Asking the Fairies
There are buildings in Baghdad, old government premises, secret police offices, properties formerly owned by members of the ruling clique and Saddam's family, officers' clubs, military barracks, houses, apartment blocks which are now squatted by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families made homeless by bombings during the invasion and evictions after.
farm buildings with open doorways bricked up or in breezeblock shacks with straw rooves and there are gardens among the rubble. There is a clinic but it's only a room. There's no medical equipment and there aren't any staff.
The point of going there was to interview kids living there about what they wanted and needed, to inform some organisations outside Iraq. Of dozens and dozens of stories, I'll just tell a couple, by way of illustration.
Marwa is 11. She told us she misses her school. She used to go but, as with many girls, her parents are too afraid she'll be kidnapped to let her go to school. It's not an unrealistic fear - untold numbers of girls and young women have been kidnapped. Her
three older brothers go to school but because the schools are segregated and hers is nowhere near theirs she can't travel there with them and, even if she could, her parents don't think she'd be safe within the school. A few of the girls still go, but most stay
at home helping their mothers.
Marwa said they fetch water 3-5 times a day. A family consumes a lot of water, she explained, for washing dishes and clothes. She wears a headscarf and has done for about a year because she heard form her parents that her hair would burn if it was seen by people
she's not related to. Her favourite thing about school was playing with her friends at morning break. She wants to become a doctor if she gets to go back to school. There are many women doctors in Iraq, education is free and she's a bright child, able to express herself clearly.
A lot of the kids had trouble expressing 'wanting'. Asked what they needed, what they would like, most looked around for help before asking, "What do you mean?" We started talking instead about a fairy, a magician, who had come to offer each of them three wishes. What would they have the fairy make for them?
Marwa asked for school, blankets and headscarves. For Eid, which is coming up at the end of Ramadan, she'd like new clothes to celebrate - it's an important part of the tradition. She also wanted things to play with.
Overall blankets were the commonest wish among the Ghazalia camp kids, because they're cold at night. They don't even have enough blankets. School and clothes were the next most frequent request though several of the children didn't know the word school and had no idea what you did when you went there. Toys were fourth, followed by shoes and some also mentioned cookers and fridges to keep food fresh and water cold during the day, when it's hot.
Despite the poverty of conditions at the camp, a significant number made a wish to stay in the compound giving, perhaps, a hint of the instability of their lives before arriving there. Umm Kadim told of losing her daughter to an unknown illness while on the run with her four children after her husband fled military service. They stayed in the desert because if they came close to the towns they were harassed by security forces and feared they would be caught. When the little girl got ill they couldn't afford transport to hospital. They set out to bring her but it was too late. They were one of the first two families in the camp, which was frightening because they felt exposed and vulnerable.
Aal'a dropped out of school at about 10 years old, when his dad died. He's now 17, an only child. He and his mum were evicted from their house when they couldn't afford the $10 a month rent. Costs have risen, wages have fallen and, amid the chaos, their ration card also went astray so they can no longer collect the monthly food handout.
Aal'a works in a slaughter house. Skip the next couple of lines if you're squeamish. His job is to blow into slits in the feet of recently slaughtered sheep to ease the skin from the carcass. His voice rasped and he mentioned a constant sore throat from blowing all
day. He earns usually between 1000-1500 Dinar a day, a maximum of 2500. A dollar is 2000 Dinars. He said the only thing he wants is a safe, stable place to live.
He can support his mum in every other way. She echoed his longing, her ancient face more tired than her 56 years. A safe place to live would be enough but they have nothing - no blankets, no cooker, not enough money for food.
The Al Hoda camp, in a former officers' club, houses 350 families in less urgent poverty but, nonetheless, there were still children asking the fairy for blankets as well as toys. The first building as you enter is burnt out and when you go into people's rooms the walls are blackened with soot. Conditions are better, with a garden and a few swings but still a lot are not going to school, especially the girls because of the ongoing fear of abduction.
As I understand it, there is a decision to clear some public buildings but to allow others to remain squatted. The Ghazalia inhabitants have a letter from the Civil Military Administration saying their right to stay is recognised until such time as someone takes responsibility for them.
