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Iraqi Theater Too Afraid to Criticize Saddam

The fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein occurred more than a 1.5 years ago but his legacy of fear remains deeply instilled throughout the Iraqi population. It is a fear reflected by Iraq's National Theater. That fear is demonstrated by what is not being performed on the stage.

During the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, public criticism of the former leader would have most certainly led to death. Even in private, most Iraqis never dared breathe a negative word about Saddam, for fear someone might find out.

But even though the former regime has been gone for more than a 1.5 years, when it comes to Iraq's National Theater in Baghdad, the fear to openly criticize that regime remains.

Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, not one theatrical performance has been given in which the former dictator was criticized.

Famous Iraqi actress and director Nagham Fuad Salim says fear in the theatrical community stems from political instability in the country.

Ms. Salim says you cannot compare the time of Saddam Hussein with today because, she says, now there is political instability. She says, security has been lost at a time when there are many different political and religious mentalities.

Consequently, she says to do a theater performance that depicts the former regime in a way that some might disagree with, could lead to trouble.

For 40 years, Iraqi director Ali Hadi Hassan has been directing theatrical performances. He says he has recently written a play that details the tragedy caused by Saddam Hussein.

But Mr. Hassan says he does not believe he will be able to find actors and actresses who would be willing to participate in the production because of the current instability in the country. He also says he needs someone to produce his work, but does not think he will be able to find anyone. And, even if he did, he says he does not think any of the Arabic television stations would be willing to air it.

While the head of the National Theater declined to be interviewed, he said he does not think Iraqis need to see productions that would remind them of the former regime. He says Iraqis should be exposed to theater that make them laugh and feel good about themselves, especially at a time when no one feels completely safe.

Other actors and actresses said that not enough time has passed for the theater to begin productions about Saddam Hussein. They said Iraqis lived with the pain for decades and, with their wounds still open, do not need to be reminded of their own suffering.

An Iraqi director, who asked not to be identified, said theater owners would refuse to allow productions critical of Saddam Hussein, for fear the theater would be burned to the ground by loyalists of the former regime. The director said that Saddam Hussein may be gone, but not the fear he spent decades instilling in his people.

The director said it will likely be up to the next generation of writers, directors, actors, and actresses to begin detailing what he called, "the savagery" of Saddam Hussein.