View Full Version : Free Iraq...

Alan D. Hyde
02-04-2003, 04:58 PM
I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the following. The voice of the author does not strike my ear, somehow, as entirely credible.

Yet, I may be wrong.

For what it's worth:

The Fire Last Time
by Zainab Al-Suwaij

As war with Iraq draws closer, commentators, journalists, and policymakers frequently question whether the Iraqi people would really support the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But that question has already been answered. Although Americans remember the Gulf war, many do not realize that, for a few momentous days immediately after it, much of Iraq rose up in open rebellion against Saddam's regime. In fact, 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces rebelled. I was one of the rebels.

For over a decade, I have stayed silent about what I saw. But now, as the world considers freeing Iraq from Saddam's rule, I feel compelled to bear witness to the last time Iraqis tried to liberate their country.

In February 1991, I was living with my grandparents in Karbala, a city of roughly 350,000 an hour southwest of Baghdad. The Gulf war was raging, and my family and I often listened to Voice of America for news free of Iraqi-government control. We heard President George H.W. Bush repeatedly assure us that if the Iraqi people rose up against Saddam, the United States stood ready to help them. "There's another way for the bloodshed to stop," Bush had said, "and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." I was excited by Bush's words, but, after two decades of living under the brutal rule of Saddam's Baath Party, it was impossible for me to imagine we would ever be liberated. Even though millions of Iraqis dreamed of overthrowing Saddam, we were afraid to speak about it and doubted anyone would ever come to help us. I felt the world had abandoned us.

If an uprising was going to break out, I thought, it certainly wasn't going to be in Karbala, where security was unusually tight, even for a police state. Saddam had special reason to worry about Karbala. For centuries, Karbala has been a sacred place for Shiite Muslims, who are largely shut out from the upper levels of Iraq's secular, Sunni-dominated regime. Karbala is home to two sacred shrines that honor two of the key figures in Shiite history, Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas; many elderly Shiites retire to Karbala to spend the last years of their lives as "neighbors" to Imam Hussein before being buried in one of the city's vast cemeteries. Because of the shrines, Iran refrained from bombing Karbala during its war with Iraq, a decision that only made Saddam more suspicious of Karbala residents.

Because of the city's large percentage of Shiites, the Iraqi government has used every method possible to demonstrate its control of Karbala. Every year, on the anniversary of Imam Hussein's martyrdom, Shiites observe ten days of mourning; during this period, Shiites perform the Aza, a passion play that depicts events leading up to the imam's murder. When Saddam came to power, he banned public performances of the Aza. Saddam also left his mark on the shrines honoring Imam Hussein and Abbas, which were infiltrated by the secret police. Built around their two graves, the shrines were once elaborate constructions topped with golden domes, but now the gold tiles have been removed and replaced with counterfeit metal. Although the shrines remained open to worshippers, when I would visit them I saw rooms within the buildings that had been used by secret police for interrogation--signs the police were prepared to clamp down hard on any Shiite agitation.

Even by Iraqi standards, Karbala was claustrophobic--in Karbala, even more than in the rest of Iraq, you learned not to trust anyone. Though the secret police set up shop in the two shrines, they had a pervasive presence in all parts of the city. The city crawled with informers. Anyone you met--in the streets, in school, at the mosques--might be an agent of the secret police, whose ranks ranged from teenage boys to elderly grandmothers. At my high school, I felt enormous pressure to join Saddam's Baath Party. I was not allowed to receive my high school diploma unless I signed up for the party. I refused because I didn't want my name associated in any way with Saddam's crimes. The high school officials denied me my diploma and forced me to sign a document stating that if I joined any other political party, the regime had the right to kill me. This document was added to my school file, and I thereafter tried to keep a low profile because I felt informers were watching me.

In March 1, 1991, I was fasting and praying with other women in the shrine of Imam Hussein. That day, I was reading prayers for illiterate women, a custom I had performed since childhood. Suddenly, a woman ran into the mosque and announced, "Our army has pulled out of Kuwait."

