Many hoping for new life in West
BAGHDAD, Iraq – On a market street that survived bombing and
looting, 25-year-old Sudad al-Bayati sat on a bench recently eating a chicken shwarma sandwich.
A white Iraqi police car pulled up by her and parked.
“It’s probably stolen,” she said, watching the two officers.
She’s equally skeptical that voting could ensure better Iraqi
leaders in the future. Her participation in elections would
“depend on whether any of the candidates are good,” said Bayati,
a recent graduate of engineering school.
Anyway, she added, she plans to leave her war-torn Iraq – for
Denmark or the United States.
“I know Iraqi people. They are still the same. Things will not
change. Each man who gets a little power, he will try to use it to
get more money.”
Today, she’s one of thousands of Iraqi university graduates
delicately testing freedom as Iraq staggers back to life. They
venture out to shop and look around as gun battles recede into the
night and black smoke from burning buildings thins. Vegetable
stands and grocery shops are opening. Barefoot soccer players cut
and swerve in the rubble.
But her skepticism raises a key question for Iraq’s future: Will
young Iraqis commit to their country? There are no jobs in sight,
universities are trashed, and many such as Bayati are convinced
that a better life lies elsewhere.
They prefer to simply get out, slipping across Iraq’s borders.
This represents a major challenge not only for Iraq but the Bush
administration, which has promised to create a stable post-Hussein
society that can spur democracy around the authoritarian Middle
Iraqi religious and political figures this past weekend were
talking the talk of building democracy. And interviews with elders
in various communities last week revealed strong agreement that
Iraq, with its Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and other factions, must stay
together as a country.
Yet, without the participation of a new generation, elders
lamented, success will be limited, at best.
Grinding poverty in the hinterlands was worsened by a war that
broke down food and water distribution. Mobs of teens lurk along
roadways waving worthless dinars and occasionally attacking
vehicles. Factional leaders have begun to assert their own
First, Kurdish armies, backed by U.S. special forces soldiers,
captured the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk before withdrawing as
Turkey protested. Then, Iran-based Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Hakim
returned to Iraq at a time when many Shiite Iraqis are organizing.
And Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, with Pentagon
connections, has moved from a U.S.-run base at Nasiriyah to Baghdad.
Today, U.S. troops remain crucial, shifting from combat operations
to enforcing law and order. Gunners atop Humvees secure strategic
intersections, buildings and former government compounds across
Baghdad. Troops also search Iraqis for explosives, patrol
neighborhoods and try to stop looting. One soldier, spotting Iraqis
scavenging gasoline from an abandoned oil truck recently,
repeatedly fired his M-16 rifle into the ground and shouted “Get
out! Go away!” until the scavengers scattered.
Behind the scenes, U.S. civil affairs soldiers convene meetings for
Iraqi authorities, including about 2,000 re-hired police and
But troops say anything could happen any minute.
“A lot of people here are worried we are going to stay – sit on
the oil,” said Marine Cpl. John Hoellwarth at a central compound
targeted repeatedly by renegades with Kalashnikovs firing from
abandoned buildings. “We want Iraqis to know we are only going to
stay long enough to help Iraqi people restore critical
infrastructure and form a government for and by the Iraqi
Iraqi elders, meanwhile, are beginning to express their visions for
“What we want is that there will be no poor people in Iraq. We
want every man to be able to get married. Most of the men around
here cannot afford to get married because there’s no work,” said
Ayad Shuber Al-Mosawy, 47, a leading Shiite imam.
“And we want everybody to be able to own their own house – not pay
rent. Iraq will start a new life, a new system.”
Wearing a black headdress, he spoke from behind a copy of the
Koran, seated in Al-Hurea Alaaskareen Mosque in a crowded
Heads of local families gathered around him.
“We want Islam to be our law,” Mosawy said. “God willing, there
will be no separation” into tribal and religious factions.
“America did a very good thing. America saved us from Saddam. Now
we hope we will be like brothers with America,” Mosawy said.
