Joy To Despair: Iraqis Pay
For Saddam's Capture
By Robert Fisk
28 December, 2003
Ali Salman Ali was
the first victim of Saddam's capture, but he died on Christmas Day.
As his father Salman Ghazi, 71, tells it, Ali must have been among the
first of Iraq's Shia Muslims to scream his delight in the street after
the former dictator emerged from his hole in the ground.
that the Americans had come to save us and liberated us from that terrible
regime," Mr Ghazi said yesterday, his sun-blasted, lined face and
dark eyes staring at my notebook.
Behind me, the 12
cousins of Ali Salman Ali were heaving his cheap wooden coffin from
the Baghdad mortuary on to the back of a rusting white pick-up with
a cracked windscreen and a toy rabbit swinging from a chain over the
The Baghdad morgue
is a grim enough place at any hour, let alone on a grey, greasy, wet
Boxing Day and - though Christmas would have had no place in the family's
observances - there was a kind of weariness among the men in their damp
tribal robes with frayed golden fringes standing in the mud yesterday.
It had taken Ali
Salman Ali two weeks to die.
afternoon, they came for him," his father said. "He had gone
out shopping to Kaddamiya in his car and they were in another car that
caught him and overtook him and opened fire on him with rifles."
And who were "they"', I asked? The father looked at another
of his sons and then at a cousin who had muttered the word "wahabis".
The Sunni Muslim "wahabi" sect in Iraq is at the centre of
the anti-American insurgency; a purist, ascetic faith which was, in
the last years of Saddam's rule, allowed an existence as the "committees
of the faith".
As a Shia, Ali Salman
Ali was, of course, the victim of a sectarian killing - which is why
his family were so uneasy about blaming the Sunnis for his murder. Then
his father pointed a finger at my notebook. "We shall call his
killers 'the terrorists'," he said. And who was I to disagree?
As usual, there
was no mention of Ali Salman Ali's death by the occupation authorities
who list only Western victims of Iraqi violence. But, for the record,
he was 52 and had two wives, six boys and four girls from the first
wife, two girls and a boy from the second. He was one of Mr Ghazi's
nine children. Three of them were killed as soldiers in the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq war, along with five of Mr Ghazi's cousins, all military men
struck down in the same conflict. No wonder they hated Saddam.
All had grown up
on the family farm at Najaf and it was to Najaf that the family took
him for burial yesterday afternoon, not far from the shrine of the 7th-century
Shia martyr Ali.
His father said
I could take photographs of the coffin as it was placed crossways on
the back of the pick-up and one of the cousins broke down in tears and
kissed the wooden box. "Today, this place, Iraq, is filled with
such carelessness," his father said. "There is no path to
follow, no authority and no one to take care of the people."
In a parallel street
yesterday, an American-paid Iraqi cop was guarding the crumbling brick
house in which the bodies of the newly dead are washed before being
taken to the morgue. Inside were two new corpses, the dead of Christmas
Eve, newly arrived from the town of Beiji.
to the relatives," the policeman said. "Both men were killed
by the Americans. One worked in a factory and was caught in the open
when the resistance fired at American soldiers. The Americans shot everyone
they saw. The people are angry because you look like an American."
But they all shook hands and stood in front of us with their heads bowed
and asked why the tragedy of Iraq was growing worse. The cop wanted
the last word. "Saddam brought us to this tragedy and the Americans
used it," he said. "You want to know who is to blame? I say
this: Fuck Saddam and fuck the USA."
And the men stood
there, more tribal men in black robes with the same grey-gold fringes,
Sunni Muslims this time but with the same look of hopelessness as the
Shia family 100m away. And it rained heavily until the water splashed
off their shoulders and streamed down the front of their robes and the
cop took refuge in the brick house where they washed the bodies.
© 2003 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd