"Now He's Gone, It's Pure Jihad"
In her latest dispatch from occupied Iraq, Jo Wilding interviews a variety of Iraqi's from all backgrounds to determine public reaction to Saddam Hussein's arrest.
16th December 2003
"It started about 3pm in Fallujah. From the time it was announced that he was caught until about 3pm everyone was astonished. There was no reaction, just waiting, to see if it was true. There was a rumour that he was seen in Fallujah, so people went out cheering. Explosions started, people demonstrated in the streets, with lots of heavy firing till midnight, rockets, RPGs."
We rang Rafah in Fallujah. Her husband was a prisoner of war for 17 years in Iran. "It's not just resistance and mujahedin now, it's everyone. The mujahedin were holding their RPGs openly in the street, not even bothering to hide them, not hiding their faces. Everybody is in the street demonstrating so there are thousands, you wouldn't recognise individuals.
"The Americans are using some kind of weapon, sort of small globes of white light that split into smaller lights and as they get nearer the ground it turns to gas. They're thrown out by aircraft, a fighter plane rather than a helicopter. We don't know what it is. People think it's a polluted substance or something and some people think it's some kind of sleeping drug to calm things down because they lost control of Fallujah and Ramadi yesterday. The aircraft has a very loud voice which is working on people's nerves, it's like sound bombs or something.
"The people took over the mayor's office and looted everything. They burned the Islamic Party and the Al-Naseri party buildings, throwing all the equipment out of the windows and burning the offices. On Tuesday at 12, midday, they hit the train. It was full of equipment and food for the Americans, and they took all of that, so then the Americans started going into the town today to try and take control of the town.
"They only have troops in the mayor's office normally and the rest of the troops are outside, because they were always being attacked. Now they've taken a school as a base, near the main street, and they took over the mayor's office again, a youth centre, the train station and the police station, so those are now occupied by the Americans and lots of soldiers and tanks are in the streets, lots of checkpoints.
"The next few days are going to be hell. I sent my two girls to school today and they were sent back. There was no school because they were afraid for security. So they haven't been to school for two days. We've had no electricity for two days and we can't go shopping because everything has been burnt, even vegetables, everything that was in the way was burnt.
"In Ramadi it started about 4:30 on Monday, after the rumour spread from Fallujah. My family in Ramadi say the Americans are using tear gas. There are lots of explosions and low flying. They can feel it right on top of the houses. They are using sound bombs. Resistance is increasing more than you could imagine. Lots of people still believe in Saddam and won't leave him, especially when they see him humiliated on TV. Whoever captured him is not better than him."
Jinan Tahar, a primary school teacher in Al-Jaam'a, said: "We are celebrating because the slayer is gone that was torturing the people for 35 years. I think he surrendered. I want the trial to be in Iraq and the Iraqi people to try him because those are the people he hurt. I wouldn't execute him because that would be a relief for him. I would put him in jail for life so he can suffer more.
"I think resistance will decrease because most of them were with Saddam and now Saddam is captured they will fade away. I think things will get better because they announced there will be more focus on reconstruction now they are not distracted trying to find Saddam."
Ghanim Al-Khayoun is the youngest son of the leader of Beni Ased [Tribe of the Lions]. They are a Marsh Arab people from near Nasariya and their marsh was drained. Ghanim is a history writer and an intellectual. Many members of his family and tribe were killed. He will be supervisor to whoever rules in Nasariya. He said in Nasariya people went out on demonstrations to celebrate on the first day.
"Saddam was a poker player. He gave an interview in 1990 or 91 talking about how you have to use your cards even if they are not strong. You fake it and pretend you have strong cards. It was said about a person from ancient times who was like Saddam that he acts like a lion but in wartime he acts like an ostrich. In Iraq in general, we have the habit of showing our muscles, trying to prove we are strong, but whoever shows off will lose from the first fist. His children died with more honour than him.
"I don't just blame Saddam but the Iraqi people as well who supported him through fear or love or greed. I wouldn't call those people 'resistance' and they will fade away now Saddam is gone. I think Saddam surrendered and begged the Americans not to kill him. Really he was not even a dictator but a thief."
"I once beat Uday playing billiards in the hunting club. I saw all my friends whispering, because whenever they play with Uday, they will lose, they are scared, but what people saw of Uday was just a media thing of him being strong, evil and brave. Really he was just a coward. Qusay was much cleverer. He was planning to be in charge one day.
"To me his trial is not important. I would judge him by the laws of the Quran. If he committed one crime, he would have to be killed. How many times should we kill him? Some people think knowledge is over religion, which is why Saddam started showing religious interest in the last ten years to try and regain points."
Ammar, a 28 year old shopkeeper from Adamiya, told us: "The resistance had very good luck yesterday, about 10am. They hit three American humvees in front of the big Abu Hanifa mosque and two in Anter Square and three in Al-Saleya, nine altogether. There were at least five men in each car and don't think any survived. Twelve Iraqis were killed. Two of them were mujahedin and ten were civilians.
"If you have time, if you want to see something, stay here until four o'clock. Something is going to happen. If you like you can watch from my roof. The rumour goes around telling people who have shops to stay indoors at certain times. It won't start dead on four but we will stay indoors after that time and not go out walking.
"Those operations have nothing to do with Saddam. We don't love him - he's killed and tortured people, but because they are invaders, because they have occupied our country, they don't deserve to stay here. Some Shia people started shooting in the air, but if anyone has courage, he should write god's name on every bullet and fire them at Americans. Every one is needed for the Americans, not for the air.
"I think resistance will increase now. A lot of people didn't fight before because they did not want to be called pro-Saddam, but now he is gone, it's pure jihad, and there is no reason not to fight.
"When I saw Saddam shown on TV in that way I was really sad. It's not really right for him to be judged by US. The problem was that we were humiliated by Americans. Arabic nations should take a lesson from that. The Interim Council is not much better than Saddam because they came from outside the country and they didn't live the suffering and they have not much time left in power because even the Americans don't accept them."
Next to Adamiya is Kadhmiya, a Shia district. Sa'ad lives near the old secret police HQ, now occupied by US soldiers. The resistance, he said, is not from Kadhmiya but, "We weren't as happy as when we heard that Uday and Qusay were killed. It's not because we love Saddam but because he was captured by Americans not by Iraqis. As Iraqis we do sympathise with another Iraqi even if he made mistakes, because he was caught by an American.
"We have a saying: 'Me and my brother against my cousin but me and my cousin against the foreigners'. I would defend Saddam against foreigners, but between us, he deserves what he's getting because he caused the deaths of lots of people. I was not a Baathist. Saddam didn't hurt me but he took us into wars we weren't meant to be in. He spent money on stupid things and didn't give enough to the people.
"Some of the shooting was celebration but in truth after a while it's just because there are lots of weapons, so mostly people are just trying their guns. I bought a new gun quite recently and I fired it just because it's new and I wanted to fire it. I am happy he's caught but I'm not happy he was caught by Americans. They're not here for the benefit of Iraqis but for their own benefit.
"I think his trial should be public and he shouldn't be executed, because no one will benefit from that. He should be jailed for life so he will see the changes. Resistance could increase or decrease but if the US doesn't keep all the promises it made, it will face Shia people as well, because now there is nothing to stop them, no fear of being called pro-Saddam and as you know there are more Shia than Sunni people here."
We tried to talk to some soldiers as we were passing but they all said they were under strict new orders not to talk to anybody. Fernandez of 41FA (he didn't tell us that, his helmet did) said: "I think they did a good job" but told us we'd have to go to the base for signed permission if we wanted to write that down. There were two tanks of US soldiers, guarded as ever by Iraqi soldiers, parked in front of an empty petrol station.
As we drove away we were flagged down by a man with a biscuit wanting to know if we'd asked the soldiers about the petrol shortage and what they'd said. We told him no, just about the capture of Saddam. He wanted to talk but not to give us his name. He works as a baggage searcher at Baghdad airport, where the diplomats and businessmen come in and out.
"When I saw Saddam on the television I had mixed feelings. I felt pained, not because I love Saddam but because he is Iraqi and we are Iraqi and we have love for our country. He's still an Iraqi and caught by foreigners - it would be different if he was caught by Iraqis.
"I want to ask the Americans why they didn't block the borders with neighbouring countries because lots of people came in from other countries. Resistance is not only Iraqi, it is also outsiders coming to help. The resistance might increase for a week but it will fade now that Saddam is gone. I want him to be jailed for life, not executed, because I want him to see how things will improve, but I want America to keep the promises because we had hope when they came in and so far they haven't done anything."
Sheikh Adnan Al-Ani is the Imam of the Al Hasanein Sunni Mosque in Ameriya. He's in charge of 500 mosques in the area. "Intelligent people of all communities, Sunni and Shia, have to make a union because the situation is very delicate and could be used to provoke civil war. I consider that Saddam has been gone for months, since the invasion. I saw him as a dead man already.
"I would have no problem if Saddam was caught by Iraqis, but being caught by Americans is not honourable. Americans have committed lots of crimes as well. If Saddam is a war criminal then so is Bush and they should be tried side by side. This is the only fair way.
"The resistance has nothing to do with Saddam. It's because they are invaders and we have to resist the invader. Here in Ameriya the schoolchildren went out and demonstrated and lots of young people. The Americans tried to get rid of the crowd so they sat in front of tanks and started cheering, long live Saddam. It wasn't really for Saddam himself but for Iraq, with him as a symbol of Iraq, because people know that chanting his name will provoke the occupiers."
The streets of Abu Ghraib were mud tracks with more horse carts than cars and haystacks leaning on the houses. Hekmet said there was lots of fighting there. People felt really angry because Saddam was captured by "bastards". "This place turned to a warzone from about 6pm, lots of shooting, RPGs, rockets. It wasn't about Sunni and Shia but about a person who represents a country being caught by occupying forces."
The clattering of metal gates was interspersed with explosions making much the same noise but with more quaking through the ground. It's normal, they say. On the north side of Abu Ghraib there are rivers and bushes where people can hide, so it happens all the time, when aeroplanes come in. The ones on the top of the hour are usually controlled explosions of munitions collected and brought in to the airport.
"People are fighting because they are comparing between now and Saddam's time. The Iraqi army left weapons abandoned on the streets so people collected them. In Abu Ghraib people have a lot of weapons. The resistance is legal because we are fighting occupying forces. We have so much petrol and now there is none in the petrol stations.
"Every day there are people killing ex Baathists and people killing any person who works with the Americans. It's happening in Abu Ghraib every day. They warn Iraqis to stop working with Americans or get killed. Abu Ghraib is like a bee hive. If you touch it at all it will all be very angry. If I knew where Saddam was I would go and release him. I hate him but he is like the flag I used to hold."
THE ARREST OF SADDAM - Jo Wilding captures the moment in Baghdad after Saddam Hussein is arrested - 14-Dec-2003
THE MESS BETWEEN TWO RIVERS - Jo Wilding reports back from Baghdad on the sewage and radioactivity seeping into the lives of citizens in occupied Iraq - 6-Dec-2003