“America is a country with power. Its soldiers came for us and
helped us. Because of our ex-leader, we were weak. It was a favor
we will never forget. All the Iraqi people will remember how
America saved us.”
Iraq’s future leaders could come from any faction, said Saaed
Khaleel Omar, 43, a Kurdish electrician living in a dilapidated
central neighborhood with overhanging wood balconies. “We just
need a fair president. Muslim, Christian – that doesn’t matter.
Under Hussein, Omar said, Kurds in Baghdad felt they were excluded
unfairly from government jobs. Sometimes they couldn’t even enter
“We are afraid that somebody like Saddam Hussein will take
power,” Omar said.
Even though a neighborhood youth, 15-year-old Mohamad Haidar Dara,
had been killed in a crossfire the day before as U.S. soldiers
battled renegades, Omar and other Kurds here said they want U.S.
forces to stay as long as possible.
The problem is that wanting stability, let alone democracy, does
not guarantee it will happen.
There simply is no model in oil-rich Iraq for transparent
self-rule, taxation in return for representation, and civic
participation for the common good. When it comes to settling
conflicts, Iraqi notions of legal systems clash with Western norms.
Many favor Islamic law based on the Koran, or eye-for-eye justice.
Anybody who served in Hussein’s collapsed government now is
discredited – including the police and firemen that U.S. officials
are counting on to ensure security.
Iraqi-American Talib Zangana, 53, a silver-bearded “Free Iraqi”
fighter in camouflage fatigues, said he returned home after 25
years in San Diego, Calif., hoping to build a democratic Iraq. He’s
guiding U.S. efforts to beam in radio and television programs.
But he said last week’s looting, including the plunder of the
national museum, shook his confidence. He’ll leave his
Mexican-American wife and two children back in San Diego for now
and devote one year to the effort.
People are united in hatred of Hussein now that his government has
collapsed, Zangana said, but “I just don’t know if hatred is
enough to build up a nation.”
Zangana said he was approached by a young man asking him about
leaving for America.
“I said: ‘Why do you want to go to U.S.A. when U.S.A. is coming
here? We are going to make this place look like the U.S.A.’ ”
The young man was adamant. “He was still afraid,” Zangana said.
“This is the big challenge we face. Every Iraqi will have to
change themselves psychologically.”
But Sudad al-Bayati said she just doesn’t want to commit. Under
Hussein’s rule, she lost a beloved uncle in the war with Iran, and
her grandfather was executed. She yearned to see the world but
couldn’t leave because Hussein wouldn’t let women leave Iraq unless
their fathers accompanied them. Bayati’s father had abandoned her
Now, she said, she figures those rules are over. She and her
sisters have planned a passage to India and from there would aim
The postwar looting is only making their lives harder. Bayati
studied French at a French Embassy-run school. It was trashed last
week. She had also enrolled in a master’s degree program at
Baghdad’s leading technical university, but it, too, was
“We have been suffering for so long,” she said. “I feel as if I
haven’t had a chance yet to live my life.”
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqis from the hinterlands to the capital are
seizing their new freedom – children swiveling on abandoned
anti-aircraft guns, former prisoners unburdening themselves of
torture under Saddam Hussein, families contemplating travel.
But a three-day journey through Iraq’s populated center also
reveals a growing dependence on the U.S. military to stop a slide
“We don’t trust the United Nations. We trust the Americans,” said
Sami Abdullah, 60, a hotel manager.
On Saturday, U.S. troops struggled to restore order. Iraqi forces
in a three-story building fired across the Tigris River at a Marine
camp. Cpls. Tyler Dekarske and Richard Keever raced to return fire,
backed up by tanks. “They can still kill Marines,” Keever said.
“And the looting is getting more intense.”
But the feeling is still jubilation for the most part.
Shopkeeper Wathq Jasim, 32, climbed to the top of a heap of rubble
from a bombed prison and found a gray metal door he knows too well.
He was imprisoned behind it for 16 months.