I burst into tears--not out of regret for the Iraqi army, but because I had hoped Saddam's regime might fall while most of his military was in Kuwait. During the Gulf war, we frequently saw young men in the street who had deserted the Iraqi army in Kuwait and returned to their hometown. Now, I worried, with the war over, there would be less reason for people to desert the army, and the elite Republican Guard would return and increase Saddam's control over the country. My hopes of freedom seemed to fade.

I was still crying when I left the shrine. I was turning 20 the next day, and I suddenly understood that I had no future in Iraq. As long as Saddam ruled, I could not live as a free person. I had no diploma, I couldn't speak openly about my political and religious beliefs, and my relatives could--and did--disappear at any given minute. Iraq under Saddam was a dead end.

I cried all the way home. People stared at me on the street as tears soaked my hijab. It may be hard for non-Iraqis to understand why I was so distraught, why I could not imagine continuing to live under Saddam's rule. But the years of war with Iran, Kuwait, and now the United States and its allies, coupled with Saddam's brutal war against his own people, had sucked the life out of me. And the news that the army would be returning from Kuwait intact meant that my limited hope for freedom was now crushed.

Imam Hussein's shrine had always been my place of comfort, and, on March 3, I went back to pray. Walking along Shara'a Al Abbas, Karbala's main street, I noticed that the mood was tense. The street was filled with more secret police than usual. They stood around and talked nervously.

Afternoon prayers that day in Imam Hussein's shrine lasted only one hour, and then the soldiers immediately kicked us out. I had never seen the shrine shut down like this--the tension in Karbala was rising fast. As I left the shrine, I saw a tank and machine guns stationed in the center of the city. The moment I returned home, I tuned in to the Voice of Free Iraq, an opposition radio station that had started broadcasting out of Cyprus in January 1991, and learned that an uprising had started in Basra and spread north and east to the cities along the Iranian border. Evidently, people across Iraq had decided that now was the time to act, before all the troops could return from Kuwait. Here was a window to make a difference, while Saddam's army was still in retreat and the president of the United States was promising support. "This is amazing," I thought. "Will our turn ever come?"

Two days later, on March 5, as I was having breakfast, our neighbor Umali came to see us. Umali's family was originally from Iran, and, although Saddam had expelled many people we thought were of Iranian origin years earlier, she had paid a bribe to continue living in Karbala. "They are coming!" she told me. "Who?" I asked. "The uprising fighters. They have already liberated Basra and Najaf, and now they are coming to Karbala." I didn't know who exactly these fighters were, but, as I would later see with my own eyes, they were a loose coalition of regular Iraqis of all backgrounds--soldiers who had deserted, high school students, and older people who could still remember a time before Baath Party rule--who had risen up with little organization and now were moving across the area.

I jumped up and ran outside. The streets were filled with troops, secret police, and heavy weaponry. Guns were drawn. Soldiers were shouting into loudspeakers, ordering everyone to return to their houses and shut their doors. To my surprise, dozens of young men were defying the soldiers and urging people to remain outside.

When I returned home to change into pants and boots, my grandfather tried to stop me from leaving. "Come back!" he shouted at me. "Don't do this. This will not take you anywhere." My grandfather survived decades of Iraq's internal battles by refusing to get involved in politics. He knew that what was about to happen could lead to a bad ending.

Overcome with anger, I told myself that I had a choice. By joining the young men, I could show I wanted to live as a free person. A rebellion had begun in Karbala, and I made a conscious decision to be a part of it. As I left the house, I saw groups of men, mostly local Shiites, who had heard of the uprising in Basra and gathered in Karbala to join the rebellion. Many were teenagers, and they carried whatever they could find--sticks, axes, knives, even curtain rods. A few had guns. "God is great!" they shouted. "We swear by God, we will never forget Hussein!"

I was the only woman in the street, surrounded by mobs of men. "Who are you?" they asked me. "What are you doing here? This isn't your place." "This is my fight, too," I told them. "I am with you."

