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War and Terror: In Iraq Towns, Allegiances Shift Quickly to Winning Side|
Posted on Thursday, April 10 @ 10:43:24 UTC
By CHARLIE LeDUFF, NY TIMES
UMAIT, Iraq, April 9 - Three sheiks met an American colonel in the center of town today.
"Would you like us to point out the bad people to you?" the tallest and most regal of them asked.
"Yes, point them out and we'll take care of them," the colonel said, his arms pinned to his side by a crowd of men and boys curious to hear their liberator speak.
"Of course," the regal sheik said, "We can point them out to you and then we can take care of them ourselves."
"No just go about your business," the colonel said.
Of course there is no business to go about. There is nothing here. At the central market there were a few dried berries, tea, small piles of salt, nothing more. In Al Amarah, a city nearby, the hospital and banks have been looted, scavengers were taking tires from military vehicles and a boy emerged from the police station with a wooden door.
The towns and villages are destroyed and nearly everybody agrees that it was 35 years of the Baath Party that destroyed them.
Though the Americans have promised to hunt down party officials and prosecute them, it is nearly impossible to do.
The marines took no prisoners here today and few arrests are expected. Despite the grand sheik's assurances that he has the names and addresses of the so-called bad and corrupt men, the marines are proving unwilling to step into thousand year old clan feuds.
After all, the local men whisper, many families had informants, and every neighborhood had a member of the party. This connection proved important for employment, promotions and the well-being of their children.
"Do not trust the shieks," said Habib Hadi, a petroleum engineer who speaks a decent English and was drinking tea at the market. "They want power. It is better to believe that the soldiers and party members have gone. How do Americans say? Sleeping dogs?"
In this conservative Shiite village just a few miles east of the Iranian border, they say allegiances flow in the order of Allah, family, village, clan, tribe. Relations are a complex stew of history and allegiances. An enemy one day may be a friend the next. A rival becomes a brother-in-law. The settling of scores will be done by the men of this village, not the men of America or Britain.
According to the Moroccan journalist Anas Bouslamti, who has studied the Middle East for 15 years and was in Kulait today, a family could not eat without some government connection, and all but the most destitute households were tethered to the regime in some way.
"In times like these when the power is collapsing, the people shift to the winning side," Mr. Bouslamti said. "When the power falls the people say they had nothing to do with it. They saw nothing. They are innocents. The same thing happened with the Nazis, the Communists and the Taliban."
This evening, black plumes of smoke billowed from the center of Al Amarah and loud explosions rumbled across the desert. The Americans had pulled back to base camps or were bivouacked on the outskirts of the city on the Tigris. The war for internal power is on.
United States forces are not policing the local streets, fearing that they would appear to be an occupying army.
"Our main function here is to wrest control of the country from Saddam," said Brig. Gen. Rich Natonski, commanding officer of Task Force Tawara. "Once we accomplish that, then the work of rebuilding this country can begin."
A picture is starting to develop about the life in the Hussein era. The local men say that a man will humiliate himself or trespass upon his neighbor in the face of terror and torture. How else could more than 100 men in this village of 3,000 have gone missing without a trace?
"My brother he just disappeared one night in the hands of the secret police," said Ahmed Al Eidi, a school teacher. "They never gave me his body."
Mr. Hadi's brother was hanged in public, accused of sedition. Mr. Hadi himself spent a month in prison, where he said he was tortured. He described the cell as a squalid room without windows or ventilation. The guards were hardened men who resented even giving a glass of water. They administered beatings to the bottoms of his feet.
"I did nothing, I tell you that, believe me," he said. "Somebody accused me of saying bad things about Saddam. I did not."
The reception for the Americans today was lukewarm. These are the most conservative of the Muslim marshland people. They complained that soldiers have distributed pictures of women with their heads bared. They asked the colonel that his soldiers not touch nor speak to their women at the check points.
Times are hard. The value of the Iraqi dinar has fallen 150 percent since the beginning of the war. Power is out all along the countryside. The Iraqis thank the Americans for their freedom, they desire their help, but they are beginning to ask how long the Americans will stay.
"I think 770 days will be enough," said Ali Shahar, an elementary school principal. "Two years. Rumsfeld promised two years."
This evening, a man's daughter was shot in the back of the head by misdirected American fire. The father wanted an assurance. "Promise me this will not be an occupation by the Americans."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
|Average Score: 3|