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[casi] "Understandable disorientation of Iraqis"

Everywhere and nowhere, Saddam retains his grip on Baghdad's imagination

Suzanne Goldenberg finds six months after the dictator's statue fell, the US
authority has not extinguished his legacy

Thursday October 9, 2003
The Guardian

Not many days go by in Baghdad without a claimed sighting of Saddam Hussein,
recklessly turning up in close proximity to the American forces, or rallying
the faithful in his old haunts, depending on who is spinning the story.

The multiplicity of sightings is all the more strange given that there was
very little chance of ever seeing Saddam in the flesh while he was in power.
In the run-up to the war I don't recall ever meeting anyone who could claim
to have met the Iraqi leader.

So it is not entirely surprising that as long as the real Saddam has
remained tantalisingly close and yet so elusive, the US-led occupation
authority holed up among the dubious splendours of his Republican Palace
remains less than charitably inclined towards things created in his image.

Next week that familiar moustachioed face will begin to disappear from the
Iraqi dinar following the issue of new banknotes by the occupation
authority. Last week headteachers presiding over the start of the new term
were told to encourage students to rip the once-obligatory photo of Saddam
from their textbooks.

A more substantial assault on Saddam's legacy is under way in the Republican
Palace, where the occupation authority is making preparations to dismantle
the food distribution system which gave free rations of flour, rice, cooking
oil and other staples to every Iraqi.

Described by the UN as the world's most efficient food network, the system
still keeps Iraqis from going hungry. But the US civilian administrator of
Iraq, Paul Bremer, views it as a dangerous socialist anachronism. The
coalition provisional authority (CPA) is planning to abolish it in January,
despite warnings from its own technical experts that this could lead to
hunger and riots.

Such haste in obliterating all traces of Saddam is disconcerting for many
Iraqis, especially the educated elite who were part of his bureaucracy. Many
say the US has yet to appreciate how that bureaucracy functioned, and they
fear that their national history is being replaced with another, without
their consent.

"I don't want absolutely everything then to be portrayed as negative," said
one former bureaucrat. "If they portray everything then as bad, then the
world they will portray now is that just because Saddam is gone we are

Since returning to Baghdad I have received several lectures from CPA
officials and Washington lobbyists on what it was like in Iraq under Saddam
and under America's bombardment. They bear no relation to anything I
experienced during my weeks in Iraq at that time. The lobbyists insist it is
the truth.

So it is easy for me to understand the disorientation of Iraqis as they try
to sort out which truths will be relegated, and which will survive.

It is also difficult to decipher the intentions of an occupation authority
which, while seemingly intent on obliterating the symbols of Saddam, shows
little compunction in rehabilitating the real instruments of his brutal

After months of chaos and confusion, it appears that the CPA has come around
to the view that it cannot rule effectively without the security and
intelligence ser vices. Its readiness to deal with members of the former
regime - particularly those in the intelligence services - is a departure
from its earlier practice.

In essence, it began by decapitating the bureaucracy which ran the Iraqi
government and state-controlled enterprises, lopping off the top tiers of
administration which were viewed as too closely linked to the Ba'ath party.

Familiar outlines

But while tens of thousands lost their jobs, and scores of statues fell,
Saddam's presence lingers throughout Baghdad. Although his features have
been chipped out of the official portraits on street corners, the familiar
outline of his face is still visible.

So is the skeleton of the system Saddam used to keep himself in place: the
Ba'ath party and the security services. A graffito in a complex built for
high-ranking members of Saddam's military expressed it best: "The Iraqi
faith in Saddam is burning the hearts of the Americans and British," it
said, before someone crossed out "Saddam" and put the name of a Shia cleric;
then that too was struck off, and Saddam restored to his place.

One of the last confirmed sightings of Saddam happened in the final hours of
the war on April 9, when a black Mercedes and two outriding vehicles pulled
up to a Sunni shrine in the Adhamiya quarter and the Iraqi leader emerged
for a final walk around the Abu Hanifa mosque. The neighbourhood is an
island of Ba'ath party support north of the city centre.

The day I visited, nearly six months later, people were claiming that he had
been back just the day before. Behind the mosque five American military
vehicles rumbled through a narrow lane, scattering children and women, and
announcing through loudspeakers that demonstrations in support of Saddam
were banned. Leaflets fluttered to the ground behind them. "Freedom =
Responsibility", the headline said. A man with a baby in his arms stooped to
pick one up and, staring straight at the US troops, ripped it in half.

In a flat upstairs I met a former colonel in the Iraqi military
intelligence. Given its extensive links to the Ba'athist regime his family
has not done too badly. A brother, also a high-ranking army officer, has
been elected to the town council. The officer himself is thinking of going
back to work - this time for the Americans.

"We were watching everyone," he says. "Now they ask us to visit them at the
main military base to fill in forms, and say we are no longer loyal to the
Ba'ath party. That's so easy."

Diplomats and other officers of the former Ba'athist intelligence apparatus
claim that the return to active duty of members of Saddam's security
services extends to the former head of the mukhabarat himself, Tahir Jalil

They are not the only apparatchiks deemed worthy of rehabilitation. Almost
all of the bureaucrats at the information ministry have done very nicely for
themselves since the war. The government minders who spent their days
reporting to the intelligence services on foreign reporters or doing their
best to obstruct their work have gone on to well-paid jobs - for the same
foreign news organisations they once hounded.

The second-in-command at the information ministry, who spent his days
reading the reports the minders wrote about visiting foreign journalists,
has been employed by Fox News.


Other former servants of the security service have found jobs in the police
where, it is widely believed, they are indulging in the same brutal
practices they employed before the war; the only change being that they feel
freer to extort bribes.

The revival of the security structures has been watched with interest,
particularly by those who once exercised control over the Ba'athist state.

In a living room decorated in the style favoured by the former elite, the
Iraqi army general Qasim al-Jawani holds forth on power and control. He was
one of the creators of the Quds brigades, formed soon after the start of the
Palestinian intifada. Officially, they were volunteer forces dedicated to
liberating Jerusalem from Israel, but Mr Jawani frankly admits their real
purpose was control and intimidation.

On the wall beside the front door hangs a picture taken at one of the
palaces now occupied by the US army. In it Mr Jawani crouches in the front
row, directly at the feet of Saddam.

He says he sees no reason to be ashamed of the picture.

"The affairs of Iraqi society cannot be managed without a great deal of
violence and power," he says. "Iraqi society cannot be controlled by someone
who treats them in a nice way. It cannot be run by someone open minded.

"It needs someone all-powerful, ready to use force or violence to get the
people to do what he wants." Guardian

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