With makeshift weapons and our own bodies, we began to confront the Iraqi soldiers who had entered the town in recent days yet who were already weakened by weeks of allied bombing, desertions, and the army's withdrawal from Kuwait. The soldiers started firing on the crowd--the first time I had ever seen live shooting. Caught up in the frenzy of noise and excitement, I didn't run for cover. Instead, I kept shouting along with the others, "Down with Saddam!" Years of anger within me came pouring out.

Even with its guns, the army was no match for us that day. The angry crowds surged toward the soldiers' trucks and jeeps despite the rain of bullets. They swarmed en masse all over the military's vehicles and forced the troops out of their cars so that the soldiers could not possibly shoot at all the waves of rebels. Many soldiers threw down their weapons and ran off down the street, chased by the crowd. Many were caught and some were beaten; most who were captured were taken to the Imam Hussein shrine, which became a makeshift headquarters for the rebels and a detention center for army troops. I saw one older soldier who escaped the crowds banging on my neighbor's door, crying. He asked to be hidden or at least given some civilian clothes that might save him.

With the army on the run, it became easier for us to get weapons. During the Gulf war, Saddam had stored many of his weapons in places the United States and its allies would never dare bomb: elementary and high schools. Guards who used to work at the schools began emptying the school storage rooms and passing us everything from Kalashnikov rifles to grenade launchers. The guns would be necessary: Though many of the soldiers had run off, I saw that some were still putting up resistance to the rebels, and they were increasingly joined by Baath Party civilian militias and members of the town's secret police. For the Baath members and the secret police, their existence depended on Saddam staying in power, so they holed up inside Karbala's city hall and other municipal buildings and fired into the crowds in the street, maiming and killing as many people as they could. Later that night, many attempted to flee but were killed or captured by the rebels.

By late afternoon on March 5, when the situation had calmed down a little, I returned home. My grandmother had been worried sick about me, but I told her not to worry. "If I live, I want to live in freedom," I said. "Otherwise, why bother?" "But," she argued with me, "none of this is organized!" I responded passionately, "Remember what President Bush said? If we rise up against Saddam, the Americans will help us."

I felt this was an historic moment for the Iraqi people, and I wanted to record it. So I grabbed my family's camcorder and started filming the scene in the streets, where people were dancing and shouting in celebration after many of the troops retreated. Cars honked, people handed out sweets, and women and children hugged and kissed. Walking around with the camcorder, I felt as if I were taping an enormous wedding celebration. Despite the joy, there were many people who had been killed and injured in the initial rush at the army troops. Wounded rebels, army soldiers, and Baath Party members lay in the streets. I told people to carry two of the injured men back to a mosque my family ran. But my grandfather, who wanted no part of the uprising, had taken the keys so that no one could bring the wounded inside. I went into our house, entered the mosque through a back passage, and opened the building's big blue doors. As they swung open, a crowd of what seemed to be hundreds of people rushed in, many limping because of their wounds. With the few supplies we had, we administered first aid. Some people suffered from severe chest and leg wounds and needed to go to the hospital, but nobody dared to drive in the midst of the persistent shooting.

As night fell and the city grew quiet, a great fear set in--a fear fostered by years of living in Iraq. We wondered who in the mosque was really with us and who was against us. Would someone burst into the mosque and try to kill us? Would someone amongst us turn on the group and inform the Baath Party members and other people allied with Saddam where we were? Most of us were strangers to each other. Some of the people in our group, of course, had worked for the secret police--with so many Iraqis in one room, some would have worked for the security services. I treated one secret policeman, Naji, who was shaking with fright as I touched him. He was convinced we were going to kill him as we tried to wrap his wounds. "Don't be scared," we told him. "We are not like you." Naji had expected us to act just like the Baath police. "May God protect you," he sighed in relief.

That night, I mobilized our family's servants to cook food, help clean up the blood in the mosque, and put out mattresses. I ran into the house, got pillows, and ripped the cotton out of them, which we used to dress the wounds.

