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Iraq?s "Path to Freedom"

Dahr Jamail

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Every evening while laying in bed I listen to the random thumping of explosions throughout Baghdad. And the following morning, there is nothing in the news about this. Two fighter jets buzz Baghdad last night at 11:45pm, and there is no news. Two nights ago I watch two surface-to-air missiles firing through the darkness towards an airplane I cannot see to the north of Baghdad. Again, no news. Heavy machine gun fire almost every night. Yet again, no word about it the next day.

All I have seen in the mainstream blips that I catch on the Internet are how many USA soldiers died today, and Mr. Bush saying that “Iraq is on the path to freedom,” now that Saddam Hussein has been captured.

An Iraqi shows shrapnel left after the latest resistance strike near his home in Baghdad.

An Iraqi shows shrapnel left after the latest resistance strike near his home in Baghdad.

The night of Saddam?s capture, a truck loaded with barrels of benzene explodes in front of my hotel. The huge explosion found several of us running outside to see flames licking angrily at the night, as this unfortunate driver, who luckily escaped with his life, loses his precious load of fuel for the black market.

If this is what the path to freedom looks like, we?re all doomed. Every single Iraqi I?ve interviewed holds a drastically different view of this so-called, “path to freedom.”

I haven?t taken a taxi trip where we haven?t seen a car driving down the wrong side of the road in this violent chaos which engulfs Baghdad. Each time we see one, the driver or another Iraqi riding with us will point and say, “This is our new freedom! He is another liberated driver.”

The forlorn humour a mask for the forced acceptance of the military occupation. None of my Iraqi friends want to talk about how long it will last, because everyone knows it will be several years, at least.

Khalil, a man living in Ramadi whose two brothers were killed by USA soldiers during a raid on their home which the USA military admitted, the next day, was a mistake, tells me, “These men were executed, rather than being treated as prisoners of war. So the USA military are criminals for killing them this way.”

A few minutes later, through tears as the impact of what has happened to his family continues to sink in, Khalil says, “Where is the freedom? Where is the democracy that the USA brings to us? Where are the human rights? We have not been given anything but death and pain from the Americans! The Americans are killing us!”

Talib, a 31 year old resident of Samarra I interviewed on the street angrily tells me of an incident that happened to him.
Training 140,000 boys to kill, and then sending them into a foreign country to ?keep the peace?, is not a good idea.
“At an American checkpoint I was dragged from my car and they put their shoes on my chest. Why do they use these actions? Even Saddam Hussein did not do that! This is not good behaviour. They are not coming to liberate Iraq!”

Another man in Samarra commented on civilians in the city who picked up arms against the Americans when they opened fire on a market in their city said that these people were not Fedayeen as the Americans accused them of being, but instead, “They are only defending their freedom, their city, their families and their holy places.”

Another man in Samarra approaches me with two children by his side. The children are those of his dead brother, slain in the battle.

“This little boy and girl, their father was shot by the USA. Who will take care of this family? Who will watch these children? Who will feed them now? Who? Why did they kill my brother? What is the reason? Nobody told me. He was a truck driver. What is his crime? Why did they shoot him? They shot him with 150 bullets! Did they kill him just because they wanted to shoot a man? That?s it? This is the reason? Why didn?t anyone talk to me and tell me why they have killed my brother? Is killing people a normal thing now, happening everyday? This is our future? This is the future that the USA promised Iraq?”

Over and over again I hear Iraqis talking about having to defend their freedom and human rights from the Americans here. Home raids are occurring every day and night throughout Iraq by the same people who came to “liberate” Iraq from Saddam Hussein. To assist Iraq down the “path to freedom.”

Yet the USA military has taken up residence in most of Saddam Hussein?s old palaces throughout Iraq. Out with the old, in with the new. They?ve turned the beautiful Martyrs? Monument to the one million Iraqi soldiers killed during the Iran war into a military base, complete with sandbags and razor wire. No Iraqi will ever be allowed to visit this memorial and the personal belongings and diaries of the soldiers it stands for. Instead, Americans now occupy the site in hopes of deterring the resistance from firing upon the hallowed ground.