Part of the problem appears to be precisely that: no one is responsible for them. Strictly they're not refugees but internally displaced so there's no international intervention. The position in international humanitarian law is that the occupying power takes over the main responsibilities of the deposed national government and is obliged to ensure an adequate supply of food, water and medical care (4th Geneva Convention, Art 55 and 56) and clothing, bedding, shelter and other supplies (Art 69, Protocol I Additional to the Conventions) that are essential to the survival of the civilian population within the occupied territory. Relief operations cannot be deemed to alleviate the occupying power's responsibilities. (Info from Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, Harvard University: http://www.ihlresearch.org/iraq ).
Some of the political parties are bringing supplies to people in the squats, clearly marked with the name of the party which delivered them, as a means of recruitment. Though far from ideal, it's all they're getting at the moment.
Meanwhile, whichever company makes the ubiquitous wall blocks is doing better out of the new Iraq than the protesting police are. After they blocked Sadoon Street and besieged the police HQ for a second day yesterday, this morning the building was surrounded by a ten foot concrete wall and reams and reams of razor wire. They've been promised some money in 6 days - two days per office to get the approval of one for the authorisation of a second to enable a third to process the payments. Or something like that.
I've finally managed to speak to the assistant to Jim Haveman, the senior advisor to the minister of health. To get to speak to him I need to make an appointment with her to tell her what I want with him so she can decide whether or not I can make an appointment to speak to him about the unpaid wages of the Kimadia workers who have been threatened to drop the claims.
In the all encompassing traffic jam on the way to the ministry, there was a Red Crescent ambulance trapped in front of me, its siren howling in four different shades of urgent, while a long line of US military vehicles passed - trucks, tanks and personnel carriers. A soldier on top of one pointed his pistol up at the underside of a bridge as they passed under it and the ambulance went on screaming.
It started off as a game, to help the children tell us what they need, but when you look around Baghdad and you see all the chaos and want and confusing priorities, it seems like whatever you want, however basic, however necessary, you might as well ask the fairies.
* The Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq has taken on distribution work for the refugee camps. You can give money for blankets and other essentials direct to the following UK bank account:
BARCLAYS BANK, BERMONDSEY BRANCH, LONDON, UK
ACCOUNT NAME: H. AHMADI
ACCOUNT NO: 80392286
SORT CODE: 20-80-57
The money in the account comes directly to the women running the Organisation's programmes here.
* Correction: The old passports from the Saddam era are not invalid but do have to go through an approval process in order to carry on being used.
Also the Oil For Food programme is not ending but being transferred from the control of the UN to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) but the food ration will be handled by the World Food Programme).
The Convention Centre
I went to the Convention Centre by the Al Rasheed Hotel once before the war and it was a strange enough place already. Now it's the centre of a fortress in whose grounds a maze has been constructed out of razor wire, concrete wall pieces, barrels, tents and checkpoints.
There are five checkpoints to get through between the last passable bit of road and the front door. At each one you're frisked and metal detected and your bag is fumbled in, lest you happen to have found a rocket propelled grenade launcher or other such item in the tens of metres since someone last checked. The place swarms with soldiers, security guards, bodyguards and I don't know what else, all traipsing about with phones, curly wires coming out of their ears, big guns in their hands and small ones strapped to their legs.
I went primarily to ask about mobile phones, since there used to be free MCI network cell phones available to NGOs working here. In fact the MCI network is soon to be replaced by a new network so they're not distributing them any more. The new network is expected into service the beginning or middle of next month or towards the end of the month when hell freezes over, depending whose estimate you trust. There's talk of problems, investigations, etcetera, etcetera.
There are posters everywhere for things like the internet bazaar - "don't walk the streets, order online." Some of the international staff even sleep here, in the corridors, a short distance from their
desks, because they're afraid to leave the compound.
Other signs indicate the whereabouts of various offices. The British consulate is more or less opposite Bechtel's Baghdad bureau, which is next to the Ministry of Planning, so it's good to know there's no danger of undue influence there.
