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Dear General Ezzat…

Yahia Said
24 November 2003

My openDemocracy article “Eight Days in Iraq” may have sounded inappropriately upbeat for a place reeling under foreign occupation and the aftermath of three devastating wars and sanctions, a place where children and policemen are killed by a bizarre breed of ‘freedom fighters’. I may have sounded irrationally exuberant having come to Baghdad expecting the worst and finding a city bustling with activity and full of anticipation. But I stand behind every fact and statement in my article.

I fully understand where you are coming from, General. Every man’s heart bleeds at the sight of foreign tanks running up and down his hometown’s streets. Former military officers I met in Baghdad were especially sensitive, feeling it was their duty to prevent the occupation. I have earlier encountered in Prague and Moscow the feeling of nostalgia that befalls people when the order of tyranny is replaced by chaos. The best test for this sentiment is usually to ask people whether they want the old regime – with all its defects – back. I hope your answer to this question is no.

I am sure that the Iraqi police indeed treated you with deference in the past. Who in their right mind would dare stand up to such a high-ranking officer? My own experience before leaving Iraq and the stories I have heard from Iraqis of more modest provenance paint a different picture. This is not to say that Iraqi policemen were particularly cruel; as my article implies, their colleagues in other Arab countries can be just as unpleasant. This kind of behaviour is part of the dehumanising process encouraged by a regime that turns the police from an instrument of protection into one of repression.

You may have felt safe in Baghdad over the past ten years but this is not what I heard from other people I met. Iraqi women did not start wearing the veil in the 1990s out of a newfound sense of piety; they did so to protect themselves from widespread kidnapping and rape. The public beheading of hundreds of women at the hands of the Saddam Fedayeen, under the pretext of prostitution, may have provided an added incentive.

People did not stop sleeping on the roofs in the summer because of global cooling. They did so to avoid stray bullets (not of the wedding variety as you claim). The cumulative murder rate of today’s ‘resistance’ fighters and of the coalition’s ‘collateral damage’ pales in comparison to Saddam’s systematic slaughter. In this respect, I must tell you, I had better access to information outside Iraq than you did inside it. Like truth itself, reporting human rights violations was not part of the remit of the former information minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf.

I agree with you that Iraq did not know terrorism before. It knew terror very well, though, and it was just as random and heinous as today’s violence. Just have a read through the newly-discovered execution lists featuring entire families, including children accused of treason. Most depressingly today’s terror is being perpetuated by the same people.

You raise a good point, though, about the attitude of ordinary Iraqis towards the new terror. While they deplore it in private, many of them stop short of acting against it in public. This probably reveals, in equal parts, a dislike of the occupiers, the main target of the attacks, distrust of their ability to protect them and fear that the terrorists may yet prevail. Saddam’s reign of terror, it seems, is lingering where it counts most – in the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis.

You are right in saying that I should not talk for all Iraqis. They should talk for themselves. The terrorists can only be defeated if each of us stated clearly in public what we think about them and acted upon our convictions. So, let’s speak the truth directly as we ourselves see it. This past Saturday, 22 November, offers as appropriate an opportunity to do that as any. I hate those who killed both Tbarak, the little girl from Khan Bani Saad, and the heroic policemen who are trying to bring back sanity to our life. I hate those who tried to shoot down the postal plane leaving Baghdad. I love Hussein, the policeman injured in one of Saturday’s attacks who intends to go back to work not because he wants to be a martyr but because it’s his job.

It is true that I have not been with my fellow-citizens as they went through their finest hour – an hour that stretched for an unbearable twenty-five years. I am still living abroad in the relative luxury of the west but I can distinguish a patriot from a murderer as I am sure you can, General.

Yours Sincerely,

Yahia Said

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