Liana telling the story in a nutshell

Love is the twin of a beautiful dream that survives birth to reality; but my love was a reality that survived arduous parturition only to remain a beautiful dream

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February 24, 2005

17. Had I Just Listened/Part Four

Iraqis, throughout the dictator’s era, never divorced I.D. from companionship, military record I.D. in particular, even if they were sauntering only a few meters away from home. Leaving home, otherwise, with countless checkpoints dispersed cunningly all over, was none other than insanity that embroiled definite noxious consequences. Special Saytarratt were baleful omnipresent reminders of the tyranny that could swoop down throttling at any time or any place. Iraqis stomached daily terrorizing from direly armed cops or special unit guards, patrolling or stationed, usually clad in easily distinguishable olive-green uniforms and brown reddish boots, who blocked roads to ‘special” areas, looked hard at faces, asked for I.D.’s, and were unrelentingly dogged in searching for incriminating evidence without serious cause. Any reckless hint of a senior moment was enough to bring down upon one the menacing cudgel of the grievous yoke under which Iraqis lived. A triviality such as mere name resemblance sufficed to drag people disrespectfully and leave them to the mercy of a bunch of wrongheaded piddling authoritarian officials, and to the strikes of their whims and moods. Questions? Who dared ask? Fatal suspicions and calamitous misinterpretations ensued from such foolhardiness or idiocy. Ferocious booting and punching and bludgeoning poured down upon anyone daring to challenge them. To oppose or object was tantamount to throwing an egg against the rock. In the absence of proper legal procedures, and the impuissance of the legal system, which the autocracy had gnawed piecemeal, incarceration for days and even weeks penalized the silliest of actions. Entering a road, for instance, that just happened to lead to one of the “VIP’s” residences, even though one was at a distance, would have been enough to swing the doors of hell wide open. Half of Baghdad was off-limits. Barriers and ugly concrete walls grew higher and longer with each passing day. Iraqis throughout the years of repression were rendered passive, and forced into ignominious silence, eschewing jeopardies and buttonholing faith and luck at every checkpoint in order to reach shore safely.

Although not quite unanticipated, a traffic jam, aggravated by an accident, was behind the unfortunate encounter I had once with one of those terrifying sentry points. I took an alternate route, and drove for over ten minutes from one street to the other, trying to get back to the highway, in an area I was least familiar with. Not long after, I found myself fronting four of them, with the same foreboding uniform, yelling and hollering ‘halt’. Panic swept all over me. Instantaneous recollection of an Iraqi female who reportedly got almost killed when her car was shot at near one of those points for failing to obey their instructions to halt, on account of poor visibility on a winter evening, had me confounded to such an extent that the engine of the manual car I was driving went defunct outright. The car was encircled in a flash, and I was ordered out. I stood aside for over ten minutes, complying with their rude orders, while the car was being ransacked. Caged back into the car, I sat soundless, yielding to strict commands to keep all windows and doors shut, and waited for what seemed like eternity. A flurry of telephone calls sought to substantiate the personal details of the ‘suspect’, while their faces registered the sense of arrogance aroused by the vulnerability of a helpless female. It was wintertime, as luck would have it; otherwise the stifling heat would have saved them the hassle. And then the interrogation phase commenced. Proving my good intension was becoming progressively unattainable when confronted with the absurd questions they threw at me to explain the reasons behind my ‘interdicted presence’. When I dared, stupidly, to ask what wrong I had done entering a residential district not dissimilar to any other, the guy interrogating looked at me, eyes bulging out, surprised at such seemingly unexpected but foolish courage.
‘You really don’t know?’ He asked with a sarcastic sly smile, eyes penetrating beneath my skin, as if he would thus be able to gauge the authenticity of my reply.
‘NO’, I replied.
He darted more leery looks at me, wondering if I still truly didn’t know, or if I were outfoxing him. I suppose the naïve look on my face ultimately won.
‘If you truly don’t know, I’ll tell you then; it’s the RED HELL’, he said, eyes fixed on me, relishing tremendously the silent consternation that showed on my face, draining it of colour.

