Socialist Worker

‘They tied my son to a tank and beat him’

Samira al-Gaylani, a lawyer from Baghdad, and Falah al-Samarrai of the Iraqi Human Rights Organisation spoke to Socialist Worker about the random raids, kidnapping by pro-occupation groups and air strikes that are making life in Iraq a misery.

Issue No. 1920

“Life in Baghdad is unnatural—it is not routine,” says Samira. “Students are supposed to go to school and workers to their offices, but the streets are always blocked by US tanks—even the main streets and the main bridges.

“Or there will be an explosion at a school, the law courts or an office. There are daily explosions and US air strikes. In an ordinary street anywhere in Baghdad a [resistance fighter] might suddenly be shot at by a tank, and then firing starts up in the direction of civilians. Life is not normal.”

“You could walk down any street in Baghdad, and if there are no American troops there you will not see any fighting or explosions,” adds Falah.

“But if there are US troops, tanks or a checkpoint you are bound to run into a problem. It might be a booby-trapped car that explodes, or you might be shot at by soldiers.”

Samira says US troops are also spreading fear: “They go into an area and encircle it—I’ve seen this with my own eyes. Any men they find at home are taken. If the man is not at home, they take the woman. They are not looking for someone specific—they just take anyone.”

In one raid troops arrested and beat up her 20 year old son: “Five tanks came into our neighbourhood. They kicked down the door, dragged the women outside and went into the house to search. If they find cash they steal it. If they find gold they steal it. If they find weapons they take them, even people’s personal weapons. After finishing their search they took my son.”

“They tied his hands behind his back and tied him onto the tank in front of my eyes. They put him on show like that in the main street and beat him.

“Because I am a lawyer, the first thing I did was take the number of the tank and the names of the soldiers. I contacted the authorities and told them what happened to my son. He is just an ordinary lad—he is not connected to anything.”

But her attempts to reason with the soldiers came to nothing: “My boy was left tied to the tank in the heat for six hours. When I went to ask them why they were hitting my son they began to beat me.

“The whole thing was just to provoke people in the area, to frighten people. They came to say, “We are the Americans—we can do whatever we like.”

“I know of other young men besides my son they have taken and held for weeks for no reason, or just as a provocation. They might be detained for months—some were detained at the beginning of the occupation, and they still have not been released. Now the authorities have made a report about me. Is this American democracy?”

Samira says that many women are now too scared to leave their homes: “Women are terrified. Few go out in the streets of Baghdad because of the horrible way that the US soldiers look at them. They do not want them staring at their faces, or touching their bodies while searching them.”

Samira says that life in the south is also hard, and that the British are deliberately arming some of the poorer tribes to intimidate the resistance. The British reward these tribes, she claims, by letting them kidnap people for ransom. Her husband’s five year old brother has been kidnapped twice.

“In Basra, where my husband’s family live, there is a tribe from outside Basra who are just a gang of bandits.

The British forces give them money and weapons. This tribe had been weak, but with the support of the British forces they became powerful. They are responsible for a lot of the kidnapping and looting in Basra.”

Falah says that revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison and the broken promises over freedom have turned all Iraqis against the occupation.

“In the beginning they told us that the Iraqi media would be free and working with the foreign media would no longer be banned,” he says.

“But gradually, press freedoms were restricted. Doors began closing. Newspapers were shut down and journalists arrested for writing articles critical of the US army or the Iraqi government.”

“Some Iraqis used to say that the US came to liberate us from dictatorship. But after the abuse in Abu Ghraib came to light these voices have fallen silent.”

Both Samira and Falah argue that there can only be peace if the occupying troops are immediately withdrawn.

“It is the presence of US forces which is the problem for people in Baghdad,” says Falah. “We have intellectuals and politicians as well as soldiers,” adds Samira. “We need the US forces to leave.”

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Sat 25 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1920
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