Hussein’s agents jailed Jasim along with other Shiite Muslims
accused of gathering illegally to pray. He said he was tortured –
with electrical wires attached to his toes and genitals, and his
toenails were ripped out. Guards slid food through a square hole in
the door. Now, he tapped it.
“I really hate this door!” he said. He ripped off a loose handle
and threw it down hard against the metal – clapping like a
“Free!” he declared.
But many Iraqis now demand a more active U.S. role ensuring
“There is robbery; there is shooting. Why don’t you Americans stop
this?” implored Abdul Al-Stan, 40, a trader who had just sped his
maroon BMW through crossfire.
U.S. commanders respond with an exhausted call for Iraqis to think
about taking care of themselves. “How are 40 of us going to stop
all this?” said Marine Master Sgt. Scott McCullough, 38, as crowds
converged on either side of a bridge over the Tigris River where he
stood. Opening the bridge would only enable more looting, he knew,
but that was his order.
Few Iraqis on Saturday had ready ideas for setting up their own
police and government. “That’s up to God,” said bakery owner Emad
Al-Sada, facing a line of customers.
Americans “will either have to leave us lawless like this or
organize everything for us,” said mattress factory worker Mohamad
Some fled south. “Baghdad no good now. There’s nothing: water,
food, light,” said Abdul Kareem, 45, as his son, Haidar, 13,
siphoned gas from an oil tanker while an oil fire flared nearby.
Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S.- backed maneuvers toward establishing an
interim authority were cloaked in secrecy. At a military camp
outside Nasiriyah, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi and
other opposition leaders apparently have gathered.
Marine Lt. Col. Royal Mortenson, who led the U.S. push north of the
Euphrates River, said his 850 men are finding huge weapons caches –
one so big, with French- and Italian-made mines, that destroying it
will require three weeks of work by ordnance teams.
And almost every small town has a clique of Hussein loyalists lying
low, Mortenson said.
“We can’t be in every town all the time,” he said. Iraqis “have
got to police themselves.”
None of the institutions that stabilize life is functioning. Fires
set by looters burn for hours. Schools are closed. Hospitals have
Children probably won’t attend any more school this year, said
Balkis Agali, 42, a mother of four who lives on the outskirts of
Baghdad. She and her three daughters and son huddled together on a
foam pad in the central room of their house during the heavy
bombing last week. Pots and containers are filled with water. Sacks
of flour and rice sit in a hallway with a newly acquired gas
Agali counts on getting work at a business center. In the meantime,
she had draped blankets over her prized possession, a silver
Peugeot sedan she worked long hours to afford. Agali also carries a
Her family would leave their home in a minute if they could gain
passage to Europe, Agali said. Her sister lives in Denmark. She
wonders about the border to Syria, whether Europeans would accept
Iraqis as refugees and whether her children, who have no passports,
can travel. “We are not safe here,” she said. “We just want a
U.S. officials long have promised to help re-establish order in
Iraq by sending experts. None are visible. The group the Bush
administration has appointed to run a postwar civilian
administration still works mostly from luxury suites along the
Persian Gulf in Kuwait.
“Why do American soldiers just guard the oil wells? Why didn’t
they guard this hospital?” said Salam Kazim, 40, a primary school
teacher. He pointed at the elite Olympic Hospital – run by one of
Hussein’s sons, Odai – now ransacked down to the water faucets
ripped out of walls. “We want to like the American people. But we
want the soldiers in every square now to guard things.”
The problem is that most Iraqis see no other option but to
A dozen men parked their cars outside a looted military office in
south Baghdad. They climbed to a roof where, after pulling back
sandbags, they found a hidden petroleum tanker – a secret military
supply of fuel. They dipped plastic containers in barehanded,
filling them, then siphoned the gas using hoses to fill their car
“We don’t want to steal. We don’t really know how to steal. We
want to work,” said Ala Abdul Kader, 42, a mechanic.
“But I ate no breakfast today.”
BASRA, Iraq – They died in the mud at the edge of a pond – a dozen
paramilitary fighters with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles and
Some were Iraqis. Others came from Syria and Saudi Arabia. One of
them, making this last stand for Saddam Hussein, apparently had
tried to sleep, burrowing into a berm.
