A Visit to Baghdad

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We understand that the US forces have wanted to
control everything, out of their fear for the Saddam
and Baathist loyalists. They dissolved the Iraqi army,
fired all the police and many government workers and
sent them all home with nothing to do. Now unemployment
is at 60 percent.
Yes, and arms are everywhere. You can buy them anywhere.
The bases were left unattended. Now people are
selling hand grenades, automatic weapons. In this way
they can make some extra money. Children also are selling
them. In the vegetable market, meat market, there are
also weapons. It takes no effort to find them. This is new
to Iraqi society. There was never such a situation before.
Why do people buy them? For protection?
Yes – security is zero. You need something at home to
protect yourself. And also out of curiosity. They are very
cheap. Items worth hundreds of dollars – you can buy for
a few dollars. It’s a horrible atmosphere.
The Americans chose to dismiss everyone. Couldn’t
they just have removed the people at the top?
But you see they had no plan for after the war. Winning
the war – this is their achievement. No other power
can stop them – especially from the air.What comes after
that? They don’t know the people, the culture. They had
been given the wrong impression – that when you would
topple the regime in Iraq the Iraqi people would dance in
the streets – come with flowers and open arms. That was
bad advice. Unfortunately they didn’t give it enough
thought – that was the major mistake they committed.
That’s one of the reasons they face all these problems.
They could have much better systems for how to deal
with the Iraqi people if they were really sincere. They said
it was to free the people from Saddam, but if that was
their real intention then they would have thought about
how to deal with the people afterwards. Most of their
thinking was about oil. So when you go to Iraq you see
the few buildings concerned with the oil industry – these
are undamaged. It is very clear to everyone there they
didn’t calculate cleverly how to manage Iraq.
Not everyone in the police or military or working for
the government was loyal to Saddam. Only a very small
percentage was willing to fight next to him. Unfortunately,
they didn’t think about this properly.
The costs for continuing the occupation are so
enormous now. Do you think the revenue the US
administration expects to get back from the oil makes
it worth it for them to stay this course?
It is not only dollars and cents. It is that whoever will
control that region will control the whole world. Look
now at Europe, especially France and Germany, versus
the US. If they control the oil of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Iraq and small nations such as Qatar – anyone who will
have their hands on all of that oil, they will manipulate
the whole world.
They say that the last barrel of oil that will come from
the ground will come from Iraq. Iraq has the second
largest reserves after Saudi Arabia. When the US went
there they thought it would be easy. Bring in our troops,
then install new people who will help us because we freed
them. Their calculation was absolutely wrong. They
thought people were so weak after 12 years of sanctions.
Iraqis had the 1991 war. They remember this every
night. The horrible conditions they went through. Then
after that they had twelve years of embargo which took
one and a half million of their people. They believe really
strongly that the party responsible for this tragedy is the
US and Saddam Hussein’s regime. They feel they were
partners in this tragedy. They don’t separate the two. So
as much as they hated that regime they hate the policy of
the US government toward them. Expecting them to welcome
you when you participated in killing one million
and a half – it would take a lot of work and effort to prove
to them that you didn’t do it to them. And to try to prove
that would be a lie.
The United Nations – their headquarters was the
target of the August bombing in Baghdad. And they
were a major part of the apparatus that imposed sanctions
for twelve years. How is the UN regarded at this
point and is it reasonable to expect the UN to be able
to play a constructive role now?
The people of Iraq consider
the UN to be in the hands of the
US. And whenever there is resistance
in the UN like what happened
in the war in March – you
see the US will dump the UN
and go and do whatever they
want to do. So they look at the
UN the same way they look at
the US. In the last twelve years
the US used the UN to impose
the sanctions – they worked
together to kill that million and a
half. And many agents who
worked with the UN – they
admitted they were spies for the
US. Like Scott Ritter – he was a
UN weapons inspector – in his
lectures and publications he
admitted he was working for the
US. So when the people in Iraq
look at the US and the UN they see two sides of the same
coin. To the Iraqis an occupation is an occupation – no
matter if they are Russian, American, Turkish, Arab,
Muslims – to them an occupation is an occupation. So
whoever participates in that, they are helping the US in
their occupation. They will not differentiate between
Americans and British and Polish – to them it’s occupation.
We are hearing reports about ethnic tensions
among the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. Some say if the US
would leave now civil war would break out.Have their
historically been divisions among these groups and do
you believe civil war would occur?
This same slogan was used by Saddam Hussein himself.
If I leave you, there will be a civil war. Now Saddam
is gone. There is no civil war. At a time when there is no
police force, no secret service – it is actually the opposite.
Everybody sees on Arab satellite TV the unity. There has
not been one incident of religious killing. The killing
which is taking place is either for theft or retaliation or
family feuds or it is among Baath party members. Even
after the tragedy which took al-Hakim [Ayatollah
Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, top Shiite cleric who held a
seat on the US-created Iraqi Governing Council, killed in
a bomb attack in August] in Najaf, when everybody
thought that then civil war would start – it didn’t happen.
Again the opposite has been proven. The people got
together – and there are a lot of very, very smart people
among the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds. They get together
very frequently, almost every week, just to keep the country
together as before. And they are very successful. So
the issue of ethnic fighting or civil war after the US
would leave – this is the same
slogan used by Saddam Hussein,
now being used by the US.
And another point. There has
never been a civil war in Iraq.
There has been war between the
government and ethnic groups –
but not among the people themselves.
It was the government
against the Kurdish people – not
the people themselves. The people
are very close to each other.
They are neighbors, they marry
each other.
Saddam’s regime was not Sunni
or Islamic – he was against anybody
who would dare to be
against him. Saddam killed his
sons-in-law, his nephews, his relatives.
He was born into a Sunni
family but he was secular; he
didn’t differentiate among any
ethnic groups. He killed more people, especially the
thinkers, the scholars – he killed more from the so-called
“Sunni triangle” than from the rest of the country. The
Baath party was Arab nationalist. Before British colonization,
the military was more made up of Sunni. He
opened the military to the Shia more than before. Saddam
said no difference anymore – we are Arab, anyone
can get into the military.Many of his assistants were Shia
or Kurds or Christian. Only thing that mattered was how
loyal you were to him and to his party – the only criteria.
So you don’t believe that if the US pulls out the situation
will deteriorate?