Ghazwan Mukhtar, an Iraqi electrical engineer I recently interview, shared his thoughts about the new “liberation of Iraq”:

“You people are talking about democracy. You are not ready for Democracy in the Middle East. Are you ready for 80-90% of a democratically elected government who is supported by 80-90% of the people who are against the USA? You are not ready for democracy in the Middle East! And those figures did not come from myself, they came from a poll conducted by Pew or some other American organization, saying that over 80% of the people in the Middle East are against USA policies.”

Whatever their political, ethnic, or religious affiliations, Iraqis have no intention of voting in a USA puppet to govern their country.

Whatever their political, ethnic, or religious affiliations, Iraqis have no intention of voting in a USA puppet to govern their country.

“If those 80% truly elect the governments, then all of the Arab countries are going to be against the USA! So don?t tell me about democracy because this is bullshit! You?re telling me bullshit! Here you cut my telephone number (for talking on ?Democracy Now? with Amy Goodman), you arrest journalists, you arrest photographers, you detain people for criticizing, you close Al-Aribiya, you arrested three journalists from Al-Jazeera. You killed journalists during the war in Iraq. And they say they want to liberate us or give us democracy?”

Ghazwan tells me that he pays to send his daughter to school by taxi every day. The added expense in what is left of the shattered and disintegrating economy of wore torn and occupation burdened Iraq is much to bear, but he feels there is no other way to ensure his daughters safety, aside from keeping her at home entirely.

Which is exactly what more and more Iraqis are having to do. The incidence of kidnappings has become epidemic. Looting and murders have continued to escalate. Walking down the street can be a nerve-wracking experience, even in the middle of the day. I continue to try to avoid the dirt patches, and stick to the concrete when I can, because it is less likely for bombs to be hidden under concrete than dirt.

Prices continue to sky-rocket as more sections of the economy become privatized. People here were existing on food rations which were over 90% subsidized by the Iraqi government before the invasion. Today, items are being plucked from the ration list by the CPA and people are given money to pay for them separately (albeit not enough money). All of these items, like detergents and soaps, are from countries like Australia and America, or others who participated in the illegal invasion. The policy the Americans continue to attempt to institute in Iraq simply is not working. People cannot afford now to by the basic foodstuffs they need for existence. In sum, people in Iraq are starving.

In Saddr City, the poorest area of Baghdad, Iraqis living there used to do so in subsidized housing by the Iraqi government. Now, according to the CPA, 70,000 families in Saddr City are homeless. The subsidized housing has been removed by the CPA, in lieu of privatizing the living spaces there, which now no one can afford.

I am seeing more and more people on the street begging. Women sending their children after you with their hands out. I walk down some streets and have a child grabbing onto each arm. It has grown worse with the cooler temperatures now.

A short while ago my friend Baha and I are staring out the window at the rain falling on this grey day in Baghdad. He says, “See how fewer cars there are now? Fewer people can afford the petrol. And now people will be freezing in their homes.”

The murder rate in Baghdad continues to escalate.

After the demonstrations following the capture of Saddam Hussein with over 40 Iraqis killed at them by the Americans, Baghdad has settled back into a hesitant quiet. Yes, random bombs going off in Baghdad at night has become normal.

Yet the spectre of more large scale suicide bombings looms, as does the ever growing resistance movement which has claimed so many innocent Iraqi lives. Since I?ve been here, each time there has been a period of relative quiet, it has been inevitably followed by terrible violence against Iraqi civilians and USA soldiers.

I fear that the occupation forces here may not be having a Merry Christmas, as they continue in their attempt to assist Iraqis down the “path to freedom.”

Published Thursday, December 25th, 2003 - 11:57am GMT

Dahr Jamail is a freelance journalist and political activist from Anchorage, Alaska, living and working inside Iraq.

Article courtesy of Human Shields

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