Bullets tore into them, a head here, thigh there, chest, neck. Now
Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers wearing plastic gloves, mouths and
noses covered, waded into the mud and lifted out the bloated
These men are “martyrs,” said Enas, 24, a schoolteacher who
helped lug a bloodstained stretcher. “They were resisting,” she
said. “My heart is broken for these dead soldiers.”
Monday brought many sorry scenes like this, as coalition tanks and
paratroopers punched into the heart of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest
While the Red Crescent workers loaded their dead onto a pickup,
British soldiers nearby lay on their bellies. “Apparently there’s
mortars coming in,” Rob Hammond, 26, said as he flattened himself
at the side of the road.
The British targeted local militiamen, “small bands but vicious
when they catch you,” said British army Sgt. Maj. Pat Geraghty,
37, standing nearby after ordering a bulldozer to raze an empty
The dozen fighters who died by the pond were typical of the
trouble, Geraghty said. British troops captured an Algerian among
them, he said, as well as an Iraqi who pretended to be dead. Red
Crescent workers said the dead also included Saudis and Syrians.
Geraghty, too, was heartbroken Monday. “I lost two of me boys,”
he said softly.
Tanks roared. At noon, two Cobra helicopters clattered overhead,
“a fly-by to see if they can see anything we can’t,” said U.S.
Marine Cpl. Steve Salicos, gripping his black M-16, moving on the
ground past a defaced portrait of Hussein. Troops advanced across
the city, then focused on mop-up patrols across a landscape of
black smoke plumes, rubble, and twisted Iraqi tanks and trucks.
Basra, population 1.3 million, more or less fell by sunset. Where
the city will ultimately land is the question. Residents erupted in
a frenzy of looting – gutting their university, oil ministry and
premier hotel at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Law
and order no longer seemed to matter.
Inside the University of Basra, men and boys scavenged through
shattered glass and flames. Portraits of Hussein were defaced.
Marauders snatched swivel chairs, shelves, appliances – almost
anything of value down to wood. Ali Hatu, 31, opened a white sack
showing empty soft drink bottles and blue curtains.
Some looters rode in from surrounding farm towns. One farmer
whipped his white donkey, towing a refrigerator on his tiny cart.
At Basra’s fanciest hotel, once a Sheraton, black smoke billowed
from the back. A smiling man strode away from the entrance carrying
a large satellite dish on his head.
Retired Iraqi Petroleum Co. manager Amir Humadi, 67, concentrated
on finding a new house. After 40 years supervising shipping, he’d
never been given a house or car. Hussein’s elite, “they always
have a good house, a car, a comfortable life,” Humadi said.
But two years ago, when he retired, he moved his family from Basra
west to dusty Zubayr. His son-in-law had to move to Germany for
work to support the family.
Now Humadi was determined to put things right. He found and
occupied “a big house, a company house,” he declared proudly. “I
The man next door had done the same. Now this “neighbor”
hopefully would watch Humadi’s place while he rushed home to
persuade his wife and daughter to move. “I told the neighbor to
keep an eye out,” Humadi said as he searched for a ride to
Iraqis here generally welcomed the British-U.S. takeover. A few
carried flowers and confetti.
Some whispered messages to visitors: “Saddam Hussein is a son of a
bitch,” one said – reluctant to identify themselves fully because
loyalists still control pockets of the city.
“Saddam Hussein killed my two brothers and father,” said Mohamad,
28. “And he cut my ears.” He slowly lowered a tightly wrapped
head scarf to show the gashes – a common punishment for army
Then Mohamad pulled from his back pocket some photos. They showed
dead bodies, burned, flayed. “Look!” One photo showed three
smiling men at a banquet table. “Look! The militia of Saddam.”
Troops said imposing law and order here could be hard.
