Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Friday, April 18, 2003

More comes out.

The book consists of about 200 sheets of lined paper, hardbound with a childish jacket drawing of knights and dragons. It is filled with neat Arabic script, the consistent penmanship of one man. The book used to be the property of the local branch of the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party before American troops captured the town last week.

In the book, a sort of ledger of doom, are the names of every person who was arrested or vanished after the Gulf War of 1991, when Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, struck back viciously against the Shiites of southern Iraq.

It is divided into chapters: insurgents, deserters, exiles, Kurds and so on. The book is a record of the local people hostile to the regime, their family members, political sympathies, party affiliations, religion and arrest records. There are about 15 names on each page, or a total of about 3,000 people. Of them, residents of the town now say, at least 100 disappeared.

One of the disappeared is the son of an old man named Kadem Agari Albadri. He lives in a walled compound on Maarifa Street - the street of knowledge - landscaped with fuchsia trees and palms. His name appears in the book as a local teacher.

His son Adnan is there, also: No. 32, arrested March 3, 1991. Suspect. Whereabouts unknown.

His house is located past the goats grazing in the city center, past the battered market, near the open sewers. Much of his family and friends gathered Wednesday to hear him speak. They all brought faded pictures or names scribbled on scrap paper of sons and brothers who have disappeared. They need look no further than the book.

"Before anything, I want to tell the people of America and Britain something," Albadri said. "There is nothing, nothing more terrible for a father and mother than to have their child taken from them. Not to know. Never to see his body. You cannot imagine. This is how we lived."

The Albadri family cannot forget. On March 2, 1991, there was an uprising in the town square. The Shiite people, encouraged by America, only to be abandoned by America, wanted its freedom from Saddam. What they got that day was the barrel of a gun. Bodies of men and women lay in the street, people here say.

The next day, the entire town was made to stand in a field across the highway. The men were separated from the children and women. According to the ledger that was secret until now, more than 600 were taken away; 500 came back.

Adnan Agari, who never returned, was taken away with his brother Ghassan and his cousin Khatar. They were taken to Baghdad and were tortured with electrified wire, Ghassan said.

"The screaming terrified me," Ghassan Agari recalled of the dark, poorly ventilated torture chamber. "I was a boy then, 15. I have never heard anything like that before or since."

Although the boys did not participate in the demonstrations, they were forced to give names, any names, of sympathizers. Khatar and Ghassan gave names of friends, and they were eventually returned to the town. Adnan, 17, has not been heard from since.

Life in Qal'at Sukkar was dominated by the secret police. People were summoned indiscriminately for interviews. At these interviews, information was required. Unless it was provided and the Ba'ath Party embraced, employment was impossible. Without information, a brother could lose his posting in the military. Unless information was given, children were barred from school, from the hospitals. Resist and a ration card was taken away.

So, it seems, people cooperated. They told on each other, gave names, addresses, even bore false witness against their brothers to feed their children.

< email | 4/18/2003 09:53:00 AM | link

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