The Occupation


It was late April, and the pink roses in Chemical Ali’s garden were in fragrant bloom. The new, self-anointed governor of this region had requisitioned the riverside villa for his headquarters. I asked him if he knew the whereabouts of its owner, a cousin of Saddam Hussein best remembered for gassing the Kurds. My host frowned thoughtfully.

“Chemical Ali, no,” he said. “But I do know where others are hiding. Why don’t I tell the Americans? Because I am a son of Iraq and my children will be raised here. Perhaps in future I would be judged a traitor.”

He paused, pushing away an empty coffee cup. “Look, fugitives from the old regime are being sheltered by tribes that owe them favors. It is not simply a matter of honor, or fear of retribution. The real problem is that the Americans won’t say what they plan to do with their ‘pack of cards.’ Will they send them to Guantánamo? Will they just let them go? If we knew that these bloody criminals would be tried here by an Iraqi court, it would be a different story.”

We left the villa after sunset. Our driver, who had spent the afternoon drinking tea at the gatehouse, told us that the governor’s guards had revealed something interesting. Late the previous night, a car had come to the villa. A stooped, thin, balding man was released from the trunk of the car, spent several hours with the governor, and departed at dawn in the same manner. The midnight guest, they swore, was none other than Ezzat Ibrahim, the king of clubs in the Pentagon’s Most Wanted deck, a former ice merchant who had served as Saddam Hussein’s most loyal deputy since the 1968 coup that brought his party to power.

The governor who was helping to harbor this man had spent many years in exile, hounded by Saddam’s agents. His joy at the toppling of the Baath Party was apparent. He gushed about the debt of gratitude which he said all Iraqis should feel toward America. He professed deep respect for the local American commanding officer, a man he met with regularly. But did he trust the Americans? No.

A hundred days after Iraq’s liberation, many questions persist. The occupying power has still not revealed what it plans to do with wanted Baathists, although it has posted an almost comically large reward, $25 million, for the biggest fish. America has still not explained, to general Iraqi satisfaction, what the goals of its occupation are. It has not set a time limit for its presence. Nor has it restored public services to the meagre standard Iraqis have long had to suffer, let alone improved them. The world’s most powerful military machine has not even provided basic security.

For the coalition forces themselves, security is in many ways worse than it was during the war. Then, at least, the enemy was fairly recognizable, and if a few civilians got in the way of returning…

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