All this time, my grandfather stayed in the house. Sometimes he would bang lightly on the mosque door and whisper, "Make them leave. This will be bad for you. Saddam will come back." What he was saying was logical, given Iraq's history, but I didn't want to listen. I was exulting in what I thought was a moment of freedom, and I pretended not to hear him and continued helping the wounded. Eventually he ignored us, and, when things got quieter, I sat with other members of the group in the prayer hall of the mosque while each person told his or her history. Soon we were telling jokes we recalled from the Voice of Free Iraq.

It may not sound dramatic, but talking together openly was a completely new experience for us. For years we had lived in a society of informers, where nobody could be trusted. Now, we were getting to know each other for the first time.

That first night of the uprising was the first time I ever saw Iraqis reveal themselves to one another and talk openly about who we were and what had happened to us and our families. Our neighbor, Said, a former army general, told us he had been jailed for ten years for refusing to join the Baath Party while he was in the military. I was shocked to find out he'd been in prison; I had always thought of him merely as our strange, aloof neighbor. Two of the injured men, Sami and Hazam, recounted their experiences. Years before, Sami had been jailed for no reason and had spent four years in prison. He described how prison guards had beaten him, tied him to a ceiling fan, and then turned it on. Hazam had also been imprisoned. He later joined the army to get out of prison but deserted when the military invaded Kuwait. Now he was hiding in Karbala.

That night, we also discussed some of our hopes and visions for the future of Iraq. A medical student named Ali, who had come to the mosque and volunteered to treat the wounded, joked, "When we capture Saddam, we'll charge five dollars to everyone who wants to spit on him." We all started laughing because previously nobody had ever dared to make jokes like this. Ali continued, "If someone wants to kick him, ten dollars. That's how we'll raise the money to rebuild Iraq."

We were sure it was only a matter of time before the Americans arrived, and we were already thinking about how to build a democratic society. We talked about all the people who had been thrown out of the country over the last four decades--Jews and Shiites. Many of these people had lived in Iraq for generations, but their property was confiscated when they were forced to leave. Some, of course, never even got the chance to leave--they were executed in Iraq. We spoke quietly so the injured could sleep.

In the morning, on March 6, we sent two men to get medicine from a nearby pharmacy and others to look for any ambulances that were still operating. Ali's sister was a pharmacist, and some men from our group smashed open her store, which had been boarded up as the uprising began, to obtain medical supplies. When they returned to the mosque, we were able to begin seriously treating the wounded and taking them to the hospital.

Despite our excitement, we could not forget our worries about the night before. While people were taking the wounded to the hospital, I made sure we cleaned up everything in the mosque. I told our family's servants, "I don't want there to be any trace of blood or any evidence that people were here overnight." After we scrubbed the floors, we gathered all of our makeshift bandages and burned them in our family's oven.

Later that morning, I walked over to the city jail. The front door was open, and most of the guards had fled, leaving the prisoners alone. At first, the remaining guards wouldn't let me in because I was a woman, but, when I insisted, they backed down. I explored the jail for over an hour. It was a huge building with many floors. People were wandering through the halls, and inmates were banging on the walls of their cells, yelling to be let out. There were prisoners from many countries--Kuwaitis, Saudis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and even a few Europeans who had been arrested during the invasion of Kuwait and shipped to Karbala. Although there were still a few cowed guards around, everyone was being freed by members of the uprising who had come to the jail over the past day. One man, a Kuwaiti, told me he had come to Iraq to check on his brother, a prisoner of war from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. He was arrested and held for three months; prison guards tortured him every day. "Get out of the city," I told him. "It's not safe." I pointed him in the direction of the U.S.-held zone in southern Iraq.

Some of the older prisoners didn't even know what year it was. Some prisoners no longer remembered why they were imprisoned in the first place.

As I wandered around the jail, some of the liberated prisoners gave us a tour. I saw huge meat grinders that fed into a septic tank and rooms I believe were used for sexual abuse. Instruction manuals on how to use torture devices were posted on the wall. A terrible smell was everywhere. Here before me was the dark secret of Saddam's Iraq. I felt sick but free. Now, I thought, these rooms will never be used again.

