Saying No to Liberation

Seven Thousand Iraqis Return Home From Jordan, Unsure What Invasion Brings

Just a few weeks earlier, many of the men living in the buildings bared the scars from torture sessions in Iraq's jails, and urged the U.S. to go to war. This sentiment, with few exceptions, has vanished, and indeed, most of the men who were here have gone back to Iraq. Only one of the six gathered around the TV today says he won't return, under any circumstances; a former officer in the Republican Guard, he says going home would mean "death." Nonetheless, he is adamant that imperial America is wielding an unjust foreign policy again. "The president is just a picture, a puppet, right?" he asks. "The real power is with the U.S. Congress, I think." Then he says that George Bush should give up power.

These men remember the events of 1991 clearly. Encouraged by the first President Bush's call to revolt, Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north rose up, only to be brutally repressed by the Iraqi regime. The U.S. did not intervene on the rebels' behalf, and these men swear they won't be tricked twice. "Where was America then?" asks Ahmed. "We know very well that America has backed Saddam in the past, and that we don't fit into whatever they are planning this time."

Karim Al-Mayali says he will return to Basra, Iraq, "to defend my home against the American invaders."
photo: Jehad Nga
Karim Al-Mayali says he will return to Basra, Iraq, "to defend my home against the American invaders."

Tanoor Al-Habayab, a restaurant on Shabsogh Street in downtown Amman, is so full of Iraqis at lunchtime that candid conversations about Hussein's government are incautious. Downstairs, where owner Abu Ahmed is perched behind the cash register, random visitors pop their heads in the front door to offer their political opinions. "I am stopping by to declare my solidarity with the Iraqi people, my assistance in whatever they require, and all my best wishes!" says a bald, Jordanian doctor before disappearing down the street.

Upstairs is safer, but still the eyes of waiter Marmala dart frantically as he speaks, sticking mostly to the Hussein-as-hero script. A third-generation farm boy from Karbala, he will return to Iraq next week. The family farm sounds idyllic, but he doesn't pine for the seven acres of date groves or apple trees. He's worried about his eight brothers, the youngest of whom, at 18, is in the Fedayeen Saddam. He's puzzled by the distinctions made abroad between the Iraqi paramilitaries and civilians. "Civilians defend their homes, and the army and the Fedayeen defend the country," he says. He greets two men who are preparing to return too. "But even the Bedouin are fighting. Everyone is fighting."

This is another intricacy of Iraqi society that seems to have eluded the Pentagon, according to Tripp. "Though Hussein is loathed by a lot of people," he says, the regime did "create these networks of obligation that don't disappear overnight. These security networks are not as alien to the community as is being portrayed."

Marmala is careful not to utter a word against the Iraqi government, but suggests if a change was needed, it didn't require an invading army. "We could have taken care of our problems on our own."

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