I don’t think so. If the US would really trust the Iraqis,
would give them the power to run their own affairs, their
own country – there are enough people in Iraq who
could do this well. But the longer the US stays in Iraq, the
more enemies it will create inside Iraq. Now even mainstream
media here is showing it. So if they leave, trust the Iraqis, develop a good relationship with
the people of Iraq – the Iraqis would love
to have a better relationship with the
West, with the US.
What is the extent of the resistance?
It is everywhere – north, south, center,
east, west. Nowadays they don’t allow the
reporters to cover any of it. That’s part of
blocking the information coming to this
country. This is very serious.
Are foreigners involved?
Well, the borders are all completely
open. All you have to do is show your
passport and you can go through the
checkpoint. Iraq has long borders with
Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia – and anybody can enter. This was
a big mistake when they dissolved the
government forces – now the borders are
open to anyone. It happened to me – I
didn’t have to get out of my car, I wasn’t
asked anything, they didn’t even stamp
my passport. Very strange. And now it is
too late if they want to seal the borders.
Of the $87 billion Bush has requested
15 to 20 billion is considered money for
reconstruction, and from other countries
very little is coming in. So there
continues to be plenty of money for the
military but not for reconstruction…
It’s funny – the second largest oil
reserves in the world. Why do they need
money for reconstruction? Iraqi people
themselves have said so many times we are
rich enough to control our own economy,
we have enough money to rebuild. The
US destroyed it twice – in ’91, in the name
of the liberation of Kuwait, and in 2003,
in the name of the liberation of the Iraqi
people – they literally destroyed the economy.
And then they occupied the country.
And now they are talking about raising
money to rebuild that country. The country
has enough money. That’s what Iraqis
are saying – there are tens of billions of
dollars in Iraqi frozen assets all over the
world. And if the oil were allowed to be
sold – they wouldn’t have to collect one
dollar from anywhere else on this earth.
But they have a hidden agenda – they consider
the oil as their oil – and the moment
they start talking about the “privatization
of oil” then you feel something wrong is
going on.And who is going to own it? The
Iraqis, or the American companies? That’s
the point that is really bothering every
Iraqi. The oil of Iraq is going to be privatized
– and who’s going to own it? So we
need to ask them “why are you collecting
money, and for what?” For your troops,
you need money. To rebuild Iraq, Iraq
would have enough money from the oil
revenue if you let it go to the Iraqis. So it’s
very obvious.
What do you think of the recent
French proposal that a provisional government
should be established in Iraq
in a month, a draft constitution by the
end of the year and elections by next

