote: "Here is Baghdad, still smelling the odor of smoke, hearing the sounds of fright, seeing the tongues of flame, and tasting the bitterness of violence. And nonetheless, with our fingers we feel the face of hope – with the voices of the birds who have not left the city and still chirp and grow in number; with the winds that carry the pollen of the palm trees to the orchards to produce fresh dates; with the glimmer of the predawn, whose appearance gladdens the city's residents and moves their spirit to rebuild and renew what has been destroyed…
"Yesterday – one day before the anniversary of April 9  – I spent the early morning hours devoting all my attention to what has been and what will be. I jumped up, eager to visit the places, to walk in the streets and on the sidewalks, allowing my gaze to take in what it may. Oddly enough, as I was doing so I found myself reciting a poem by Nazar Qabbani from 1962:
"Baghdad, oh rhythm of anklets and adornments,
"Oh store of lights and fragrances,
"Do not do me wrong, as you see the rebab in my hand.
"The desire is greater than my hand and my rebab.
"Before the sweet meeting you were my beloved,
"And my beloved you will remain after I leave."
"I walked in the public street and observed the faces of the people I passed by – those sprawled on the sidewalks, selling goods, those who make their livelihood in the souks and the parking lots, and the beggars. I imagined them five years ago. I might not see a great change in their appearance, but there was something written in their facial features that showed that these people have their freedom to deal with things. As one of them said to me, no one comes and scatters their wares, or chases them away, or demands bribes. They come when they will and leave when they will.
"At the start of my journey I stopped by the newspaper seller to ask how he was after five years of change. He said: I will sum up what you ask in a few words. Despite everything that happened and is happening, I feel pride in the fact that the years of dictatorship are gone. There were no worse years than those, when we were afraid of our own shadows and our own children. I won't claim that the situation now is ideal, but compared to the past, it is much better, without any comparison… Despite the sorrows I find in our present situation, I feel relieved. In the days [of the dictatorship] I didn't feel optimistic. Now, I am optimistic about what is to come. What is happening now is passing; while it has gone on long, it will end – it could end in the twinkle of an eye.
"The residents of Baghdad, who recall the days from before April 9, 2003 and up to today – 1,727 days and nights, one after the other, together with all that has befallen and befalls their city – profess nothing but fidelity to it, even though it is engulfed in dangers. They reject those who say 'Baghdad fell,' and will answer you sternly if you say this, saying 'it was the regime that fell'…
"I called a friend who lives in Sadr City and asked him how things were under the traffic ban in force now for a week. He said: I feel love, and then laughed, and continued: There are some things I fear, but I do not fear the coming days. People [here] are in a lamentable state and are afraid of evils that may befall them, but they are not despondent. They are awaiting a change for the better.
"Five years of Baghdad's new life have passed… and there has been much talk of Baghdad. This is because it is not a city like other cities; it is exceptional, as is everything in it…
"You see that people, despite their proud grief, are talking about hope, and optimism, and the happiness to come. Despite the confusion, the anarchy, and the unconceivable occurrences, you hear the words: the breakthrough is at hand. They speak of the democracy that they had misunderstood, and they emphasize that these five years have taught them a lot and enriched their experience. They have come to know the true from the false and to distinguish between the good and the evil. You hear people saying: April 9 is a national holiday, despite the imported terrorism, or that concocted by the former regime, that came in its wake."
Egyptian Journalist Ashraf Radi: "Progress, Liberty, and Democracy Demand a Price"
Liberal Egyptian journalist and Reuters correspondent in Cairo Ashraf Radi told Elaph: "No one in the Arab world wrote a single word about [Saddam's] tyrannical crimes, for which he was brought down, whereas the [Arab] pens unceasingly criticize the Iraqi governments that came afterwards… I find no answer to those who willfully ignore the causes behind the violence and the bloody conflicts in Iraq today other than that progress, liberty, and democracy demand a price, and this price must be paid by the current generations, so that the coming generations will not have to pay double.
"There is no doubt but that Operation Iraqi Freedom has many enemies, both within Iraq and in the neighboring countries… There is no future for Iraq without democracy. Those who sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, are worthy of liberty, and they will never accept any prize less than this…"
Palestinian Liberal Ahmad Abu Matar: Iraq Needs to Learn from Germany and Japan, Which Were Also Under American Occupation
The prominent Palestinian liberal Ahmad Abu Matar, who resides in Oslo, said: "There are some who completely turn a blind eye to the crimes of the Saddam regime, which included the killing, torturing, and 'disappearance' of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, of all ethnicities and sects. These people focus on the period after the fall of the regime and place all of the responsibility for the killing and destruction on the American occupation. And there are others who focus exclusively on the crimes of the former regime, skipping over what has gone on in the last five years, as though Iraq has become an oasis of security, liberty, and democracy superior even to Plato's ideal republic…
"I think that the international coalition forces, under the leadership of the U.S., did a great and important service to the Iraqi people, with all its ethnicities and sects, by bringing down the criminal dictatorial regime. After that, the U.N. declared Iraq an occupied country, and the Iraqi issue, in all its dimensions, became an international one.
"How should the Iraqis deal with this new situation? The objective answer to this question must draw on similar experiences from recent history. Two countries, Japan and Germany, were also placed under American occupation. How did these two countries deal with the new situation, which was entirely analogous with the situation in Iraq? They both considered the occupation an opportunity to reorder their own affairs [and get rid of] all the negative sides and errors that invited this occupation – from rewriting the school curricula in Japan to putting an end to Nazi ideology and practice in Germany. And look how far Germany and Japan have come.
