Living in the shadow of horror

By Richard Edwards

He stands in the shade of the palm trees, hidden behind a building – but he’s still in view of his tormentor. No matter where Ali goes, he says Saddam Hussein is watching.

Yesterday, as we talked in a secluded, dusty street protected by Royal Marines, he looked over his shoulder at a 20ft mural of the dictator basking in the bright sun.

“We suffer every hour, every day, every week, ” he said, turning away from the image. “We suffer from the most terrorist political system in the world.

“And we blame it all on Saddam, because of his aggression against us, our neighbours and against every country on the planet.” Ali is an educated, intelligent man who has opposed Saddam Hussein since his first days in power.

He has spent time in jail, after which he said he was forced to sign a document authorising his execution if he supported anyone except the Ba’ath party.

His country had been awaiting the arrival of allied forces, he said, for more than a decade.

“The people here felt happy on the eve of war – for the first time since the Ba’ath party took control we started to see the chance for security and freedom, ” said Ali.

“They were waiting for you, and all the people believe that America and Britain have come to liberate, not conquer.” But while Royal Marines have been welcomed on the streets of southern Iraq, Ali said there is also fear. Fear of Allied failure, fear of Saddam, fear of being let down ag ain.

After the last Gulf war, President George Bush Senior encouraged Iraq to rise up against its dictator. But while large sections of the north and south rebelled, US support was not forthcoming.

“You let us down.You did this, ” said Ali, his finger pointing.

“You told us to rise up and we did. Then you left us and Saddam’s men came and destroyed our homes and our families.

“Up to 50 people from here are still missing from that last rising and the memories of 1991 are still in the souls and hearts of all our people.

“We do not want to be disappointed again.” Meanwhile, Ali said he was not surprised that US and British forces have faced stiffer opposition than many expected.

“Much of the resistance is not because the people support Saddam Hussein, ” he said.

“It is because of desperation.

“If they fight they will get killed by Americans and British, but their families will be honoured and treated well. If they do not fight they will be killed by Ba’ath party men – and their families will be disgraced or destroyed.” Dressed smartly in a navy jacket, he rubbed his dark-skinned face and ran a hand through his thick black hair, tinged grey at the temples. He became more animated, but still moved carefully and remained hidden behind the grey block building in front of us. He did not want to give his real name or reveal where we were talking.

“They are all around, ” he said. “Security, intelligence, soldiers, police, secret executioners, Fedayeen. They could still be standing inside this building now. I am still scared, not because Saddam Hussein will come to find me here, but because my relatives are elsewhere in Iraq.

“If they link them with me they will be dragged from their beds and killed.” There is no anger, no trepidation, no surprise in his voice. He reels off the names and dates of murdered friends like a shopping list.

The brutality has been accepted as a way of life. “Everything is solved once Saddam is gone, ” he said. “We have the potential to be one of the richest countries in the world, and we have some of the most educated people in the Middle East.

“But tell all your people we need them.”

 

© Western Daily Press