General Sada came to speak at our church this morning and then came back again this evening to speak with our youth group. While I didn't get a chance to hear what he had to say this morning (our church should have it up on their website early this coming week), what he had to say thing evening was incredible.
I've not yet finished reading the book but I know the basics about General Sada. General Sada is an Assyrian Christian living in Iraq and worked for the former dictator, Saddam Hussein. He officially retired from the Iraqi Air Force in 1986 but was recalled to active duty in 1990 at the beginning of the Kuwaiti invasion. He was briefly imprisoned for refusing to hand over 45 POWs, citing the Geneva Conventions, and was released and dismissed from the military.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he sided with the US-led government and was appointed National Security Advisor.
In 2006, he released his book, Saddam's Secrets in which he discusses Hussein's plans to destroy Israel, hide WMDs, and control the Arab world.
Our meeting was very informal - mainly a bunch of teenagers listening to a living history lesson and asking questions. Having worked with these kids, their questions and their intelligence never ceases to amaze me. General Sada started off by giving us a brief history lesson on Iraq. In the first century, the Christian gospel came to what is today, Iraq. In 634 A.D., Arabs took over what is today Iraq and the Muslim religion was introduced. The 1700s - 1800s saw Iraq become a battleground between the Ottoman Turks and the Persians. During WWI, the British liberated Iraq from the Ottomans and placed it under British mandate. British mandate ended in 1932 and the next few decades saw several changes in leadership through military coups.
In 1958, General Sada entered the Air Academy after high school, having scored near the top on his graduation exam. The same year that Saddam Hussein lead a failed assassination attempt on the president, General Sada began flight training.In 1968, Saddam comes out of hiding in Syria and is appointed chief bodyguard of the newly appointed president. It was during this time that Saddam demanded officer's rank and is appointed a four-star general. Not bad for a guy who was merely a thug and had no military experience. In 1979, Saddam forced President Al-Bakr out of power and becomes both the president and the prime minister of Iraq. Then the fun really begins.
General Sada discussed what it was like, growing up within a Christian family in a Muslim country. He said it was extremely difficult but he reminded us that Jesus never said life as a Christian would be easy. He pointed out that Christians in Iraq are living by hope (1Corinthians 13:13 ~ "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."). He discussed how the Koran refers to Christians and Jews as "pigs and monkeys" and that, as a Christian you could not ascend in your job/life unless you were #1. If you were the best, they needed you and therefore you were granted privileges that others were not. You survived because you were needed. You had to make yourself indespensable and irreplaceable.
He also talked about how those in the upper echelons of leadership within the Iraqi leadership and military would choose Christians to work for them because they knew the Christians, because of their faith, could be trusted. They were trusted to do the right thing. They were trusted because the leadership knew Christians would not attempt to assassinate them. Interesting perspective.
One of the kids asked him when he became a Christian. His answer was that he was born into a Christian family but his family is of the "old style" Christianity - not the evangelical style more common in the West. He talked about when he was "born again". A preacher from Fresno, California had come to preach at his church and talk about salvation in 1989. The preacher asked if anyone wanted to be saved and his son walked up first. General Sada followed him. He was the only General in the service who was not a Muslim and who was not a member of the Baath party.
He went on to discuss January 17, 1991. Forty-five pilots had been captured during the opening days of the Gulf War. General Sada was placed in charge of them. Saddam's son, Qusay, came looking for them and planned to execute them there, on the spot. General Sada upheld the Geneva Conventions with regard to the treatment of the POWs. He told Qusay that, should the POWs be killed, America would make this war very personal and turn it against him and his family. The thought of thousands, if not millions of Iraqi citizens being killed in this war didn't phase him but the thought of having his family face the consequences gave Qusay pause and saved the lives of those pilots. General Sada was imprisoned for refusing to follow orders but was soon released and discharged from the military immediately.
He gave the kids a quote that really resonated with me: "Never think that you are only ONE and that ONE cannot do anything. Sin entered the world through ONE - through Adam. And salvation came to us through the ONE."
One of the kids asked him what he did for fun when he was young. He told us that he was one of the better divers in Iraq and that he played football - "the real football. Not what you play here in America. Our football doesn't involve the hands."
Another asked him about his thoughts and feelings when Saddam was executed. The General discussed how no Christian ever truly wants to see another human being killed. The hope for salvation is always there. However, eventually, evil will be punished, though God does not like punishing us. He is our Father and, like every father, He loves his children and always wants them to be better.
One of the last questions was whether the General had hope that Iraq would ever be a true country again. The answer was a resounding "YES" but that it is going to take time. Rebuilding will take time. However, it is much easier to rebuild buildings and infrastructure than it is to rebuild society. When the people are spoiled, the process is lengthy. The looting and corruption is destroying people. The suffering is destroying people. Those are powerful forces to have to work against. How do you rehabilitate a society? But there is HOPE. Hope that Iraqis will choose a better life for themselves and their children. He was firm in his belief that carbon-copying American society is NOT the way to rebuild Iraq but that it can, and will, be done.
I am so grateful to have had the chance to listen to him speak and to meet him in person. What an honor. Now I have to go read the book.