"The ball is now in the Iraqis' court…"
Khudayr Taher: An Apology to the Valiant American Soldier
In an April 8, 2008 article titled "Apology to the Valiant American Soldier," Iraqi liberal Khudayr Taher bemoaned the ill treatment the U.S. army received from those it liberated:
"We forsook you and betrayed you – we, whose history is an expression of massacres, conflagrations, and ruin. We killed you, and we killed our dream and aspiration of reaching the sun, the moon, and the stars – [we killed our dream] of availing ourselves of the opportunity to live as true humans, thanks to your presence.
"My dear, brave American soldier, you noble individual who traversed land and sea in order to write the story of Iraqi freedom for the first time in its modern history – you believed, in accordance with logic, self-evident truths, and rational thought, that a people who had been subjected to repression, starvation, and killing would dance for joy, and would thank Allah who sent you to them as a liberating angel. [You believed that] they would strew flowers and break out in songs of joy that would smash the chains of slavery, ignominy, and humiliation.
"Not even a writer of surrealistic [literature] or [theater of] the absurd would have imagined that the Iraqi people would revolt against their liberator and would rush ardently back to a new bondage of a different kind – that of the religious cleric, the tribal sheikh, and the gang leader. It was unthinkable that the people would go against logic, rational thought, and self-evident truths, in a mad rush towards the abyss and total ruin.
"My beloved, brave American soldier, we apologize to you, and we are saddened at our wretched and miserable selves. Since we are a people that slaughters itself, and kills one another, cutting off heads, what can you expect from us other than ingratitude, perfidy, and stabbing you in the back for the benefit of Iranian and Syrian intelligence and Al-Qaeda?..."
Shaker Al-Nabulsi: The War Has Come To Be One Between Liberalism and Fundamentalism
The Jordanian author and researcher Shaker Al-Nabulsi, one of the leading thinkers of the Arab liberal movement, told Elaph: "Despite all the colossal efforts of the Arabs and others to abort and destroy the new 'Baghdad 2003' and to strangle the festival of liberty and democracy that was born on the morning of April 9, 2003; and despite the [efforts of] the Arab and Western media to pin all of the crimes committed in Iraq, from the dawn of that day up to now, on the occupation forces that invaded Iraq – none of that can erase the obvious truth.
"The new 'Baghdad 2003' has transformed the war between [the Iraq of] the Saddam Hussein era and America into a war between liberalism and fundamentalism, between modernity and reaction, between dictatorship and democracy…
"It is inevitable that every country and every people, after liberation, pass through a stage of corruption, thievery, and lack of security; but this stage will be the womb that begets the stage of modernity, creation, and the new liberal thought. The best examples of this are Japan, [South] Korea, Germany, and Eastern Europe."
In an earlier article in Elaph, Shaker Al-Nabulsi wrote about the salutary effects that the removal of the Saddam regime has had on the progress of liberalism in the Arab world on the whole:
"This reckoning should have appeared a year or two ago, so that we liberals could see whether we had lost or gained in the past few years, which have been a critical juncture in the path of Arab liberalism.
"There is no doubt but that our senses and perceptions, and the readers' responses that are published or that we receive by mail, tell us that we are gaining ground, even if the pace of this advance is very slow and not perceptible on a day-to-day basis.
"We are like blossoming flowers whose blossoming is imperceptible. Yet they do blossom – and the evidence is that with the advent of spring they were just buds…
"The best evidence of the advance of Arab liberalism in the past five years is the fact that so many liberal writers have appeared on the stage of the Arab media and have expressed their views on various Arab issues and problems. This is one of the many kindnesses that the new 'Baghdad 2003' has bestowed on us.
"This shows that as time passes Arab liberalism is gaining for itself more and more writers and intellectuals…
"[More] evidence for the advance of Arab liberalism over the past five years is the great number of liberal websites that host the writings of liberal authors, and the huge number of reader responses to these articles. None of this existed in the years before 'Baghdad 2003'.
"True, these numbers cannot compare with the quantity of fundamentalist websites. But we should understand that what is important is not the quantity, but the scope of influence. Most of the fundamentalist websites repeat themselves incessantly, and reiterate the words of dead people and moldy books, whereas the liberal websites try to present something new every day. They are a mirror that reflects reality in all its details and problems.
"Liberal discourse is not an arousing ballad that excites the emotions and intoxicates; and it is not a populist discourse that gratifies the impulses of the masses, rubbing their wounds with [the balsam of] a jealous and deep-seated narcissism. It is [a discourse] addressed first and foremost to a discerning elite, as it is the discerning elite that makes history…
"Nonetheless, the liberal political, religious, cultural, and social discourse has won great and abundant [support] among the masses. Liberal discourse did not come to them; they came to it, despite the fact that the liberals constantly emphasize that they are not singers at a nightclub, dancers at a wedding, or pulpit preachers who enflame the emotions, the instincts, and narcissistic wounds.
"[More] evidence of the advance of Arab liberalism in the past five years is the appearance of many liberals – men and women – in the Arabian desert and the Arab Gulf region. Those who think that this part of the Arab world is the exclusive staging ground of fundamentalists are in error. [In fact,] it may be that the liberals of this region of the Arab world are the most ardent, courageous, and audacious of them all. Anyone who reads the Gulf press today sees that 90% of it has liberal leanings. It and its writers – and they are the majority – proclaim the need for self-criticism, the filtering of tradition, respect for human rights, gender equality, and the freedom to differ…"