In the same area there's a welcome desk for "Human Rights and Transitional Justice". It was unattended but for a sign stating "This office handles only the following cases:
1. past human rights abuse under the former regime: killing, disappearance, torture and rape;
2. NGO education."
There's actually a Ministry of Human Rights, which is based in the Ministry of Oil. Where else could you file human rights in this country? The minister apparently wants to investigate some more recent abuses by coalition forces in Falluja and to look into conditions in the detention centre at Baghdad airport.
To do the latter, I'm told, he has to ask Emperor Bremer and the governing council for authority. The Human Rights Minister has to ask permission to investigate human rights abuses. Somebody sack the script writer. He's lost the plot.
A friend taught me a new expression - "wala democracia, wala batierq" which literally means 'neither democracy nor a water melon' but more accurately translates as 'democracy my arse'.
I bumped into a Brazilian journalist I know at the Conference Centre. He was waiting to interview a bloke called Derek (name changed for no real reason other than it seemed like a good idea) who was giving a
lecture on the transfer of the control of the Oil for Food programme from the UN to the CPA. I stayed and waited for the interview primarily so I could get a lift back with the journalist and his translator, a very funny man who speaks perfect English and teaches
me bits of Arabic.
'Derek' eventually came and said sorry, he couldn't do the interview, not for at least 2 weeks and when I tell you what's been happening you'll understand why.
Then he turned and did a Blair-esque Earnest Look and said, as if divulging a great secret, "They're shooting at us."
No. Are they really?
They're shooting at us and if the Bad People found out that this is where the programme is moving to and I've got $8 billion here, well, for the Bad People that would be a really great bit of propaganda if they could hit us. I swear, he used the words "the Bad People'. I find people often underestimate my age: I believe it's my fresh-faced, youthful appearance rather than my immature behaviour that does it, but I know I look more than five years old. "The Bad
It's common knowledge that the Oil for Food programme is to be operated from the Convention Centre. It's common knowledge that some of the least desirable activities undertaken by the Civilian-Military
administration are based there - see reference to Bechtel, above. It's not as if a resistance fighter / insurgent / terrorist / Very Naughty Boy was going to refrain from hitting the Convention Centre if he was able to because he hadn't realised the Oil for Food Scam (ah, scheme, sorry) was about to be controlled from there.
'Derek' was really sad that he couldn't tell us the story. He wanted to tell us the story, because "it's a great story". No it's not. It's not like you've been part of some rags to riches triumph over adversity or overcome some incredible odds to save someone. You've just taken over a programme of which two former heads have resigned in protest at its immorality. You've taken it over as part of an occupying military force after more than a decade in which the government that sent that force has restricted the flow of food and medicine to the people who now live under your occupation. You've taken over a programme which was implemented in order to translate simple vindictive deprivation of an already oppressed civilian population into power and money and control of that country's oil sales. What a great story.
Within the US consulate, in the same building, there is an advisor for US-Iraqi couples wishing to marry and obtain a visa for the States. Apparently there is a significant number of Iraqi women marrying American soldiers in order to get visas. I can't enlighten you as to how many because the secretary - who was very apologetic about the pedantry of it all - wasn't allowed to even hint at a figure unless the person asking had written authorisation to ask the question.
No doubt a couple of hours in the Convention Centre provided me a valuable, if superficial, induction into the workings of administration here, especially coupled with my recent forays into the Ministry of Health, but I think that's education enough for me.
Unless I lose my passport or develop an insatiable urge to hear more rubbish I think I'll stay away from the Convention Centre from now on.
November 19th, 2003
The Kurdish zone in northern Iraq is like another country. It has its own language, even its own alphabet which is different from Arabic, as well as quite separate culture, dress, sweets and, since 1991,
its own economy. My friend Salam announced, on our arrival in Suleimania, that he would acquire a guide.
He stepped into the barber's shop next to which we were dithering and a young man flung his arms around him.