Definitely the Iraqis need some help
from outside. But they need sincere help,
that puts the interest of the Iraqis first. It
doesn’t matter who it comes from. Then
get out of there and in one year the Iraqis
can fix everything. But unfortunately even
France is looking out for their own interests.
They are negotiating what is the benefit
of participating in this process. The
Russians too are looking how to get their
piece of cake. Any time you see a country
that opposes the US, then you see them
shifting little by little because you don’t
see what is going on behind the scenes. All
of a sudden the smooth talk starts coming
from the US – how can you trust any of
them? All the reasons that have been used
to wage this war have been proven false.
So you don’t feel more solidarity
coming from Europe?

If the US controls the Middle East’s oil
fields, they will control the whole world.
Europe just doesn’t want the US to control
it all.
All the money that’s been spent on
US military operations – for that money
they could have been making business
deals. They could have bought control,
why did they have to intervene militarily…
That’s true. But what can you do about
people who can only think in a military
way? Look at Cheney and Rumsfeld – they
would never think of a peaceful way. They
only know how to wage war. And of
course there is Israel. Sharon has said that
Iraq and now Iran and Syria – that these
regimes have to be changed. I don’t think
that Hosni Mubarrak of Egypt is any less
corrupt – the regime of Jordan, of Iran, of
Saudi Arabia – they are all corrupt. Even
their position against Israel – it is only
propaganda. Unless we really solve the
issue of the Palestinian people, by giving
them their homeland, this situation will
go on.
Your feelings about the immediate

I think they will do the following: The
US is under huge pressure inside Iraq.
Their military people are suffering a lot.
They are very nervous. And they need
somebody to protect their back. So the US
will take troops from other nations to
protect the back of the American military
in Iraq. The Americans will do whatever
they want to do with the oil and with
other natural resources, and they will hold
the sensitive areas, the oil reserves, and
they will put the troops from other countries
in the cities where they will take the
heat of the resistance – that is what Iraqis
believe. So the US will stay in the sensitive
areas, making the oil flow and protecting
the oil, and the troops from other countries
and the peace keepers…. Let’s get to
the point – there is no civil war. So why do
they need peace keepers? That’s only necessary
if there is fighting among the people.
The only fighting is going on against
the occupiers. When they talk about security
it is not the security of the Iraqis.
They are talking about the security of the
American troops. The work that is going
on is to find a middle ground between the
US and France and the UN, and some
other countries – Turkey, India – and convince
them to go to Iraq. So we’ll get more
of the same for quite a while.
I’ve heard you say that Americans are
not aware of how bad it is for the troops
As much as I feel for the Iraqis I feel for
the American troops there. They are
fathers and sons and daughters and sisters.
They are under very terrible conditions. I
could see them in this heat and dust – with
this big equipment, and tanks – they are
nervous. When they are stationed at a
checkpoint they have to be ready 24 hours,
because it’s a guerilla war, it’s not a military
facing a military. The US government
is not telling the American people what is
going on. Reporters are no longer allowed
to go. The Americans say either you have
to say it in our way or you cannot report.
Just today one of the American military
leaders said the Arab news services are not
showing the positive things we are doing
for the Iraqis, they show only the negative
things, so now we are going to prevent
them from covering stories. So now they
will start screening them. And it is not like
what Fox News shows – swimming in
swimming pools, eating hot meals. It was
supposed to be a few months and now
they’re talking a year and more.
Anything else you want to say?
Hopefully the politicians of this country
will wake up one day and try to find a
middle ground solution for both countries,
have a better relationship with the
Iraqi people. There’s been enough killing
for the Iraqis, and for the Americans of
course – and hopefully one day we’ll find
a flight leaving Chicago airport going to
Baghdad airport, and vice versa. But we
need wise people to do that…

Mohammad al-Heeti, owner and manager
of the popular World Harvest
international food store at 519 E. University
Avenue in Champaign, was born
in Heet, Iraq, a small and very old city
on the Euphrates River, west of Baghdad.
This past June he went to Iraq with
his 20-year old daughter Roaa to visit
family. They stayed mostly in Heet but
also visited Baghdad twice, and went to Ramadi and Falluja,
where his wife is from. This interview took place on September

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