My third day full of meetings and hearing varying Iraqi perspectives continues. I've noticed in this short time - that seems quite long, actually - that two things in particular keep making their way into my brain.
First, I'm hearing the same things over and over, from varying segments of the Iraqi population.
Second, I am absorbing information as quickly as I can, but am stunned by how much I and my own country don't yet fathom about this war.
I've still haven't caught you up to the latest meeting I was involved in, but here are synopses of each meeting through Wednesdayafternoon, June 6, 2007.
Taha Al-Lihabi is a member of the Iraq Parliament and a member of the Independent Islamic Party. In April 2007, he was in the cafeteria building next to the Parliament during the suicide bomber attack.Al-Lihabi was injured, and a friend of Mohammed al-Dynee's died in his arms.
Al-Lihabi is in Amman now, being treated for his injuries. When we met, he wore sunglasses because of a recent eye operation. His hearing also suffered as a result of the attack; he has only 20% of it left.
He wanted me to videotape me so I did (which is terrific since he had so much to say and so many questions he wanted America to answer.)
What follows is a rough summary of my listening meeting with him and two other people I met. When I return to the States, I'll have the video transcribed.
Al-Lihabi claims to have been involved with meetings between the American troops and some of the mediators for the Resistance. He said the feeling he had during the talks was that the Americans were not serious about getting together with the Resistance.
He had heard that many Americans believed the Sunni Arabs accounted for only 20% of the Iraqi population, and he wanted to know where President Bush got the figure. (See "Dangers of the 80% Solution"for background.) He said that the 20% number was incorrect, and that in reality Sunnis account for 42.6% of the Iraqi population.
Al-Lihabi spoke of the elections and was insistent that they were forged. He talked about four truckloads of ballots coming in from Iran that he said the American's actually caught.
He said that he would be happy if the Americans made a scheduled withdrawal. He added that he and others would like to hold the American Administration responsible for the damage, theft, and loss of life that has taken place in Iraq since the invasion. "We would like to be friends with the America people," he said, explaining that his country people would like to conduct business and deal with Americanson the basis of mutual interest.
Sheik Khalaf Al-Olayan
Sheik Khalaf Al-Olayan is also a member of Iraq's Parliament. He is the General Secretary for the Council of National Dialogue Front. Heworks with Dr. Tariq Hashimi, the Vice President of Iraq, and with Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi. The three head up the National Accord Front. These are both political parties that want a unified Iraq rather than a partitioned one. He is also a former army officer and tribal chieftain from Anbar Province.
Al-Olayan also said that he would like a scheduled withdrawal of American troops as soon as possible.
He also made clear that there were very few al-Qaeda members who were Iraqi, noting with aggravation however, that Iraqi young men were being recruited by al-Qaeda inside the American prisons.
Here is a summary of a very long conversation. Again, there will be an actual transcript of the meeting when I return.
Al-Olayan said that the Americans made big mistakes. They should return the old Iraqi Army, he said. De-baathification was nonsense. He wanted a nationalist, secular Iraqi government and thought the oil law should not be passed.
He spoke of a time meeting with Americans, telling them he was more than willing to fight in Baghdad, Ramadi, and the Anbar Province to clean up al-Qaeda. All he asked in return was that the American and Iraqi forces not interfere with his actions and that they give him full authority.
As if to demonstrate his sincerity, he also explained that he had told the Americans that his group had killed 20 al-Qaeda members and turned over a list of their names and the areas and dates where they were killed. He said he asked the Americans to check out his story.
His face fell momentarily as he spoke of the full plan he and his party offered the Americans. He said it was discussed by the Americans, but the Maliki government turned it down, instead giving responsibility to the tribal chief Abu-Risha who is a relative of Sa'dun al-Dulaymi. According to al-Olayan, this happened with the Iraqi government's full knowledge that Abu-Risha was not respected by any of the An Anbar tribal chiefs and that he was known to be a highway robber. He explained that since that occurrence, there is now a coalition of the An Anbar chiefs against Abu.
He recounted the time when he informed the Iraq government of the names of the al-Qaeda chiefs located in Baghdad, Al Monsour, Yarmouk, Jami'a, Al Amiriyah, and Hay al-Adil and gave the government their addresses and cell phone numbers. It seems that nothing happened with that information, other than al-Olayan saying that after seven days he was surprised that his information had reached the al-Qaeda organization. To him, this was proof of cooperation between the Maliki government and al-Qaeda.
He also told me about a problem with border crossings, saying that he had informed the Americans that al-Qaeda comes into Iraq from the Iranian armored Eight Brigade in Qom in cars that belong to the Iranian Iti'lat (Iranian Intelligence) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. He said that once the terrorists crossed the Iraqi borders, cars from the Interior Ministry came to transport them to Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Diyala, and other areas by order Solagh (aka Bayan Jabber). He said that the cars were not checked at the checkpoints.
I also met with a frightened, very nervous man that I will call Ali Awad, which is not his real name, but after I heard his story, it is better to give him a pseudonym so that his family will not suffer more. He is from Missan Province, Al Amara. Ali allowed me to audiotape his story, but did not want me to videotape the interview.
Ali is a high school teacher of Arabic Studies. When the occupation began, Iranian Safawids started arriving in the city in droves. His home in Missan is right at the unsecured border of Iran. (Note: I've been hearing the complaint that the American Administration did not secure the borders of Iraq over and over since last August, when I first had the chance to interview Iraqis. On this trip, at least one person suggested that it was only the Iranian border that remained open and that the consensus among Iraqi nationalists was that this occurred because the Iranians had allowed the Americans to enter Iraq from the South.)
Ali's school eventually was taken over by the Safawids and they threatened him because he was against their religious teaching. He continued to teach his students Arabic Studies, convinced that science was more important for their future than was religion. Things became more and more troublesome for him. Soon, he was fired and threatened repeatedly. He was told to leave the city or be killed.
Alone, he left Iraq, ending in Syria where he found odd jobs so he that he could support the family he left behind. He would sneak back to Missan on occasion, to visit and bring money to his wife and five children.
One night when he was there, his six-year-old daughter answered a knock on the door. Three militiamen barged in, pushing her aside so fiercely that they broke her ribs.
Ali was sitting on the sofa with his nine-month old son. Without even saying a word, they opened fire on him with machine guns. He played dead, not knowing yet that the son on his lap was now dead. He explained that usually the militia use their rifle butts to crack the skulls of their victims, to ensure that they are dead. He showed me the scar on his hard head -- a head that apparently saved his life.
During the shooting, his family had escaped to neighbors and when the militia left, his friends rushed back in, found him unconscious, and took him to the local hospital, which was not equipped to deal with his injuries. His neighbors again put him into the car and drove him to Basra where he was treated and eventually recovered.
After his recovery, he fled to Jordan as a refugee - he even showed me his UN Refugee Rights papers, which give him asylum in Jordan. Here, he lives with other Iraqis, who -- as they are able -- give him pocket money.
I was stunned by his story. Offering my sympathies was little consolation, but I did tell him I was sorry for his loss, but was happy to see him alive. He told me he constantly thinks about having his wife and children join him. They are stuck in Iraq. He insisted that I take pictures of his multiple gunshot wounds without showing his face. So I did.
-- Dal LaMagna
June 7, 2007