I would have pushed my luck right to the dead end, had I asked for further explanation. He gave me back my driving license shaking his finger and admonishing me, ‘DON’T you ever make this mistake again, you hear?’ And I heard, and never approached that road again, abiding by his ‘sincere’ advice, right until the time I permanently left the country years ago.

‘How did he know we’re here for the job vacancies?’ Mai muttered. Fury, as usual, volunteered enlightenment.
‘Silly question Mai; don’t you see his uniform? He is one of them, the ‘peer and tell’ guys! He could tell you how many flies hover above this gate,’ Fury elaborated. ‘I bet you he knows every single employee here by name, besides…’.
‘Shhhhhhhhhh, walls have ears Fury’, I interrupted whispering, ‘pretty sure your big mouth will get you “THERE” one day’. Fury paled, and swallowed her tongue.

‘THERE’—reminder of state discipline and punishment—LAAMEN ELAAMA, Saddam’s ruthless secret police, that sufficed to send the chill down the spine of the bravest of hearts. The infamous body that was overall in charge of internal security and the suppression of political uprisings, mutiny and rebellion or revolt, as well as crimes and banditry. The regime’s ubiquitous tool that catered to the Iraqi monster his daily insatiable cravings for Iraqi blood. horrendous prisons where humanity was profaned, honour and dignity desecrated and bodies ploughed so that the victims hankered after death as a merciful saviour. Death’s chilling scent dwelled in those prisons for decades. From their walls issued the dire sounds of excruciating torture. Landing in any of those prisons was often a unidirectional journey; those entering were doomed, while those leaving had survived the odds. Only a few escaped through the mysterious workings of providence to narrate to the outside world accounts of the worst horrors and barbarity that evil could ever summon up. The world dropped its jaws watching the crop of the yoke in thousands of mass graves attesting to the ferocity of a regime whose legacy was expressed only through its people’s skulls and skeletons.

For years, Iraqis circulated hush-hush stories of indescribable torture: the pulling out of nails and teeth; electrocution of sensitive areas, genital parts in particular; immersion in the infamous acid basins that dissolved bodies in seconds; crushing by huge grinders that turned bodies into paste; suspension from a moving ceiling fan; being forced to stand up for days in big water tanks filled to neck-level, eventually succumbing to sleep and inevitable drowning; and worst of all, the repeated rape of detainees, males or females, and of their closest female relatives, sister, daughter or wife, who were fetched into prison purposely for rape in the presence of the detainee, a cruelty all the more remarkable in a society that deemed females honour, in particular, the biggest jewel in the crown of one’s reputation; and there were endless other atrocities that made prisoners ‘confess’ by inventing and fabricating, and ironically enough, thus escape torture to the inevitable death that followed.

Countless ‘non convicted’ inmates were locked up for years, denied the least of legal rights, while anguished relatives endured hellish stakes, humiliation and ignominy, trying to trace their loved ones. Only a few ‘lucky ones’ were made aware, years later, of their beloveds’ ill-fate, through helpful contacts or hefty bribery.

Iraqis never divorced fear from their consciousness throughout the dictator’s reign, tiresomely guarding their tongues against any ‘costly’ neglectful slip, careful to stay far out of reach of any political controversy or matters pertaining to the ruling family. Even a misinterpreted innocent joke took victims without the slightest justification, and was enough to issue a death warrant.

A high-ranking military officer was reportedly ensnared into making the most lethal remarks, casting aspersions on the honour of ‘the first lady’ Sajidah. During a heavy drinking session his tongue loosened. Before long, proofs of voice and image were provided, which caught him talking to a drinking partner, bragging his knowledge and besmirching her ‘Fine Honour’. He was torn asunder, but only after witnessing with his own eyes the rape of his closest female relatives and his house pulverized with bulldozers. He was given a memorable lesson that no one was beyond the omnipresent crushing fist. Had he at all imagined that his position or even his tribal background, being a Tikriti himself—from Tikrit, hometown of the dictator—could have availed to spare his life, his honour or his family, he proved this assumption to be fatally wrong.

