Sunday, February 27, 2005

"A Museum of Crimes"

"We owe our freedom to Americans … The real occupation is not theirs, but the one we suffered for 35 years by the group of thugs who brutalized my nation."

…Some people in Europe should have the courage to tell … George W. Bush [that] it was the right war.

During a trip to Baghdad, the International Herald Tribune's Roger Cohen has a midmorning conversation with Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin,
a Kurd in whom all the injury inflicted by Saddam on the Kurdish people seems concentrated. "Iraq," he says, "is a museum of crimes."

The layout of the museum is a work in progress. Amin is assembling a data base that will list all the dictator's murders; a delegation is being sent to Bosnia and to Kosovo to learn how to organize the data. "We are working with bones, with teeth," he says. "It's hard work to identify victims."

How many are there? Amin does not know. He says his ministry was sifting through 150,000 files and 60 kilograms, or 130 pounds, of material recently delivered by the Red Cross. Perhaps half a million Kurds were killed, he suggested, and hundreds of thousands of Shiites. "For the total numbers, we need time" he says.

Amin knew one of the dead well. His father-in-law, Sheik Taleb al-Suhail, a prominent opponent of the former regime, was murdered by three agents of Saddam in Beirut in 1994. Nobody has been punished for the crime.

"We owe our freedom to Americans," the minister says.

"The real occupation is not theirs, but the one we suffered for 35 years by the group of thugs who brutalized my nation."

It is hard to argue with Amin. He wields the weapon of truth with directness.

The same truth is to be found in the gentle eyes of Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi, 36, who told me his story later the same day. Saiedi's brother, Saddon, disappeared on May 3, 1993.

Two cars awaited Saddon, then aged 38, outside his apartment, where his wife and three young children were. An army colonel and an engineer, he was whisked away by the secret police.

Saiedi was desperate. His father died when he was 2; it was his older brother, Saddon, who raised him. "A knight," Saiedi calls him — an ethical man. "I was looking for my brother like crazy," he says.

The family is Shiite. It appears that Saddon may once have had a conversation with a distant relative in Basra who was indignant about Saddam's sweep against the Shiites after the 1991 Gulf war. That conversation was the extent of his crime.

Ten months after the disappearance in March 1994, Saddon's wife, Sundos, managed to secure a meeting with a senior official close to Saddam.

She explained what had happened. He asked: Do you want money? Do you want a pension? Do you need any other kind of help? No, she said, I just want my husband.

The official lifted the phone. Sundos heard him say that if the execution of Saddon was planned, it should be stopped. She was delirious with joy. But as she left, the official said: "Madam, I must tell you that although I made this call, I am not sure if your husband is alive or dead."

In fact, as Saiedi discovered after Saddam was overthrown in 2003, his brother had been executed at Abu Ghraib on Nov. 3, 1993, four months before this conversation took place. He could not bear to go to the grave. Another brother verified Saddon's identity through his bones and then took them to the holy Shiite cemetery at Najaf.

How many such stories are there? Too many for the Germans and the French to be so comfortable in their conviction that the war was wrong. This war was falsely portrayed, poorly planned, and hurt by hubris. But it was the right war.

Some people in Europe should have the courage to tell that to George W. Bush this week.

(Thanks to RV)

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