Ignited Iraq | The Nation


Ignited Iraq

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To the victor. Saddam Hussein's opulent Republican Palace, which still displays four massive sculpted heads of the dictator, is now the American headquarters as well as Bremer's office, re-inforcing Iraqi suspicions that the new governing authority is not a different form of leadership but simply a replacement of the old. As Izzi and I approached the throne room, which he had never seen before, he told me Iraqis had been known to vomit or even faint when they were summoned here. They did not know whether Saddam was about to reward or behead them, and he liked to keep them guessing. The throne room is now used as a chapel for the US military. Inside the vast chamber, just above one of the gold thrones, is a mural of SCUD missiles soaring skyward either toward an opposite mural of Jerusalem or possibly toward the other Republican Palace 8,000 miles away. Three chaplains--one each from the Army, Navy and Air Force--took turns posing with a long, shiny ceremonial sword that had belonged to Saddam Hussein. The Air Force chaplain clapped one of Saddam's Gothic World War I helmets on his head and sat on the throne with the sword while the Navy chaplain photographed him. When I approached the Air Force chaplain he put his hand over the name plate on his uniform and turned away. The victors have the spoils but may not want you to know exactly who they are.

Peter Davis was on assignment in Iraq this summer for The

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About the Author

Peter Davis
Peter Davis is an author and filmmaker who received an Academy Award for his Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds....

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El Salvador today is an Exhibit A casualty of the American imperium.

Closeness, even friendship, with our former enemies.

One American I met at the Republican Palace is, if anything, even more cheerful about the occupation's prospects than the Hodgkinsons. Steven Connolly works for a private firm contracted to USAID, renovating such facilities as fire stations, clinics and elementary schools. A veteran of the Peace Corps in Africa, Connolly has lived abroad most of his adult life and has already hired more than a thousand Iraqis for his current projects. "The reason the electricity is still not fully on in Baghdad," he said, "is not because Americans aren't paying attention. It's years of neglect compounded by sabotage. Fifty thousand Baathists out there are trying to wreak havoc." Connolly is fully supportive of the war itself--"Saddam Hussein had a repressive regime, he wanted any weapon he could acquire and he had a history of using whatever he could get his hands on"--as well as the aftermath. "We're off to a good start," he said, "but we need replication a thousandfold. The big players are coming in, Bechtel and the others. Now we'll see some real progress."

On the other hand.

The following day an imam, who looked like Christ if he'd lived to be 50, told me solemnly he believes that Iraqis killed under the American occupation are several times more numerous already than under Saddam Hussein. "Saddam was a terrorist," he said, "but Bush is also a terrorist. We demand the Americans withdraw immediately." Like Sheik Al-Adhami, he said Islam specifically rejects any separation of religion and politics. "Shia and Sunni are united as sons of this land in opposing the crime you committed with your decision to come here." The imam urged me, as an American visiting his country, to go to the Mother of All Battles Mosque to see how Iraqis feel.

On the way to the Mother of All Battles Mosque I had to stop at a hotel that is entirely rented to ABC News. A producer there told me the network had just taken a year's lease on a smaller hotel, indicating they're in this, like our government, for the long haul. I wondered what the Iraqis would think about our attention to them, and whether the attention would last a year or fade, as it has in Afghanistan.

The Mother of All Battles Mosque, which was built by Saddam and has minarets shaped like weapons, was the scene of the largest demonstration I saw in Iraq. The demonstration was peaceful, but it was also passionate. "This is a special day," an intense man with a black beard said to me as crowds flocked toward the mosque, "because we are here to resist the occupation." Many of the men wore white skullcaps and long white robes, dishdashas, and the women were either scarved and covered or in the full abaya, a black nunlike garb. Alicia asked a small group of women why they had come, but she was answered by a man. "We're here to resist you, and if you won't listen in your democratic way to our wish that you leave, we'll make you listen in another way."

Two Humvees rolled by with soldiers standing manning their guns. I thought they were on the wrong road at the wrong time, either accidentally or provocatively. But no one showed the slightest interest in them, and the Humvees kept right on rolling.

The crowd, which had arrived in cars and double-decker buses from homes, businesses and other mosques, sat around the outside of the mosque in blistering heat to listen to speeches over booming loudspeakers. The first cleric welcomed a throng he estimated at 20,000. Although the attendance was large, almost circling the mosque itself, I'd have cut his estimate in half. We were not in the section reserved for the press and television trucks, but it was well placed to view both crowd and speakers; the White House media team may have an opposite number among the mosques in Baghdad. The next cleric said it was unacceptable for the governing council to declare April 9--the day Baghdad fell to the Americans--a national holiday because it was a day of disaster for Iraq and Islam.

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