Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

New Identities for Saddam Namesakes

Many men named after the former Iraqi leader finding life hard.
By Aqil Jabbar

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but that maxim no longer holds true in the new Iraq for the 25,000 or so men named after the former president.

In years past, the Saddams of the land had things pretty much their own way, basking in the reflected glory of their namesake and reaping all the benefits of being thought loyal Ba’athists.

As an added bonus, on April 28 - the birthday of the former leader - they even received a special gift of 300,000 Iraqi dinars (2,000 US dollars) from the presidential budget.

But things have changed, and – claiming they are facing discrimination due to their names – many Saddams are rushing to get a new moniker at the General Directorate of Citizenship, GDC.

“The number of those who want to change their name grows day by day,” said Captain Ahmed Riad of the GDC.

Forty- or fifty-year old Saddams are largely found in the ex-president's home district of Tikrit in the Sunni triangle. Outside this area, though, the name is fairly rare.

For most Iraqis, a male named Saddam had parents who either loved the former president or wanted to give their child a leg up under the Ba’athist regime.

Now, though, Captain Ahmed’s office estimates that approximately 50 per cent of the country's Saddams - mostly men born since the leader's rise to prominence in the mid-Seventies – have already got themselves a new identity.

"I came today to change my name to Amir," said a 26-year-old man who used to be known as Saddam Ali Nasir, waiting his turn at the directorate office.

He's making the change, he said, "not because Saddam is a criminal or a tyrant, but because of the ups and downs of life. Now I feel embarrassed if someone asks me my name, although I used to feel proud".

Saddam Ahmed Hussein, 22, says he “started working in the office of the police three months after the fall of the former regime, and when I told them my name is Saddam I felt that they wanted to tear me into pieces”.

Saddam Ahmed has decided to rename himself after the 7th century Imam Ali, an object of veneration by the country's Shia majority. "They are in control now," he concluded.

Saddam Majeed Nori, aged 25, is clear on the issue of guilt, "I'm not guilty. My parents named me”.

Nori says he used to be "very important" in his college, standing proud whenever professors called his name while taking attendance.

But now “people nickname me 'The Tyrant’”.

Nori could have it worse as other Saddams claim they are known around the office as "the Liar" or "the Oppressor".

"I want to change my name to Karim," said Nori. "I hope Iraq's new president will not be named Karim, because I don't want to change my name twice."

Because of their special status, people named Saddam are now the objects of resentment – a charge the government denies.

“We have no objections to hiring anyone who carries Saddam's name to serve the country,” said Saad Ayad al-Tail, an official in the municipality of al-Baya, southwest of Baghdad.

“God tells us, 'Don't judge anyone according to his father's deeds',” said Saad, adding that “people are equal despite having different names and nationalities".

But he does admit to a personal prejudice.

“I personally hate Saddam's name," he added. "Those whose names were Saddam were so proud of themselves.”

Despite his personal views, though, Saad claims to be professionally unbiased, and insists “the law is the law”.

Aqil Jabbar Hussein is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.