Walking out into the street, I saw that people were still celebrating, but they were also waiting for U.S. support, support needed to prevent the army from returning and to allow the uprising to move to other cities in the heart of Iraq. People became anxious, not knowing what to expect. The strange reality of the uprising, with its hope and joy, its danger and uncertainty, unleashed a mix of emotions. Many of the rebels were eager to destroy the people who had terrorized us for years, and they tried to kill as many soldiers and government agents as possible. There were revenge killings in which families murdered the secret-police agents who had killed their relatives. When I visited the hospital on the second day of the uprising to give blood, I saw the corpse of Jabbar, a well-known local informer, lying in the hospital's courtyard. A local man wanted to use his car to run over Jabbar's dead body.

Other rebels showed mercy, protecting some government workers and helping them hide from angry mobs. It seemed to me that some of the uprising fighters tried not to imitate the ways of our oppressors. Instead of using the police station as their base, they used the two shrines. Instead of summarily executing all of Saddam's soldiers, informers, and secret agents in town, they arrested some--though they also killed many. I saw people cooking in the streets and giving out food to strangers. I had never seen Iraqis standing together like this, but then I had never seen Iraqis experience any semblance of freedom.

As the conflict in Karbala wore on, our fear intensified. By the third day of the uprising, it was only a matter of time, we thought, before Saddam's troops arrived en masse to destroy us. Where were the Americans who had promised to come to our aid? Depression began to set in. We waited and waited--for the Americans, for international help, for food, for water, and for medical supplies. The hours grew longer and longer.

By the fifth day, March 9, regiments of the Iraqi army loyal to Saddam arrived on the outskirts of Karbala and started bombing the city from a distance. Under cover of artillery fire, they began sending deployments of soldiers into the city. When I returned home, I saw two soldiers trying to shoot my neighbor, Said. I yelled at him to be careful as shots hit his hand. One of the soldiers shot at me, and the bullet grazed my cheek. At first I didn't even notice it. But Said called out to me, "My daughter, something is coming out of your face." I touched my hand to my cheek and felt blood.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon, tanks from the Republican Guard, Saddam's most devoted troops, started rumbling down Karbala's main street. A group of us gathered outside as Said, the former general, assigned positions to the men. "I don't want to hear a single shot until all the tanks are in," he told us. "Tanks are good in deserts and open spaces, but they're terrible in the streets. Don't attack until all the tanks are trapped." Said had been in the army when it still had a strong British influence.

Said asked for volunteers to bomb one of the tanks. "Who will stay with me?" he asked. I stepped forward, but he was skeptical. "You've been shot and you're a woman," he told me. "But you need me here now, and you don't have anyone else," I replied. He reluctantly agreed to let me try.

I went up to the roof above the tank I was assigned to bomb. I watched as the other fighters down the street ambushed the tanks, one by one. Suddenly it was my turn. I pulled the pin and threw the grenade. The grenade hit its target. There were fires and explosions everywhere. There was a jolt through my body. For three hours I couldn't move and stayed hidden behind the wall; I just sat there praying. What had become of me? A 20-year-old woman, desperate for a future that was now slipping away, tossing grenades and vainly trying to hold off the tragedy that I realized was about to come.

By now, it was clear the Americans were not coming. President Bush had promised to help us if we rose up against Saddam, and we had believed him. But the help never arrived. American troops did not interfere as Saddam turned his helicopters and tanks against us, sending more and more regiments of his troops to Karbala. With no commerce and no help from the world, our supplies were running out, our energy was gone, and our momentum had disappeared. Troops loyal to Saddam began swarming through the city as the residents of Karbala fled. Within a few days, the uprising was crushed. Now it was about our own survival. We said goodbye, cried, and spread out on our own.

