The Reality in Iraq

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to bring them freedom democracy and peace. But murder, kidnap and lawlessness have become the facts of life for the people of Iraq. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Patrick Cockburn describes the terrifying disintegration of a nation

Published: 12 October 2006
A sense of utter lawlessness permeated everyday life in Baghdad as the war approached its fourth year in spring 2006. In his Memoirs of an Egotist Stendhal describes how, when he visited a city, he tried to identify the 10 prettiest girls, the 10 richest men and the 10 people who could have him executed; he would have had his work cut out in Baghdad. Veils increasingly concealed girls' faces, the rich had fled the country - and almost anybody could have you killed. To give a picture of Baghdad, surely the most dangerous city in the world at this time, it is worth explaining just why a modern-day Stendhal would be in trouble if he tried to identify any of the three categories he mentions.

Iraqi women used to enjoy more freedom than almost anywhere else in the Muslim world, apart from Turkey. Iraq was a secular state after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958. Women had equal rights in theory and this was also largely true in practice. These were eroded in the final years of Saddam Hussein as Iraqi society became increasingly Islamic. But under the constitution negotiated with the participation of the American and British ambassadors and ratified by the referendum on 15 October 2005, women legally became second-class citizens in much of Iraq. About three quarters of the girls leaving their schools at lunchtime in central Baghdad now wore headscarves. The reason was generally self-protection. Those girls who were truly religious concealed all their hair, and these were in a minority. The others left a quiff of hair showing, which usually meant that they wore headscarves solely because they were frightened of religious zealots.


The first killing was at the hands of the Americans. Early one morning a surgeon called Basil Abbas Hassan decided to leave his house in al-Kudat for his hospital in the centre of Baghdad at 7.15am in order to beat the morning rush hour. Dr Hassan, a specialist in head surgery, was the kind of man who should have been one of the building blocks of the new Iraq. He drove his car out of a side street on to the airport road without noticing that an American convoy was approaching from behind him. A US soldier thought the car might be driven by a suicide bomber and shot Dr Hassan dead. Not many of his friends attended his funeral because so many had already left Iraq.


The situation is only getting worse. Yesterday we heard from the British general in charge of Iraq, who said that the British military will be excised from Iraq "soon" because, he implied, the presence of foreign military is exacerbating the problem with violence and terror. The sad thing is that we knew this would be the situation four years ago. George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest are truly unfit for command.

Another disturbing story about Ricky Clousing's situation in court martial with the US military. Ricky didn't' want to return to Iraq after doing a tour of duty there because the mission conflicted with his Christian morality. An excerpt from a NYT article:
...after more than four months on the streets of Baghdad and Mosul interrogating Iraqis rounded up by American troops, Sergeant Clousing said, he began to believe that he was serving neither.

He said he saw American soldiers shoot and kill an unarmed Iraqi teenager, and rode in an Army Humvee that sideswiped Iraqi cars and shot an old man’s sheep for fun — both incidents Sergeant Clousing reported to superiors. He said his work as an interrogator led him to conclude that the occupation was creating a cycle of anti-American resentment and violence. After months of soul-searching on his return to Fort Bragg, Sergeant Clousing, 24, failed to report for duty one day.

Clousing was sentenced to 11 months confinement (though he will only serve 3) for going AWOL. This reeks of injustice.


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