Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Justice for Dujail

Ad Dujayl today is a small bustling city, of perhaps 50,000 mostly Shi’a souls. Some of whom still look wounded and scared. Two parts dusty Medieval Arabia and one part dusty Wild West, the city is sprinkled with a dusting of modernity. Once, before 1982, it was a less dusty, and less wild. According to its citizens, it was an oasis, a garden spot in the semi-arid terrain of the Mesopotamian valley. A soccer stadium used by national teams stood at the crossroads near the city’s gate.

The city economy flourished, primarily through agriculture. Lush date palm plantations surrounded the city, watered by the Isaky Canal, a major branch of the Tigris. Dates remain a staple cash crop throughout the mid-east. Today, a few miles down the highway, the groves reappear. They are easily spotted, with orderly rows of palm trees each green top exactly as tall as its neighbors.

On June 8, 1982, Saddam was passing through Ad Dujayl, when a group of men ambushed his motorcade. These men were Shiite males, members of the Iranian backed Dawa party, and Ad Dujayl citizens. Unfortunately, for all of us, Saddam survived.

We know, from witness accounts that he went immediately afterwards to the city hospital, where he spent a few minutes composing himself. Within hours the city was surrounded and sealed by a combination of forces including military and secret police. Helicopters strafed farmers near the ambush site. Tanks closed the roads. Local legend has it that Saddam’s brother asked permission to level the city and exterminate the inhabitants. Saddam reportedly answered that there were a few citizens worth saving.

Males suspected of Dawa party association, or simply of being related to members were rounded up. Any past expression against Saddam or the Baath party was enough. One witness that I encountered spoke of nearly five hundred males killed in the immediate aftermath. Some were shot, some suffocated in closed crowded rooms at Abu Ghraib, some were merely stranded deep in the desert without water.

The 148 victims listed in the current proceedings represent the best documented cases. Those men were certainly killed, and we can trace their identities and their deaths, by name. Iraqis have not always kept the best records. In some cases entire families were wiped out and dispersed, leaving many victims unnamed and uncounted on paper.

In addition to the slaughter, of several hundred men, Hussein used other tools of revenge. Date palm groves were razed. Not one still stands within five miles of town. The stadium was demolished, its land taken by the military for air defense artillery emplacements. Like Adam and Eve these Shiites were out of the Garden and into the desert.

Saddam removed the city from official maps. He then renamed the city “al Halas: The Horseman” a title borrowed from Saladin, the Iraqi Kurd who chased Richard the Lion Hearted's crusaders from the holy land in the 12th century. Al Halas along with Stalin was among Saddam’s role models.

A redistribution of the remaining farmland took place. Local Sunni leaders from the Raweed clan, used their Baath party positions to seize fields from Shiite farmers and distribute it to their own relatives.

The Raweeds were Saddam's appointed agents here. I was they who identified Dawa members, and their families. They who benefitted from Hussein's largesse. Even when the sanctions were in place Abdullah, the lan elder was recieving new luxury cars as gifts from Saddam. It was they who held the city in terror, for a year after Saddam's fall.

The campaign of terror continued for decades, with the Raweeds in charge . One witness who recounted the day of the ambush, and the ensuing murder of his son described other crimes. In 1991 nearly a decade after the failed ambush, he was called to his sister’s house. He found police and a judge outside. Inside was incredible carnage. All the household women from adolescent girls to grandmothers had been raped and beheaded. It is rumored that secret police videotaped these crimes to use as a chilling piece of propaganda.

Today, Saddam, the ultimate sponsor of these atrocities, is finally being called to answer for at least 148 murders at a criminal trial. Last June American soldiers knocked down the gate to the Raweed family compound. Abdullah Raweed fired on them. He survived the return fire, and was arrested. His arrest started the ball rolling and witnessses soon lined up to tell their stories.

Dujayli citizens now live less fearful lives, though the threat of violence remains. Late last year, insurgents launched a car bomb at their city council building. It was defeated by the courage of Iraqi National Guard soldiers who live and work in the city. A city now rebuilding itself. The dust remains, but hope has grown. And the possibility of justice for what they suffered fuels that hope.

Throughout Iraq, from the Shiite south, to the Kurdish north, hundreds of other villages and cities were victims of this kind of fear and terror.Many of them far worse. Some places larger numbers were slaughtered, the Kurds faced gas attacks. Those crimes too remain to be tried. I saw thousands of faces still haunted by fear all over Iraq, some had hope now too. Elections, a constitution, and now justice for a mass murderer.

In 2003 we put an end to his reign of terror. Incredibly there are people who still can’t find a just rationale for the war. Maybe they don’t understand the significance of Saturday’s referendum. The importance of the democratic trend. These folks should watch this trial closely.

Thanks as always to Mudville!

My new favorite blog: Obligatory Anecdotes


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