A popular TV broadcaster, too, was nailed in the wake of a friendly gathering that happened to be infiltrated as was common. Reportedly she laughed at an insinuating joke cracked by another female colleague who happened to be the mole herself. She paid a hefty price for her lack of caution: tortured, head shaved grotesquely bald, and forbidden from appearing on screen again. Being the sister in-law of a minister not only failed to save her skin, it had a bearing on the brother in-law, who a few years later fled the country and joined the opposition.

The real peril came from personal bad blood: vengeance out of vindictiveness or the desire to settle old scores among neighbours or friends or workmates. Or sometimes mean wicked natures, full of avarice and eager for power or wealth or promotion, did not hesitate to serve the regime in the most despicable manner by divesting the nation of its priceless sense of security.

Children’s innocence was by no means spared, but exploited in the vilest manner. Iraqis were wary of talking politics before their youngsters following the execution of two ill-fated parents through their own child’s innocent tip-off. It was during one of those swooping visits the dictator paid once to one of the kindergartens. He tenderly patted the cheek of a four-year-old, teasing him to find out if the little boy did recognize him as Saddam Hussein. Innocence replied affirmatively, and enhanced it with ‘I know you, because every time you appear on TV mum and dad spit on you’. Both ill-fated parents were never sighted again.

Attaching no importance whatsoever to the cultural sentiment that venerates death with forty days public mourning, the regime banned relatives from organizing decent burial ceremonies, and had them pay for the bullets used for the execution of their loved ones. They moved in, too, on tribal leaders. Coercively extracted confessions were videotaped and delivered with hard-and-fast orders to have the victims of torture disowned, their families besmirched and reduced to ruin with the shame and disgrace of treason and renunciation.

Iraqis throughout the years of despotism were rendered paranoid, vigilant and distrustful of even their closest relatives and friends. The regime turned family members against each other. Faces were plastic and fake. Lips extolled the great leader such that it neared personality deification, while hearts and minds loathed and prayed for speedy salvation. Informants and infiltrators were planted everywhere: in every single work place, every neighbourhood, all mercantile areas, schools, universities, disguised as salesmen, labourers, employees or even beggars, chosen of the least conspicuous. Foreign companies operating inside Iraq, and Embassies, Iraqi or foreign, were infested with the agents of the regime. Phones were arbitrarily tapped. Faxes and computers were subject to stringent intelligence approvals. Publications were censored. Adverse foreign airwaves jammed. And in recent years, mobile phones were unheard of, and smuggled satellites dishes had to be resourcefully hidden from the piercing eyes of patrolling helicopters.

But then, in their sick greed for more authority, some informants blow, advisedly, their own horns, in order to intimidate and manipulate their social betters or those who were educationally superior, nursing thus their huge inferiority complexes and low self-worth through the fear they inspired. Over the years Iraqis, nevertheless, developed an excellent sniffing sense, discerning and deactivating these freaks.

The xenophobic regime empowered the secret police to approve employments for certain governmental establishments, especially when work entailed intermingling with foreigners employed in Iraq. It granted exit visas to certain countries, particularly, USA. Such approvals were given, nonetheless, after a time consuming process that involved lengthy investigation of the applicant’s and family’s political history. In sum, Saddam and his regime functioned as hanging swords that could have dropped at any moment upon the neck of Iraqis.

To Be Continued.......


Brian H said...

A life of nearly unremitting horror. And that's what the anti-liberationists would have had you stick with for a few more years or decades.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to reading "the Continued" part - your words just make me all that much happier than the coalition forces went into Iraq and set the people free.

Anonymous said...

that last anonymous was me


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