By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Is Saddam really any different from King Nebuchadnezzar or Hammurabi, who also eliminated opponents whom they deemed unreasonable? Kill first or be killed. That political axiom has existed here for thousands of years.
At dinner, on the banks of this biblical river, we watch a boatload of teenagers rocking to hot rhythms, Algerian ”rai“ music, I’m told. Other boats pull alongside, and people jump on board to join the party. The restaurant-goers smile their approval. Hardly the kind of atmosphere that the Taliban would welcome, I think.
Driving again through Baghdad and its 4 million-plus people and hundreds of thousands of cars -- not quite L.A. -- I remark to Warren Strobel, the Knight-Ridder reporter, that I see no preparations for war on the streets -- not even any demonstrations.
”Yes,“ he agrees, ”but how do you prepare for the leviathan?“
Later, as I change clothes, I see the TV in my hotel room showing pictures of Iraqis preparing for civil-defense drills. But on the street, I‘ve seen nothing but casual civilian life. Has Saddam hidden his army near urban targets?
Our handlers arrange a meeting with Sa’doun Hammadi, the speaker of the Parliament, in his well-furnished and very spacious office. A University of Wisconsin graduate student in the late 1950s, the now-frail, scholarly-looking man, in a neatly tailored gray suit, repeats Tariq Aziz‘s arguments, and offers numbers and facts on the perfidy of the weapons inspectors.
Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, he says -- the charge that Iraq is building a nuclear bomb is only a pretext for beating the war drums, he says. Hammadi argues that by 1998 Iraq was basically disarmed under the eyes of the U.N. weapons inspectors.
”We had reached an agreement on more than 400 cases. We disagreed only over five. That is a very good rate of cooperation. In return, Iraq was bombed,“ the Assembly speaker complains.
”We have no relation to al Qaeda, bin Laden or Taliban, no link to 911,“ he says, his voice in full throttle but barely rising above a whisper. ”Our people will fight. I personally will fight.“
This is also what the Iraqis vowed on the eve of the Gulf War -- only to have their troops surrender to foreign news crews. Hammadi nevertheless embodies the anger we sense around us. As he rises and walks slowly to the door, I notice the worry lines etched in his face.
Our last day in Baghdad. A woman with dyed blond hair and tight pants who runs a shop has just returned from a Barbados vacation with her Algerian live-in. ”I could hardly wait to return home. I love it here,“ she says.
I ask her how she will respond if war comes. She shrugs and says, ”I love my president because he is strong and protects us Christians. I stand with him against al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and George Bush.“ Her Algerian boyfriend grins in agreement.
As we prepare to depart, Iraq announces it will re-admit the U.N. inspectors without conditions. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry official tells us that our mission has succeeded. Abourezk smiles and says, ”Yes, with a little help from Nelson Mandela, the Arab League and Kofi Annan, all of whom strongly urged Saddam Hussein to accept the inspectors.“
Abourezk hopes that Congress will now show some backbone. Within two days, however, he reads that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who once worked for him as a Senate legislative aide, has all but rubber-stamped Bush’s demand for sweeping military powers.
”It‘s naked power,“ Abourezk says. ”George Bush refuses to take yes for an answer.“
I’m left thinking about the centuries during which the West tried to dominate Islam. The Crusades exacted an enormous toll, and although most Westerners know little about it, the history remains alive in Iraq. Tradition!
We say goodbye to the friendly hotel staff and to our bulky guides and chauffeurs. As our plane heads to Damascus, I see the lights of Baghdad and think about Abourezk‘s words: ”If we can remember the absolute horror we all felt on September 11, we can imagine such destruction being wreaked on the Iraqi civilians every day that American bombers drop their deadly loads.“