Thugs in the suburbs
Tracking down the former head of the Iraqi Women's Federation in Baghdad turned out to be an exercise in neighbourhood policing. Less than five days after the now famous statue of Saddam Hussein fell in Baghdad's Fardous Square, I set out to find Manal Youness.
Until the day the statue fell and the media officially declared the regime of Saddam Hussein had ceased to exist--or simply vanished, she had been a powerful member of the ruling Baath party. I was keen to meet her after having been told she had information on the wanted Baath Party members, the list of 55. In the upper middle class neighbourhood of Yarmouk, I found her home, amongst many similar dwellings in what could easily have been a suburb of an American city.
"She left three days before the Americans came to Baghdad," her neighbour declared, while cleaning her driveway with a water-hose. "Maybe she went to Syria, to Dyala province, or to Ramadi," she added, giving what I would learn was the standard answer of anyone enquiring as to the whereabouts of Baath party members.
Before I could focus in on a conversation, two land cruisers raced up a long wide street. One had a big poster on the front window; it was a picture of the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)--Jalal Talabani. Three stocky men jumped out of the first jeep, with handguns in their hand and bullet proof vests across their chests. One held a gun to the head of my Iraqi driver, Mohamad: "Move," he yelled.
"Not so fast," I said. "He is with me and who are you?" I spoke in English, fully aware that using the language of the new masters was also a sign of power and would gain me immediate respect. In broken English it was explained to me that this house, the home of Mrs. Youness, was the home of a relative of Saddam. When I pointed out that she was not related to the former president, I got a started look and an immediate explanation that this woman had somehow been involved in torture and murder during the infamous Anfal campaign against the Kurds, in which thousands perished. "She is not here", I said, pointing out that I had tried to ascertain her whereabouts. "We will go in anyway," said one of the men with a gun. "Can I film you?" I asked. "No, of course not," came the reply. "Why not?" I countered. "Because we are looking for tapes and documents about the Anfal campaign," came the answer. "So why can't I film that?" I asked. "Because it is secret!" he reported. "What is so secret?"...