Saddam assigned the responsibility for Karbala to his son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who quickly made an example of the resistance fighters, having troops shoot on sight anyone accused of being in the resistance. Kamel also let the bodies of those rebels shot during the uprising lie untouched in the streets as a reminder to the populace of what happened to people who rose up. I saw stray dogs approach the bodies and start eating them.

To escape Karbala, 20 family members, friends, and I crammed into a car built for five. The son of an army general, who was a close friend, drove us out of Karbala through a hail of bullets. At checkpoints just outside the city, guards screamed at us, but, when the driver showed his army credentials, we passed through.

The next few months were difficult, as the secret police hunted uprising fighters across the country. People told me that they entered our home in Karbala and took everything. Friends in Karbala told me that secret police rounded up people regardless of whether they had fought in the uprising. One family friend returned home to his family in Karbala months later. The next day, the secret police took him to prison. Someone had told them he participated in the uprising, and he was tortured for 45 days, each day denying their accusations. One day a taxi driver knocked on the family's door. "Pull your son out of my car," the driver said, "because he can't move." In prison, the family friend had lost his mind. He stayed curled up, friends told me, crying like a baby and yelling, "I want my mommy!"

We could hardly get beyond Karbala's outskirts, so I hid in a small home outside the city, covering my face and sleeping in a secret room. All my hopes and dreams had seemed so close, but now they were crushed. The spirit had been sucked out of me, but, to keep from getting depressed while I hid, I spent hours writing poetry, waiting for the opportunity to escape. I kept thinking about the bizarre window of freedom I had just experienced: Iraq without Saddam's rule, the joy of liberation, the anger of many people after two decades of repression, the way in which we spontaneously organized, the feeling of being open with neighbors and complete strangers, the sight of the prisoners and the human meat grinders.

Eventually, the border to Jordan was reopened, and I seized the chance to flee Iraq. At the border, I had to bribe the border guard to ignore my name on a list of people who were not allowed to leave the country. I was out, but I felt dead inside.

The surviving veterans of the uprising scattered across Iraq and around the world. Sometimes I hear from a fellow refugee in California or Michigan who also participated in the uprising. But mostly there is silence. We thought if we forgot about the past--or at least stopped talking about it--it would go away. But now the weapons-inspection crisis has reached a boil. Could it possibly be that President George W. Bush will bring justice and liberation where his father failed?

America's showdown with Saddam has evoked all the emotions from March 1991 that I have tried so long to forget. They remind me of the diary I kept during the uprising. I made a point of writing in it every day because I believed we were making history. I wanted to preserve those moments so that I would never forget the first precious days of freedom. I wrote every day at noon, if I could, or at night, by candlelight. After the uprising failed, when I was on the run and cut off from my family, this diary was all that I had.

The night before I left Iraq, I burned my diary in an oven, page by page. Anyone caught with such a document would be killed. In all, I burned over 200 pages--full of details about what I had seen and done in Karbala. As the pages went up in flames, tears streamed down my face.

For many years, I have tried to forget what I wrote in those pages. But I can never erase those memories. Sometimes I feel I am back in Karbala. We are waiting for the Americans once again.

[i]Zainab Al-Suwaij is executive director of the American Islamic Congress (www.aicongress.org).



[ 02-04-2003, 04:59 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]

Dutch Rub
02-04-2003, 05:01 PM
blah blah blah- sounds like the author of the " they threw the babys on the floor and stole the incubators from kuwait" story to me.

02-04-2003, 06:51 PM
Alan, that's a heck of lot to read, where is it from?

it'sme, do you have a story?

Bruce Taylor
02-04-2003, 08:24 PM
By the same writer:

Op-ed by Zainab Al-Suwaij
(September 11, 2002)

By Zainab Al-Suwaij
Wall Street Journal

On Thursday, President Bush will take his case for international action against Iraq to the United Nations. But while he has declared his desire for a "regime change" in Iraq, he has been vague about any specific plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein. His ambiguous position has sparked a national debate on the threat of Iraq's weapons arsenal, the potential casualties of an armed conflict, and the impact of a new war in the Arab world.