This is not just the extraordinary friendliness of the Kurdish people - they'd met before and Heyman took it upon himself to make us welcome. His family's home is warm and busy with four sisters and two brothers, Heyman and his parents. A fourth son is in Britain and photos of him are all over the house. The youngest brother, Rawish, is only three and the family's joy and comic.
The girls dressed me up in Kurdish costume, as worn on special occasions. Underneath were loose trousers and a sleeveless smock which came just below the hips, in a bright red, sequined fabric, with a sheer, flowing gown over the top, black with deep red leaf and flower patterns. A short waistcoat went over that, black with a jangling fringe and a jeweled collar which fastened at the throat. The sleeves on the gown were way longer than your arms, widening at the ends and they were tied and draped around the back. They're loose enough not to restrict your movement at all. The head dress was a sort of skull cap, also fringed, with a sash tied around and hanging down the back. I wasn't into this last bit - it made me look like I had a pot on my head, but the rest was good.
Rawish joined in with his own national costume, hugging the bits in glee as they were brought out of their bag. A lot of Kurdish men dress this way on an everyday basis: enormously baggy trousers, gathered in at the ankles, with a loose collarless jacket in the same fabric, which tucks into the trousers, with a waist sash around the join so it looks like a single garment. There's a shirt under the jacket, whose collar is worn outside the jacket. Rawish strutted
like a king in his finery.
In the 1920s, when Heyman's grandfather was two years old, his mother and uncle were killed by bombs dropped by British aeroplanes, supporting the Arab regimes' war against the Kurds.
Heyman's dad, now 55, described how throughout his childhood, "Every once in a while we had to escape and take refuge up in the mountains. They used to arrest a lot of us all the time. Some families got buried in a place called Hamia which is now a high school. They were buried alive and then they threw dirt on top.
"In the mountains it was very cold and we didn't have any food or any of our things but we wouldn't care because the enemy was far away. The Kurds are very active people. We are not lazy. We used to work a lot, eat plants and fruits, some of us even went to other states for work and provided for the family. In 1974 they used to get pens and toys for the children and when the children picked them up off the floor they would blow up. Where is this stuff from? Does Saddam know how to manufacture it? No. He doesn't know how."
Heyman added his own memories: "When I was about 12 and started wanting to move around, my mum and dad would tell me no, you can't go there, this street is dangerous, this area is not safe - they were scared of the Baathists. We couldn't say anything, even as children. I remember my friend's friend who was 11 when he got arrested by the Baathists and until today we still know nothing of him. It was terrifying.
"In the 80s my dad ran away from military service and we had to flee up north to our village. Life up there was much better than here. I also remember when we fled Suleimania in 1991 and we went up to the Iraqi - Iranian borders. It was very hard. I was about 12 - 13 years old. We were better off than other families - we had a car, while most of the families did not. I saw an old man walking with no shoes and falling down on the way. We were able to stay in a friend's house but some families had no shelter."
Abu Heyman went on: "The Baathists were totally nasty to the people, they were criminals, beasts. This war was in the best interests of the US but Saddam gave them an excuse to attack Iraq. He launched a war on Iran and then on Kuwait. He spent 35 years in power without doing anything good for Iraq. He was supported by the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia. All the chemical weapons were from those countries.
"Then under the sanctions 1kg of flour was worth 10 dinars while now it's a quarter dinar. Everything was very expensive.
"The Kurds own land that contains loads of oil and Saddam didn't want us to be in control of that and didn't allow us to have our own government nor any kind of freedom or liberties. They would send a
Kurdish man to do military service far in the south. This is all because of greed. Why would anyone take anybody's freedom.
"But still there is no freedom. It's better than when Saddam was in charge but it's not freedom. Saddam didn't even give freedom to the Arabs: they had to hang Saddam's pictures and sing about him, all singers sang about him. Even architects had to praise Saddam. In Iraq under Saddam no one had freedom. It wasn't only the Kurds.
" If the Kurds living in Iraq got their freedom, Turkey, Iran or Syria would be afraid that Kurds in their states would demand their freedom as well. The Kurds are oppressed by Turkey, which has a very strong army, supported by other countries.
