Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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Iraqis fleeing to Syria say they are not worried about a US-led invasion of Iraq. They are worried that we may not follow through.
"If the Americans try to reach Baghdad, all the people will come out on the streets to join them. What we don't want is for them to stop in the middle, so that the government can kill us again," said Zaid, 26, who traveled last week from the southern Iraqi city of Nassariyeh.
Iraq's Shiites, who make up nearly two-thirds of the nation's population, dominate in southern Iraq. If President Bush launches a war against Saddam, Shiite loyalties could be crucial to U.S. hopes for a swift and overwhelming assault by tanks and troops moving from Kuwait to Baghdad.
"We want the Americans to come, and if they come tomorrow it will not be too soon," said an unemployed 23-year old visiting from the southern Iraqi city of Basra. "People are nervous, people are afraid, we don't want war. But do we want to change the government and we will welcome anyone who comes to get rid of Saddam."
The Iraqi government apparently also fears that a U.S. invasion will trigger another uprising. Earlier this month, citizens in the south were told that when war starts they must stay indoors and keep their lights on at night, to prevent anyone from using the cover of darkness to stage a revolt, the Iraqis say.
In Nassariyeh, "there are extra soldiers and extra intelligence on every street. The government has asked the people not to leave their houses and to leave their lights on at night. If we go outside, we will be shot," said Zaid, who did not want his full name to be used for fear of reprisals when he returns.
Iraqis have been promised $5,000 if they kill an American soldier and $10,000 if they capture one alive, he said. Other Iraqis said the cities of Kerbala, Basra and Najaf had been given similar instructions.
Although their accounts cannot be independently confirmed, they offer a starkly different picture of the mood in Iraq from that obtained by interviews with Iraqis inside the country, which are always conducted in the presence of official government minders.
"There are reports on the television that all the people of Iraq support Saddam, that they don't want war," said Aqil, 33, a tailor from the southern town of Najaf. "It just isn't true. If you don't go outside and demonstrate, the intelligence (agents) will come and ask you why you didn't go."
Even outside Iraq, many say they are afraid to talk, citing the assumed presence of Iraqi intelligence agents in the Iraqi community. But in the shops and homes of friends, several spoke freely about their hopes for a war that will put an end to Hussein's regime, as well as their misgivings about America's intentions.
"Only those who get money from Saddam will fight the Americans - the members of the government, the Baath Party and the intelligence - and that's not a lot of people," said a taxi driver from Kerbala who stopped for tea at a small Iraqi restaurant after dropping off his passengers. "We've had him since 1979 and we're sick of him."
He, too, was furtive and fearful. He regularly drives between Kerbala and Damascus, and the Iraqi border guards routinely require him to inform on the Iraqis he meets in Syria. He did not want them to find out that he had been talking to a foreigner. "If this meeting happened in Iraq, all of us would be arrested, and not only us, the whole street," he said.
"The people of Iraq want war tomorrow. Ask any Iraqi, are you ready to take a gun and fight with the American soldiers, and he will say, yes, we will go in front of the American soldiers to Baghdad," he said.
But the Iraqis interviewed in Syria insist U.S. troops have no need to worry. "We will be angry with America if they don't come to remove Saddam Hussein," said Aqil. "They could have removed him before, and all the Iraqi people were behind the Americans, but they didn't do it. This time, we pray that they will."
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