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Iraq’s schools have reopened and students are preparing for final exams. But one thing is missing from the classrooms -- Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi dictator’s presence was once ubiquitous -- in the form of wall posters, pictures in textbooks, and the compulsory reciting of pledges to “Papa Saddam.” But these symbols of the dictator’s cult of personality are now gone.

Before Iraq was freed by the U.S.-led coalition, the schools were neglected. Instead of spending money on education, the Iraqi dictator and his Baath Party used precious resources to build palaces with ornate plumbing fixtures. Before liberation, the United Nations estimated that Iraq faced a shortage of five-thousand elementary schools, with eight-thousand existing schools needing urgent repairs. Many schools served children for only two or three hours a day.

And even when students were in class, the main subject was often Saddam. Akil Kadhim Muhammad, the headmaster of a school in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, told the New York Times newspaper that “Saddam took a great deal of our teaching time.... From primary school to university, students learned the same thing year after year -- how great a man he supposedly was.”

Now Iraqi teachers are free to teach real subjects. As President George W. Bush said, the Iraqi people are competent to run their own government:

“We believe that the habits of democracy and freedom are how you fight hatred in the world, that a free society is one in which people have got positive aspirations for the future.”

Now that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown, Iraqi schools can teach children about democracy. Naheda Muhammad Nage, a teacher at Al Batool Primary School for Girls in Basra, said, referring to the former dictator, she’s “not going to mention his name in class anymore. No more Saddam.”