But, while overdue, this discussion ignores one key fact: In 1991, the U.S. made a promise to the people of Iraq about Saddam Hussein. Over a decade later, America has yet to make good on its word.

After driving Saddam's army from Kuwait, President George H. W. Bush, encouraged by his national security advisors, called on the Iraqi people to rise up and liberate their country. I, along with millions of other Iraqis, heeded his call. We had been suffering under a police state for years, and were desperate to breath free. The promise of US support was all the encouragement we needed. Within days, a popular uprising had liberated 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

But as Saddam Hussein's remaining forces regrouped outside Iraq's newly free cities, President Bush broke his promise. No Black Hawk helicopters or F-16s swooped in to protect us from Republican Guard tanks. Thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who had just taken up arms for freedom suddenly found themselves executed in the street, tortured in actual human meat grinders, or, for the lucky few, driven into hiding.

Then, there was no national discussion. President Bush feared the instability of an Iraq without Saddam Hussein, and the American public was content with a job well done in Kuwait. Better to focus on U.N. weapons inspections than to consider the terrible impact of promising freedom in the Arab world without delivering.

Americans may forget President Bush's pledge, but Iraqis do not. The crushed intifadah - the word Iraqis use today for the 1991 uprising - has come to represent the U.S.'s unpaid debt to the people of Iraq. Iraqis who took America seriously remain scarred and skeptical, even as the son of President Bush talks again about toppling Saddam.

Still, the Iraqi uprising did reveal how American leadership can release a repressed impulse for freedom in the Middle East. For years, Saddam Hussein tried to reinforce his rule with propaganda in schools, the media, and even the religious establishment. But when urged to rise up, the Iraqi people responded with remarkable enthusiasm, shattering the fašade Saddam had created.

Americans do not understand how badly Iraqis have suffered, and how eager they are to be rid of the tyrant who rules them. I recently spoke with a peace activist who opposes U.S. action on Iraq. "Is Saddam really that bad?" she asked. "On TV, I always see Iraqis marching in the streets against the U.S."

I explained how we were forced to attend pro-Saddam marches as part of school. Those who tried to run away were beaten by the police. I also told her the story of how one of my classmates in third grade made the mistake of saying that Iran was not so bad. The girl disappeared one week later and never returned. From an early age, we learned that we were prisoners in our own country.

Recalling the terror of growing up under Saddam Hussein also reminded me of how wonderful the first days of the uprising felt. Responding to the call of President Bush, Iraqis filled the streets and began to demonstrate. I was only 20 and a woman, but I rushed to join the crowd.

I saw in people's eyes a joy I had never seen before. Bullets from the army whizzed by, but it was like a wedding celebration. Everyone wanted to play a part in this first step toward freedom. We were risking death but enjoying every second.

It was the only time I saw Iraqis act with happiness and pride. Our lives at that moment meant being able to live as free human beings. Little did we know that this was only a bloody dress rehearsal, that real liberation would have to wait. Little did I know that I would have to flee and live in hiding for months.

The scars of betrayal have not healed. Last time, the Iraqis started the uprising and America promised to help finish it. Today, America will have to take the first step. But the good news is that I guarantee the Iraqis will make sure the job gets finished this time.

As an American citizen and a survivor of the Iraqi uprising, I call upon the American people to remember the promise our president once made. As we continue our national debate about Iraq, the real question is not whether to liberate Iraq, but why we have not done so already.

Ms. Al-Suwaij is executive director of the American Islamic Congress.

Wayne Jeffers
02-04-2003, 11:55 PM
Originally posted by LeeG:
. . . where is it from? . . .
The New Republic (available online)


jack grebe
02-05-2003, 08:06 AM
since when does a civil uprising(a.k.a. mob in the street) pass for an attempt to overthrow a govt. where was the revalutionary(sp) govt. PREPARED to step in and restore order. where was the leadership. IMHO it takes more, a lot more, then a couple of snotnosed radicals with a pipe dream and no structure
as far as the U.S. making the first move,that looks very promising at this time...start planning and don't screw it up this time