This is no way to run an occupation
US troops in Iraq are no longer being
seen as liberators, but as occupiers - and incompetent ones at that. As
Con Coughlin in Baghdad reports, goodwill gained from ousting Saddam
has turned to resentment
businessman gives a conspiratorial chuckle and picks up the telephone.
"Now, my friend, I will show you what is really going on with the
family of Saddam Hussein." He consults a piece of paper handed to him
by one of his aides, and dials a number in Damascus. After a few rings,
a man's voice answers.
It is Fatiq al-Majid, one
of Saddam's nephews who, until a few weeks ago, had been a commanding
officer in Saddam's Special Security Organisation at the Republican
Palace in Baghdad, the regime's Praetorian Guard. Majid, who is also
the brother-in-law of Qusay, Saddam's younger son and heir apparent,
had, it transpired, just arrived to seek refuge in the Syrian capital.
had crossed the Iraqi border at the al-Rabie'a checkpoint last Monday
under the noses of the American troops who are supposed to be engaged
in a relentless hunt to track down members of Saddam's inner circle.
Once across the border, the Syrian authorities had readily granted
Majid a visa, and he had then made his way to Damascus to seek the
protection of the Syrian government.
Hassan al-Majid, his notorious uncle and the man known as "Chemical
Ali" because of his predilection for using mustard gas against his own
people, Fatiq al-Majid's name does not appear on the Pentagon's "pack
of cards" list of Iraq's most wanted criminals. But as a leading member
of the younger generation of Saddam's extended family, Majid is
certainly someone whom ordinary Iraqis would like to see brought to
account for the excesses of Saddam's regime.
also someone who might be able to shed some light on the question of
what has become of Saddam himself. It was a question I urged the Iraqi
businessman to put to his contact at the other end of the line.
"So, Fatiq, what can you tell me about your uncle? And where is your aunt?" he inquired.
Majid tried to play dumb. "Which uncle do you mean?" he asked.
"The Big One," said the businessman, with another chuckle.
am sorry, that is not something I can discuss over the phone," Majid
replied. "I need to talk to you about getting me some money."
Majid had successfully completed the journey to Damascus, the trip had
cost him dear in bribes, and he was now desperately short of funds. The
businessman, who had himself made a sizeable fortune under Saddam's
regime and who asked to remain anonymous in return for making the
telephone call, promised that he would get funds to Majid to enable him
to survive comfortably.
The revelation that senior
members of Saddam's regime such as Majid have fled into exile in
Damascus is deeply embarrassing for the Syrian government of President
Bashir al-Assad, which has consistently denied allegations made in
Washington that Damascus is providing sanctuary to former Iraqi
The ease with which Majid made his way
into exile also raises yet more questions in Baghdad about the
competence of the American forces that have assumed responsibility for
administering the country.
It is barely six weeks
since US troops received a rapturous welcome from ordinary Iraqis when
they made their triumphant entry into Baghdad, and in that time most of
the goodwill that was initially shown towards the liberation forces has
The victory bunting has now been
replaced by ominous graffiti, some of it posted adjacent to US military
positions. The more polite slogans state: "You have done your job US,
now please go home". Others declare: "US army, you will die." The US
troops are no longer being seen as liberators, but as occupiers, and
incompetent ones at that.
At the end of the war
not much was left of Saddam's palaces and those buildings directly
associated with the Ba'ath Party's security apparatus, but, because of
precision bombing, the rest of the capital's administrative
infrastructure remained intact. No longer. Thanks to the activities of
the gangs of looters that have been allowed to rampage through the city
unimpeded, the entire infrastructure of Baghdad now lies in ruins.
the looting of the capital's banks and the national museum captured the
headlines, the more serious damage has been done by the wanton
vandalism committed against more mundane institutions, such as schools
and universities. It is no exaggeration to say that more damage has
been inflicted on Baghdad by the looters than the bombs of the
Just last week, looters set fire to the
main telephone exchange (twice) and the information ministry. Coalition
commanders should feel particularly ashamed of the destruction of the
communications centre. During the war it was hit by two cruise
missiles. After hostilities ceased, the centre's director inspected the
premises, and found that most of the equipment had survived, and that
with some judicious repairs it could be made operational within months.