“This is wrong. It isn’t civilized, is it?” said British
infantryman Bruce De’ath, 21, on patrol just west of the
Early in the day, a boy with a burned face sought help from British
paratrooper Matthew Penney, 29. The memory of that boy lingered
with Penney, he said, as he led Monday’s push with other
paratroopers, murmuring into their microphones, stopping at
intersections and looking into their telescopic rifle sites in
search of militiamen.
“These things happen,” he said of the child.
And some Iraqis acknowledged the ugliness during what could have
been a day of pure celebration.
“Life now will be better, because we have freedom now. I feel
sorry for the dead, and I am against this stealing,” said Mohamad
al-Mayde, 31, a father of two. “But people here are very poor.
They are lucky to eat one meal a day. They suffer too much for
Saddam. This gives people an excuse.”
Group translates, deals with locals
UMM QASR, Iraq – Another Hussein is fighting for power in Iraq.
His name is Ali.
The difference between Ali and Saddam Hussein is that Ali and
several hundred loyal buddies – all Arabic speakers, well armed,
with gas masks and the latest intelligence – are fighting on the
side of the Americans. They serve as translators, gather
intelligence from the locals and help to deal with an Iraqi
population torn and traumatized by three decades of war and
And as U.S. forces moved within 6 miles of Baghdad on Thursday,
their mouths were practically watering at the prospect of Hussein’s
“You see,” said Ali Hussein, a soft-spoken, 40-year-old father of
two, “Saddam took away my beautiful life.”
They call themselves the Free Iraqi Fighters, and they entered this
war via the Iraqi National Congress opposition group. They took
lie-detector tests administered by U.S. officials in Texas, combat
training in Hungary and a night flight into northern Kuwait to join
The U.S. government enlisted these fighters because they know Iraqi
culture down to the faces of reliable local water-truck drivers and
have fought before in Iraq’s mind-addling heat.
They launched the 1991 uprising that the first President Bush
encouraged after the Persian Gulf War and then failed to support.
Then they escaped to America, where many grew comfortable.
Ali Hussein supports his wife Paula and their two children in St.
Louis by driving a blue-and-white cab.
They stand out most in situations like one that frayed nerves here
this week. Six dusty Iraqi soldiers strode toward a U.S.-British
perimeter, seeking to surrender. British troops ordered them to lie
face down on hot asphalt. Were they for real? Or fedayeen fighters
strapped with explosives?
Hussein approached in a Humvee with Lt. Col. Ken Knox, the
operations chief at the main U.S. beachhead in southern Iraq.
He sized up the Iraqis and asked Knox to “let me talk with them.”
Knox nodded and told the British his man could help. Hussein parked
and bolted right in close, searching the Iraqis, who apparently
thought they were going to be killed.
“I say: ‘Feel safe. These soldiers will help you. They’ll give you
water and a blanket,”‘ Hussein said.
One man said he had a bad headache. Hussein reached in the big side
pocket on his fatigues and slipped him a Motrin 800 – telling him
to take it only with food and water that the soldiers soon would
Surrender accomplished – one fewer hair-trigger encounter for
exhausted troops trying to consolidate their battlefield gains.
“I try to, like, make both sides feel better,” Hussein said
Not all Iraqis trying to surrender are greeted with Arabic-speaking
brethren. The first stop for most after they turn themselves in
here is a white metal shipping container with 14 air holes cut in
the side – a makeshift holding pen. When patrol vehicles are
available to ferry them, they move to a larger holding area with
more than 4,000 others along the Iraq-Kuwait border.
Yet with their ability to translate, the Iraqi-American fighters
add instant understanding when tensions are high. They also gather
intelligence practically everywhere they patrol. One fighter this
week obtained a list with addresses of fedayeen loyalists hiding in
a city. This is how commandos know where to go on their flare-lit
nighttime house calls.
And Thursday, Ahmed, 33, who asked that his last name not be
printed to protect relatives, even gave lessons on citizenship to
Iraqis who fought in line as they waited for water.
