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The Roots of Dictatorship in Iraq

By Richard Leiby
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page C03

Washington hawks love to rail against Saddam Hussein's brutality and despotism, but, much like Hitler, he didn't rise to power unabetted. A group of Iraqis says it's time for their society to face up to hard questions: How did they let the Butcher of Baghdad come to rule their country? Were they complicit in its ruin?

At an event in Washington tonight, Iraqi-born intellectual Kanan Makiya and others will publicly launch the Iraq Memory Foundation, a project that foresees a museum, archives and oral histories devoted to the Hussein era. "Our intent is to invite Iraqi society to face its past: to look in the mirror and assume responsibility for what was," Hassan Mneimneh, the foundation's director, tells us. "It's easy to say that what happened in Iraq was the fault of Saddam Hussein. But the Baath Party ruled in two places: Iraq and Syria. Why was the Iraqi experience so harsh?"

Author Kanan Makiya will launch the Iraq Memory Foundation project tonight. (Michael Lutzky - The Washington Post)

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Last week in Baghdad, the foundation obtained a long-term lease on property on the dictator's former parade grounds, which feature a gargantuan crossed-sword monument modeled from Hussein's own fists and arms. Though it now has a budget of $3.2 million, mainly from the U.S. government, the project has proceeded in fits and starts since the 2003 invasion, slowed by the insurgency in Iraq and political infighting in Washington. "We've had as many friends in the U.S. government as we have had foes," Mneimneh said.

The project founder, Makiya, is a longtime dissident author who chronicled society under Hussein from exile in two books -- "Republic of Fear" and "Cruelty and Silence" -- and has worked in Iraq at great risk to preserve Baathist documents and artifacts. The hosts of tonight's reception are influential Republican lobbyists Jeffrey Weiss and wife Juleanna Glover Weiss. They've opened their home in the past to Iraqi exile figures, including the controversial Ahmed Chalabi -- who as of yesterday had emerged as one of four contenders to become the next prime minister of Iraq.

Between a Rocker And a Hard $96,000

The rocking chair: Owned (but maybe not used) by the president. (Peter Morgan - Reuters)
• Some rockers are worth a lot more than others: As the latest auction of Kennedy family possessions kicked off at Sotheby's in New York yesterday, an anonymous bidder paid $96,000 for a brown oak rocking chair with a worn wicker back and seat, reports The Post's Linda Hales. The auction house described the chair only as a product of 20th-century North Carolina and a castoff from one of five weekend or vacation homes -- and was careful not to say that John F. Kennedy had actually sat in it. The catalogue entry was accompanied by 1961 photos showing the 35th president at work in a similar model at the White House.

Did yesterday's buyer get a bargain or wildly overpay? In 1996, Sotheby's auctioned two Kennedy rockers during a frenzied $34 million sale of items from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's estate: One sold for $453,000, the other for $442,500. Two years later, Guernsey's sold a so-called Kennedy rocker for $20,000 in a sale contested by both of the late president's children.

Among the items going on the block today: an original cel from "101 Dalmatians" signed by Walt Disney "to John Jr."


• While flying on United Airlines from Chicago to Washington on Monday night, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was offered the chance to move up to the first-class cabin from his seat in economy. He turned down the flight attendant's gesture, remaining with the commoners and saying: " 'I'm fine here -- we're going to have a nice discussion,' " reports our impressed witness, a lobbyist. "Obviously Washington hasn't gone to his head." Yet.

• Nothing says I love you like a nice, public, romantic Valentine's Day dinner. Bill and Hillary Clinton spent their evening Monday at the packed Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown. The restaurant tells us that the senator's brother, Tony Rodham, and his fiancee, Megan Madden, were at the table, too. The Clintons walked in holding hands, posed for pictures and, upon leaving, were greeted with a now-typical round of applause from other patrons.

• Congrats to music partners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer of Kensington, who have brought home a Grammy for the second year in a row for best musical album for children. The folk-scene performers won for their multicultural "cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins." As for their celebrity sightings, Fink told us, laughing, "You can see them with your binoculars from where you sit." The duo flew back from Los Angeles on Monday night. "We're still trying to catch our breath," Fink said before rushing off to a gig in Herndon last night.

The First Lady Becomes Part of the Art

(Isabel Bau Madden)
Laura Bush and daughter Barbara (in sunglasses) made an impromptu visit yesterday to "The Gates," the project of 7,500 fabric arches along pathways in Central Park. They decided to take in the installation by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude while the first lady was visiting a friend in New York.

With Anne Schroeder

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