duly reported this to the coalition, who did nothing, not even to the
extent of putting the building under guard. Then last week it was burnt
to the ground. As a result, the citizens of Baghdad have no hope of
having a telephone system anytime soon.
almost systematic destruction of the city's infrastructure has led many
in Baghdad to conclude that this is a deliberate policy by Washington
to deprive them of the means of running their own affairs, thereby
necessitating the creation of an occupation administration. Those who
expound this conspiracy theory are quick to point out that the only
establishment in Baghdad that has escaped the attentions of the mob is
the gleaming headquarters of the Ministry of Oil.
is it just the looting that has caused consternation among the
well-educated and proud Iraqi middle class who supported Saddam's
overthrow. The looters have been supplemented by well-armed criminal
gangs and street militia who have effectively taken the law into their
own hands. Every evening, the sky is lit up with tracer rounds as rival
gangs battle for control of the city suburbs.
are kidnapped walking home, drivers are shot dead by car thieves. On
Friday night a diner was murdered outside my hotel when he was
confronted by a gang who wanted the keys to his car. At lunchtime
yesterday, the body still lay unattended on the pavement.
is just one of the many concerns with which Baghdadis now has to
contend. With midday temperatures hitting 40C, most of the city is
without electricity for most of the day so that none of the air
conditioners or fans are functioning. The country with the world's
second largest oil reserves is facing an acute petrol shortage, which
means that the city is paralysed by mile-long queues of cars. The value
of the dollar against the Iraqi dinar has halved in the past week,
while the price of many household staples, such as cooking gas, has
Any government in any other part of
the world that presided over such a disastrous administration would
have been dumped out of office long before now. While the Iraqi people
have little hope of ridding themselves of their erstwhile liberators,
there does appear to be some recognition among the coalition leaders
that the post-liberation administration of the country could have been
In this respect the appointment of Paul Bremer,
one of the US State Department's leading experts on counter-terrorism,
to head Iraq's interim administration is a belated acknowledgement that
the coalition needs to raise its game if it is to achieve its goal of
establishing a pro-Western regime in Baghdad.
though Jay Garner, a retired general and Bremer's predecessor, is
well-liked by the Iraqi politicians, he has been criticised for not
getting sufficient co-operation from the US military, and for making a
number of foolhardy commitments to the Iraqis, and in particular the
Kurds, about what they could expect from the new government. Garner's
short-lived tenure - he is due to return to the US next week - was also
hindered by a number of sharp policy disagreements with Barbara Bodine,
the US administrator responsible for Baghdad, who was recalled to
Washington last week.
The disdain Bremer feels for
Garner's somewhat laid-back approach was evident on Friday at a
briefing that he gave to outline his plans for the administration of
Iraq. Bremer, making a reference that Garner, who is normally seen in
an open-neck shirt, was attired in a suit for the occasion, commented
drily: "At last, I've got him to look like a proper diplomat."
question now is whether there is sufficient goodwill left among those
Iraqi political leaders who backed the military campaign to enable
Bremer's plan for a gradual transition of power to succeed.
of the Iraqi leaders I spoke to last week made it clear that they never
wanted an occupation administration in the first place, an
administration many believe would not have been necessary if the
Americans had not been so negligent in allowing the looters to run
They also resent the tone of the resolution
being presented to the UN Security Council by the US and British
governments which would give Washington and London control of Iraq's
oil revenues for a year, while allowing the Iraqis to participate in an
"We did not get rid of Saddam
to take control of a district council," said one Iraqi politician who
has returned to Baghdad from exile in London. Masoud Barzani, the
Kurdish leader who fought alongside American forces on the northern
front, added that the resolution bore no relation to the undertakings
he had received from Tony Blair before the war. "The understanding I
reached with Tony Blair is that we would be a liberating force and not
an occupying force. If they have now decided that they want to be an
occupying force, then I want nothing to do with it."
there are those, particularly in Washington, who believe that they can
ride roughshod over Iraqi political sensibilities, they should take
note that there are many people, inside and outside Iraq, who want
Washington's somewhat ham-fisted attempts at nation-building to end in
One needed only to hear the fanatical
pro-Iranian sentiments expressed during the return from exile of
Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, the Iraqi Shi'ite leader, to Najaf,
the holiest shrine in Shia Islam, last week to understand what the
consequences of that failure might be.