"If Britain had our interests in mind they never would have created such differences between Arabs and Kurds under the British mandate. It would have been Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds all living together, but making difficulties among us makes it easier to control us.
Now America is the ruler of the world and if we were good people, the Kurds, the Turkmen, the Arabs, all living in Iraq, we would have never allowed the US to interfere."
Heyman echoed both the former and the latter point. He first quoted a Kurdish saying, that if two fish were fighting in the sea, it would be because Britain fuelled the conflict between them.
"They are the origin of the problem. They don't solve the problem. In the first place they were the ones who created the problem, so how can they claim to have solved it now?
They need this problem in the region to justify their
But he went on to talk about Gandhi. In looking for his enemy, Gandhi realized that it was not the civil servant in the administrative buildings of India, nor the British soldier on her streets, nor the British man or woman on the streets in the UK. To find his enemy he would have to look within himself. With this he backed his dad's point about the need for the Kurds, the Turkmen, the Arabs and other Iraqis to unify, to defy the divide and rule tactics of successive powers.
"We want a separate state, an independent state with the Kurds of Syria, Turkey and Iran, but our best interest nowadays is being with the Iraqi people due to our economic and political situation.
"All we need is stability, peace and freedom."
In Suleimania, within the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq, I met a woman called Ashti. Her name means 'peace' in Kurdish. She was born in 1966 and, in 1988, joined the Communist Party. All political activity had to be carried out in secret which is why there was little, if any, open and non-party based political activity. If you wanted to be an activist and oppose the Iraqi government, you picked a party and joined it and did your work that way.
About 1:30 am on June 1st 1989 a group of men burst into her family's home. One of them was called Abu Hadil. She knew they'd come for her because, as far as she knew, no one else in the family was politically active, though her parents didn't know she was a party member.
"They asked, 'Who is Ashti?' I said, 'I am Ashti' and they took me."
"They didn't hit me when they first arrested me but they took me to the security police headquaters in Suleimania and the beatings started the minute I arrived there. I was a girl, only young, about 22 and used to the comfort of my parents' home. They started beating me and I was wearing jeans. Jeans were seen as a symbol of capitalist America. They started beating me really hard and asking me are you a communist, you can't be a communist, how can you be a communist and
be wearing jeans.
"I denied any knowledge of or connection with Communism. I said I had no idea why I'd been arrested, so they started beating me again. They threw me in a big room with other women, not from the Communist Party, but from other Kurdish parties."
She was jailed for about three years altogether, sentenced after one year in the National Security HQ in Baghdad to fifteen years. She was interrogated and tortured throughout that first year.
"The manager of the prison was a woman named San'a but the security guards were men. They were not men, they were wolves. They treated us the way the national security forces did. They're all security forces. They were really rough. We are a people with traditions and
a woman is to be respected, she must have her privacy. They used to do things to us that were very hard.
"The government didn't give us food - it was provided by our friends and families. We were allowed 2 hours visiting time per month, during which our parents would bring food. I don't know why they were so tough on us. I saw my parents from 9-11 once a month. They would bring me food but this only lasted sometimes 15 days and I wouldn't be able to see them till the next monthly visit.
"When they brought pregnant women to the jail, when a woman was giving birth there, the other women were not allowed to go and help her. If another woman went to help her she was shot. She couldn't scream or cry out - if she made any sound, sometimes they would stitch her lips to make her silent.
"Because of the torture I have constant pain in my back. They hung me by my arms, behind my back, which affected my spine.
"After I heard the male comrades talking, I don't understand why, but it was worse for us in the women's prison. We were not allowed to have pens, paper, even cardboard from detergent cartons. I heard comrade Ali saying they allowed them a radio at one stage. This was never allowed in the women's prison. For us it was beatings sometimes and solitary confinement. For example on the Kurdish new year I danced the Kurdish folk dance and they put me in solitary confinement for 3 days in a very small room, 1x1.5 metres and gave me no food."
The men from her party had been allowed to celebrate Niruz, the Kurdish new year, with music and folk dancing.
