In Umm Qasr, Fears of a Second Bush Betrayal are Fuelled by Bitter Memories
Tuesday 1 April 2003
The petrol queue was long and Mahmood was keen to explain the fears that Iraqis feel over the arrival of Americans and British troops.
Mahmood's brother owns the petrol station, an important position in a town where there has been no fuel delivery since the war began, and he led the way into the office in Umm Qasr. The concern of Mahmood and the other men gathered there was straightforward. They had been in this position before and it had cost them dearly. After the 1991 Gulf War, with Saddam Hussein's forces beaten, George Bush Snr, father of the current President, urged the largely Shia population of south-eastern Iraq to rise up and seek their freedom. When they did, America and Britain failed to support them and the Iraq regime ruthlessly suppressed the rebels. In this region the bitter memory of that betrayal still burns.
"People are very frightened," said Mahmood. "They think the Americans and British will go and then the Iraqi regime will come back. People are frightened to say anything.'' This is a serious obstacle for British and American forces as they pursue their "hearts and minds" operation to persuade civilians that the US-led war may bring them some good.
Major Paul Stanley, of the British Army's civil affairs group, leads a 120-strong team trying to establish local government in the town and surrounding areas. The problem, he said, was that President Saddam's Baath Party had infiltrated every level of daily life, and it was virtually impossible to exclude people formerly associated with the party. "Anyone who comes forward [to help us] has to have a leap of faith and realise that we are here to stay and that the regime is gone," he said. "I would say that those people who have come forward are very brave."
Mahmood knows the reach of the Baath Party. "[Under Saddam] there were too many police and too many Baathists. In Iraq everybody is Baathist. You know why? Because if you want to get a job at the port you have to be Baathist, if you want to be a student you have to be Baathist, you want any job it is the same."
Mahmood, 43, knows the empty promises Westerners can make. He learnt English more than 20 years ago when he was employed by an Italian geological firm in Umm Qasr. Afterwards he joined the army fighting against Iran during the eight years of conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of young men on both sides. He suffered four shrapnel wounds. He also knows the promises of the Iraqi regime.
He said he and his friends wanted to shed the yoke of the Iraqi regime but not to have Washington or London as their new masters. "We don't want Saddam Hussein. We want freedom," said one. "We want government from the Iraqi people."
Mahmood said he had kept in touch with an Italian pen-friend. Now he hoped he would be able to visit her in Italy, and to visit the US and Britain. "I want it so that when I wake up tomorrow morning I can sleep, I can eat, I can go outside of Iraq and I can say whatever I want," he said.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)
All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.