Tale Of Saddam's Cameraman
By Robert Fisk
06 August, 2004
vomited," Mouffak Fathi Daoud says, and you have to understand
why. Three young soldiers were brought to the trees on the hills outside
Sulimaniyah. They had been retreating from the great battle against
the Iranians on Jebel Maout. Saddam had ordered that all deserters should
be shot. Daoud was one of the Iraqi army's top newsreel cameramen. He
didn't have to watch. But he was a witness.
between 20 and 26 years old. All of them said the same thing, 'Our brigades
collapsed; we retreated with the commanders'. They were all crying.
They wanted to live. They couldn't believe that they would be killed.
There were six or seven in the firing squad. Each of the men had their
hands tied behind their back. They were shot as they cried. Then the
commander of the firing squad went forward and shot each in the forehead.
We call this the 'mercy bullet'." Yes, the coup de grâce
. How easily the Iraqis learnt from us.
story is extraordinary. For eight years, he was the Iraqi army's top
wartime cameraman in the Somme-like conflict against Iran. He was even
filming when the Americans stormed into Baghdad in April 2003. He still
films for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.
The old pictures
of him show Daoud with an Arriflex film camera - he agrees real film
will always beat the definition of video - and with long hair. "My
colleagues would drink before we went off to the front," he says.
"One of my friends, he would drink Iraqi arak, so much that he
was completely drunk; that was how he would go off to the front because
he was sure he was going to die. But he lived."
Others did not.
The first execution Mouffak watched was of a young soldier outside Basra.
Accused of desertion, he was sentenced to death. "The reporter
from Jumhouriyah newspaper tried to save him. He said to the commander,
'This is an Iraqi citizen. He should not die'. But the commander said,
'This is not your business'. And so it was his fate to be shot.
"No, he did
not cry. But before he was executed, he said he was the father of four
children. And he begged to live. 'Who will look after my wife and my
children?' he asked. 'I am a Muslim. Please think of Allah, for Saddam,
for God. I have children. I am not a conscript, I am a reservist. I
did not run away from the battle. My battalion was destroyed'. But the
commander shot him personally, in the head and in the chest. Then he
lit a cigarette. And the other soldiers of the Popular Army gathered
round and clapped and said, 'Long Life for Saddam'."
The longer Mouffak
Daoud talks, the more you feel sorry for him. Eight years of frontline
war. He talks about his colleagues, pouring liquor into themselves before
they set out for the front each morning. "Some of them had to be
drunk to go there." It was obvious that Mouffak sometimes had to
indulge. I tell him British soldiers on the Somme sometimes went "over
the top" on rum. He nods. He knows what the Somme is. "A friend
of mine, Talal Farid, he would never have breakfast, he would just drink
arak. He wanted the power to die."
Many did die. Take
Abdul Zahera, who lost a finger at Moharemah, victim of a sniper. In
the Iranian stores, Mouffak says, they found alcohol and drank it all.
Abdul Zaheras was killed by a sniper at Qaladis in 1987. At the battle
of Shalamcheh, Mouffak was stranded between the Iraqi and Iranian front
lines, trapped with Iraqi soldiers who would have to surrender, hiding
in shell holes and protecting his friend, Talal.
He was ordered to
fly in a helicopter - on Saddam's personal orders - to film the bayonet
battles of Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, "so close that they stabbed
each other and we could not see which was an Iraqi martyr and which
was an Iranian martyr".
that the Iranians were martyrs too. He is no Saddamist, even if Saddam
did give him a $3,000 (£1,600) watch for his battlefield filming.
"Saddam came to Shalamcheh but only his personal cameraman was
allowed to film him; we weren't permitted to do so."
The Iran-Iraq war
has touched every family in both countries. "I lost my brother,
Ahmed Fathi, in this war," Mouffak says. "One of his comrades
had a wife who was expecting a child so Ahmed volunteered to do his
job for him while his friend went to Baghdad to see his newborn. It
was 5 May 1985. My brother escorted an ammunition convoy to the front
and it was ambushed and we never learnt any more. I went to the front
and spoke to his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Riad, and he
said he did not know what had happened. We got nothing. No papers. No
confirmation. Nothing. He was married with two daughters and a boy and
his family still wait for him to come home. They are still waiting for
news. Because there was no body, because there were no details of his
death, his name was not even put on the war memorial."