Pissing People Off
In her latest dispatch from inside occupied Iraq, Jo Wilding experiences the growing discontent amongst Iraqi citizens fed up with the unruly behaviour of US soldiers.
27th November 2003
Driving down to Nasariya we were forced off the road by a US military lorry. The convoy was pottering along the road, and cars were weaving in and out of it; overtaking one, two, three vehicles at a time depending on the gaps between cars coming the other way, until they were clear of the whole convoy. The practice, to be on the safe side, is to hoot the horn and flash the lights before pulling out, as well as indicating (if you have the facilities to do so), just to make sure the vehicle in front knows you're pulling out.
We'd been doing that for a while when we pulled out to pass another lorry. There was nothing in front of it for a little way but, as we were half way past it, it pulled out into the other lane. Raed braked hard and swerved to avoid it but it kept coming, side-swiping the car and knocking us into the dirt off the road. I don't believe the driver could have failed to notice we were there when he pulled out, and there was no reason for him to have pulled out at all. There was nothing for him to overtake and no obstacle in the road. Certainly he couldn't have missed the fact he'd just hit us but he didn't stop.
We were lucky that the car is quite new, big and solid, with good ABS brakes and four wheel drive for all the off road bits where bridges have been destroyed and for trips into the marshes. We stopped at the next checkpoint and Raed got out to check the nationality of the convoy and make a complaint. A small Dutch boy nervously scuttled off to check. It was definitely a US convoy. A US soldier took photos on a digital camera of the car's number plate and the damage, gave us a contact number and took a number for Raed. It wasn't clear whether the camera was a regimental one or the soldier's own, with his holiday pictures on, or what they were going to do with the pictures, but they did say they'd be in touch.
The night before, while my housemates were on their way home, they were ordered out of the car at a US checkpoint, pushed about and accused of filming pornography because there was a camera in the car.
Waleed was going to work when he saw three Humvees stop by a man selling petrol at the roadside. There are queues, two cars wide and fifty cars long, outside every petrol station in Baghdad, waiting for tankers importing Saudi fuel. Roadside petrol is more expensive but infinitely easier to come by if you can afford the extra. The soldiers threw him to the ground, put a foot on his back and shouted in English. The man was screaming. Waleed had his video camera with him and wanted to get out and record the incident but the taxi driver refused to stop near the American troops.
A friend's dad was telling me how he acted as a translator for some of the tribal leaders in the Abu Ghraib area when the coalition troops first arrived. He said he told them they would have to treat the tribes with respect because they would never control them with force and that, by July, three months after the invasion, they were likely to face increasing attacks. They knew nothing, he said, about the country and its culture or religion. The timescale was proved right. After three months, frustration had grown and the US troops in the Abu Ghraib area now face almost daily attacks.
The same applies to Fallujah, he said, where his family is from. The city is now one of the biggest danger areas for the troops, part of the so-called Sunni Triangle. The people there, he said, hated Saddam. Even when he came to ask what they wanted they refused to accept his offers of money and developments. The resistance there is not, in his opinion, pro-Saddam, but arose because the invaders didn't show respect to the tribes, women and traditions.
Time after time I hear people say that the occupying forces are no different from Saddam, they use the same tactics as Mukhabarat, the secret police, they are as corrupt, as dishonest, as self-serving as the old leadership.