"I was the only communist activist in the jail among 45 women from the Daawa party so it was hard for me. I wasn't only sentenced for 15 years. I was also sentenced within the jail for being a communist among the other prisoners. At the beginning they were not nice to me, they wouldn't allow me to eat with them or talk to them, they told me I was dirty, they wouldn't have anything to do with me.
"I thought to myself I was destined to be here 15 years so I have to learn to live with them, made an effort and they realized I was nice and not rude. Deep down inside they were all nice and they changed their treatment of me, but still I was kept in a room alone while they shared rooms. Would you be able to live in a room alone inside a prison and a prison owned by Saddam himself? Would you be able to eat alone, sleep alone?
"When I left prison and saw the sanctions outside I felt sad - these sanctions were not on the government. These sanctions were imposed on the people. From the beginning I was against the sanctions. They didn't affect the Baathists, they affected the poor. The poor didn't have food in the first place and the sanctions made it worse for them. The sanctions were horrible - food, medicines and stuff that the people needed.
"We were under a dictatorship and now we are live again, but they did not come for us, they came for oil and for our natural resources. Everyone knows the US and British supported Saddam. We found documents and correspondence between them which proved that. When
Baghdad fell there was some kind of an uprising and people looted the governmental offices and found correspondence between the US and British governments and the Iraqi regime.
"If they gave us the right of self determination the Iraqi people are good enough to not need soldiers to protect them. We are capable of ruling ourselves. We are ready to do this. It's not one person from one party who is going to rule Iraq, it's a group. If this group unites we can make it. In prison the problems between different groups were fuelled by the Baathist regime in order to divide and control us. Without deliberate provocation of conflicts we can work
"I will be a Communist until I die. I joined the party in 1988. Those days were very difficult - the Baath party was very cruel. I was a teacher then in Darhandikhan. Many people from there were tortured and I was one of them, but I understood that I could not tolerate capitalism. I knew these things might happen but resistance to oppression is like your blood - could you leave it?"
She told this story with quiet dignity in Kurdish but after, left to her thoughts, silent tears overwhelmed her. The national security building in Suleimania where Ashti's torture started is now a museum and memorial. It was damaged in a fire fight and parts of it are crumbling. On the way in there are photographs of whole families who were arrested and killed, walls with names scratched on, dates.
An old man looked at the photograph along with us. He had been held in the other jail in Suleimania, arrested with 32 members of his extended family because his daughter and her husband were Peshmerga
fighters. He stood, hands behind his back, showing how they had been forced to stand.
A sculpture is part built in the yard, made of bullet casings, in the overlarge figure of a man, arms crossed in front of his face - the Baathist, ashamed.
In one of the torture areas a local artist has tiled the walls with a crazy paving of broken mirrors so that everywhere you look you are surrounded by fragments of yourself, mingled with the reflections of
thousands of tiny lights all over the ceiling. In a courtyard in the middle of the complex is a white stone relief of a group of people, adults and children, tied together. "This commemorates a family killed all together."
Heyman, our guide, translator and friend, indicated a bare grey room about 6 metres square. "This the children's room." Children were often detained with their whole families. Then a corridor or so away, "The women's room." The room was no bigger than the other, with a single hole-in-the-ground toilet in the corner, shielded on three sides but open on the fourth.
"Ninety six women were kept here at a time." They wouldn't have been able to sit, let alone lie down.
The solitary cells were no more than a metre square while the shared cells were only a few metres bigger.
Names, dates and pictures are engraved on the walls. "They came in the night and took us all." "I have not seen my daughter for 25 days." A tree. A flower with leaves growing towards the sun.
Here and there are statues to illustrate what happened in a given place. On a flight of stairs is a blindfolded prisoner, handcuffed to the rail so he can't stand straight. "Every person who passed would hit him. This was for new prisoners." Another figure stands alone in a solitary cell.
It winded me as I entered the room: a figure hung by the wrists, tied behind the back so the head was forward and the shoulders wrenched back. The museum guard showed how the interrogators would pull down on the legs to increase the pain. "Men and women were hung here naked." He pointed out a tear in the armpit of the figure. "Even the statue is broken, so how could a human being bear it?" Electrodes were attached to the figure, wires running to the power source. The
floor lino was stained black with blood in irregular patterns.