Ahmed ordered the people filling the water containers to stop and
yelled out: “Stop. We Iraqis have to try to live America style. We
have to try to live organized lives. If you fight each other in
front of these Americans, they are not going to want to help you
again. You know, I have lived for 12 years in America. I’ve never
had to fight for my turn. My turn is my turn. A lot of things are
going to be different.”
The crowd calmed.
For their wartime service, the Free Iraqi Fighters are paid about
$1,600 a month, less than most earn in America. Hussein said he
earns at least $2,000 a month driving his cab. Same for his
tentmates – Habib Ali, 39, a forklift driver in Lincoln, Neb., and
Ahmed, who makes radar screens in Portland, Ore.
Yet the fighters work fiercely. Sometimes they barely sleep as
American colonels call for translators. Iraqi-American fighters
“are really helpful,” said Col. Dave Bassert, 51, a U.S. Army
civil-affairs chief here. “They are really true soldiers. They are
sticking their necks on the line, and in some cases their families’
necks on the line.”
Their motivations emerge over meals or riding around in Humvees.
Ali Hussein is a Shiite Muslim denied schooling under Saddam
Hussein. He was forced to fight in Iraq’s eight-year war against
fellow Shiites in Iran. He couldn’t fully settle in America knowing
relatives were suffering in Iraq.
He lost one brother, executed for refusing to fight in Iran, and
his best friend Mansuour, who was jailed after the 1991 uprising.
Mansuour decided against fleeing with Hussein so that he could stay
with his pregnant wife.
When Habib Ali fled Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s henchmen arrested his
brother-in-law in Baghdad, he said. They held him for weeks. Ali
fears he may have been tortured.
“I knew it was a bad situation when he called me in the United
States from Baghdad. He didn’t talk much. He was with others. He
just said: ‘Habib, I have a bad situation here.’ When he told me
that, I knew.”
When Ahmed was hiding in Basra, trying to escape Iraq, Iraqi agents
picked up his younger brother. Ahmed said they beat him with metal
cables and threatened to shoot him. As his brother stood without a
blindfold before a firing squad, Ahmed said, he asked the captain
if he could face away from the bullets. The captain laughed and
asked why. By then, Ahmed’s brother was just praying. The captain
then asked subordinates why this man was facing the firing squad.
He was being punished because of his brother Ahmed, they said. The
captain set him free.
“Because I got involved in the revolution, my brother got beaten
up, and almost shot to death.”
When recruiters called last year for a classified mission to help
U.S. forces eliminate Saddam Hussein, Ahmed recalled, he
immediately volunteered. Then he started making careful phone calls
home. He told a brother in the Basra area: “I’m going to be in
Europe soon. Some day I’m going to be very close to you guys.”‘
He also called Rana, the girl he had courted for 13 years by
telephone. He met her when she was 9 and arranged to marry her
according to Shiite custom. She was 21 when he called and was
giving up hope of ever seeing Ahmed.
Ahmed recounted their conversation. He asked her: “What would you
do if someday I knocked at the door of your house and met you in
“That’s not going to happen,” she said.
“Please, just pretend. Play this game with me.”
“I don’t know what I would do. I miss you. I’d want to touch you,
feel you. But why this game?”
Here, patrolling roadways in southern Iraq, he met his brothers and
mother and Rana last week. They’d spotted him in a television
broadcast and realized he was back in Iraq. On a street in Umm
Qasr, they cried and hugged. U.S. soldiers slowed their convoy for
Ahmed rushed, head spinning. “Where is my mother?”
When he saw her she pointed at Rana. “Look! That’s your
Rana said: “I thought you were playing a game with me.”
Now Free Iraqi Fighters say they really want to get back to real
But not until Saddam Hussein is gone.
Some say real life for them will unfold in America.
Ali Hussein has a different dream. He wants to come home to Iraq.
He wonders about jobs in Baghdad. He envisions his wife Paula
working at a U.S. Embassy there. He talks about multiparty
“Peace. No president for life. Worship freely,” he said. “I’m
not really doing this to help the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army is
helping us, because without them we couldn’t fight Saddam. You
Americans are actually helping us.”