Sunday, August 03, 2003


To rename streets in Baghdad.
There's no Yasser Arafat Street in Baghdad anymore, and a main thoroughfare along the Tigris River once named for an eighth century poet has a new name as well.

Both have been renamed for Shiite Muslim imams whose memory had no place in Saddam Hussein's rule, when Sunni Muslims dominated despite being a minority in Iraq.

In midnight operations underlining the newfound strength of Iraq's long-oppressed religious majority, Shiite leaders are whitewashing the names of many of Baghdad's bridges, streets and neighborhoods, replacing the hallmarks of the old regime with scrawled titles rich in symbolism for Shiites.

The obvious tributes to Saddam's 23-year-rule went long ago. Signs at Saddam International Airport, Saddam Bridge, Saddam University, Saddam Hospital and the Saddam City neighborhood came down as the capital fell in April, along with countless statues and posters of the dictator...

Saddam had named the street for Yasser Arafat when Israel put the Palestinian leader under virtual house arrest in 2000. Signs bearing Arafat's name disappeared overnight in late June, and new ones with the imam's name went up.

Many of Iraq's Shiite Muslims resent Arafat for backing Saddam in the 1991 Gulf War and for accepting Iraqi aid since then, even while Iraq suffered under U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

There also was resentment over special treatment Saddam granted Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and the Iraqi dictator contributed to funds that paid compensation to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

"Yasser Arafat is the same as Saddam. He was not honest with his people, and he created a single-party system to cripple the freedom of his people," Sajjid said. "They are two sides of the same coin."

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