Tears ran and ran for not even a fraction of the pain that had gone on in this place. How would you ever close your eyes again, or smile, or speak? I had the barest glimpse of why Ashti cried and now I couldn't see how you would ever stop crying?
Ali Hamid Qadis and Mohammed Arif were both arrested the night before Ashti. Members of any party other than the Ba'ath were viewed as traitors. The military Anfal, Ali explained, was followed by a political one and all the former prisoners I spoke to were clear that Saddam was responsible for what he did to them.
But Ali explained: "Britain and the US helped the Baathist regime to overthrow Abdul Kerim Khassim. They replaced a democratic regime with a dictatorship. The US and Britain and Europe in general all helped
overthrow Abdul Kerim Khassim. They brought up the new regime in the name of religion and Arab nationalism.
"All of this was to pave the way for the US to invade Iraq now. I personally had this feeling when the US ambassador [April Glaspie] met with Saddam before the invasion of Kuwait and stated that the problem between Arabs is for them to solve and not for the US. This
was like a green light for Saddam to invade Kuwait, which paved the way for the US to invade Iraq. The presence of foreign troops in Iraq is an occupation.
It was the duty of the people of Iraq and the national parties to carry out change and not for the foreign troops to invade Iraq under the title of liberation.
"The sanctions were nasty and they affected us in prison because they wouldn't give us enough food any more. We didn't have electricity or water and we were not allowed to have visitors . Prisoners were eating cats, they would even eat a dog. It only affected the Iraqi people. We knew it would not affect the regime.
The sanctions did not contribute to the fall of the regime.
"When Britain took over Iraq after WW1 they could've, or France, formed a Kurdish state. Still today they are reluctant to form a Kurdish state but they use the Kurdish cause for their own interests. I once heard of, in prison, a counter-communist committee based in Cyprus. This means that the regime had affairs with systems that were fighting communism all over the world.
"We were interrogated, beaten up and tortured in Suleimania and Baghdad. We were flogged, electrocuted. When we got to Baghdad it was a month before the interrogation was repeated all over again and of
course accompanied by beatings and torture. I lost sight as a result of the beating on the night of the 13th of September 1989. The effect of the beating on my head and my body and my back affected my sight so that I bit by bit went totally blind. I was denied treatment."
Mohammed Arif looked after Ali in the jail after he lost his sight. I can't begin to imagine the terror of facing all of that in the darkness. "At 12 midnight they would call out someone's name and would take him to the interrogation. In prison the guards are something but the interrogation committee is something else. I was told that the people who guard our rooms had nothing to do with us except for keeping us in place. At night different people from the
interrogation committee would come and question us.
"They used to take us one by one for interrogation and the consequent torture, sometimes for 2 hours, sometimes for 3, sometimes 4. When it was over they would put you on a blanket, carry you and throw you in the air, back into the room. They didn't care whether
you would die or not."
And you come out, back into the light, and all around are mountains, dark blue against a bright blue sky, and trees and cool air and warm sun, sweeter beyond measure for the knowledge that the man you just met is in darkness forever because he decided to fight for social justice; tinged with sadness beyond description for precisely the same reason.
I know well enough that beautiful scenery doesn't prevent evil things going on - look at Rwanda, Guatemala, Croatia - but it's hard to comprehend.
Because you stand there, amid the walls inside, among the mountains outside, and the screams haven't died down. But torture is designed to isolate. You go through it utterly alone and, as loudly as you might scream, no one who can help you hears them. Or no one who can hear them helps you.
The former prisoners were all unequivocal - their torture and detention were the responsibility of Saddam and of the governments which ignored what they knew and carried on supporting him. How many
opportunities were there for the British, US and other governments to contribute to an end to the repression?
How many decisions were made which,like the police who pulled on the legs of the hanging prisoners, only intensified the agony? How many people tonight will be tortured in the darkness in countries which our governments still support, fund and arm?