Urban Hamid

Settling the scores with the past

Saddam Hussein has been captured.

The regime has fallen, and many people hold grudges against those who wore affiliated with the Baath-party. With the lack of law and order and almost anarchy-like conditions that prevail in Iraq. It is extremely difficult to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands. Many scores are settled by death-squads that come in cars with tinted windows and no license-plates. Like stealth-bombers these vehicles sneak up on their victims, from a close distance they pump their victims’ heads full with led and leave almost as fast and discretely as they came. Alaa Abdulghali has lost two dear relatives this way, one was his uncle, a former Baath-party member, the other was his uncle’s cousin, who was not a member.

He joined the party
My uncle Salah Jaber al-Aboudi was born in 1961 in Basrah. He served in the navy, and had two wives. After his military service he got a job with the government. Since the government required that anybody who worked in the government had to be a baath-party member, he decided to become a member. He got involved in the youth movement, (ittihad ashabaab) in 1997, and was responsible for providing the clothes for the football-teams and also coaching them. Part of the requirements for being admitted and promoted in the party was to get other people involved.

My uncle was a very forgiving person
Alaa describes his uncle as very forgiving: always helping other people. He enjoyed to do good things to other people. Part of his duty was to catch draft-dodgers. But he was known to give hints about raids beforehand, so they could escape . Part of his other duties was to organize fundraisers to raise money for men and women to get married. At that time it was very common with group weddings. He would nominate those who were to receive this ‘assistance’. He was well-liked. For example, after the fall of the regime people in his neighbourhood offered him protection: ---he was assassinated, not in his own neighbourhood, but in another one. “The assassins would never have been able to kill him in his own neighbourhood,” says Alaa with emphases.

He treated both his wives equally
He married his first wife, Hasna Abdurrahman in 1981. They got seven kids. Now as a widow she lives with their seven children in her parents’ house in Basrah..However,Haseeba his second wife since 1991 and their 5 kids ranging from 13 to 1 years old live in Alaa’s father’s house, where 20 people are sharing the same space. Salah kept two houses and rotated between the two households: spending one day with his first wife, the next day with his second and so on. Haseeba claims that she had a very good relationship with her husband’s first wife. They were friends and even their kids felt close. His first wife lived in her father’s house and the other wife in a rented house nearby. So it was easy for the two households to keep in touch.

Two masked men shoot him in the head
It is the morning of Tuesday May 5th. 2003, and Salah is not feeling well. He probably has the flu. He is sitting at home with Haseeba and the five children. He does not have much of an appetite. So he finishes his breakfast, two ‘stickaans’ (the Iraqi word for tea-glass) of very strong tea with four teaspoons of sugar, and half a ‘samoun’ (the Iraqi word for bread) quickly. Haseeba and Salah decide that he ought to see the doctor and get an injection. He leaves the house and walks through the neighbourhood. His neighbours greet him as they always do. He is not as talkative as he normally is. He just wants to get to the doctor and get the injection so he can go to bed and sleep. As soon as he gets into the other neighbourhood, a black BMW with tinted windows drives up to him. Somebody asks:” Are you Salah”? “Yes, I am”, he replies. Since he has no enemies he has no reason to fear anything or anybody. He cannot see the men through the tinted windows. They fire their guns straight into his head from a very short distance. He receives three shots in his head, and dies instantly.

His head is in a puddle of blood
A witness that saw the murder says that there were three masked men in the car, one driver and two hit men. A neighbour passes by just a few minutes after it has happened. He takes Salah’s wallet to identify him. Salah is lying on the ground. His head is in a puddle of blood. It is a horrible sight! Some people in Salah’s neighbourhood take their guns and go looking for the murderers. They cannot find the perpetrators. Of course, they did not know the circumstances of the murder at that time, because the killing of former bath-party members was not yet very common then. The following day as the tradition calls for, his neighbours come to the house to give their condolences, and to give small offerings to the deceased’s family.
Alaa: “I found out 30 minutes after it had happened. I was so shocked. He was very dear to me. When I found out I wanted to take revenge on the ones who did it.”

Every time somebody knocks on the door the children hope it is their father
Haseeba: “Salah was my husband and the father of my children, and the one who supported us”. It is still difficult to talk about him. She continues:
“He made sure we did not lack anything. He loved his children and they loved him. He never bothered anybody”. According to her he was only interested in sports and his family. He had a great relationship with his children. They have by now realized that he is not coming back. Sadly she states: “But in the beginning every time somebody knocked on the door they would run towards it, thinking that it was him at the door”. They have gradually understood that he is dead. After the eid (end of November), she took them to her husband’s grave in Nejaf. After that they have started calling Hasna’s oldest son, father: “At first when I was told that Salah had been killed, I did not believe it. Especially, since he was with me right before he got killed. He had just had breakfast. I found out only 10 minutes after he had been shot. I went out after him…My mind went blank. I could not believe that it was him. Who could do something like this to him? He was loved by everybody”, she exclaims.
It is difficult to explain to the children. The young ones only know that he has passed away. However, the old ones know that he was assassinated. This is her message to the ones who did it, whoever they are: ---“They have left 12 children without a father. The ones who did it are cowards”, she concludes.
She keeps still a close relationship with the other wife, although, they are not living so close anymore, but they meet every now and then. Their children were raised together and feel very close. She claims: “There was no jealousy between them”.

She almost blushes when she explains the circumstances under which she met Salah. They were both working in a shoe-factory at the time. And they ended up falling in love with each other and started an affair even before they got married. Their love for each other was so strong that they ended up getting married.
We don’t want to accuse anybody
Alaa says that he does not know who did this: “No clue! We don’t want to accuse anybody! But of course it must have been people connected to the opposition”. There was no investigation into the case. There were no police in Basrah at the time, and the British never meddle in these kinds of matters anyway. The Iraqi police were not reinstated until July.
As the family was approaching 40 days of mourning for the death of Salah and were planning to visit his grave in Nejaf as tradition requires, another tragedy befalls the family. This time it is Salah’s cousin, who is tragically killed. One tragedy is not enough in this family!

The assassination of Salah’s cousin, Fadhil Agar al-Aboudi.
It is the 11th June, a Wednesday, right after sunset. Fadhil Agar al-Aboudi is walking out of his house with his two children. He has nothing to fear: ---no enemies and he has never been a party-member. So he walks out leisurely. Three men approach him. Suddenly, they pull their guns at start shooting at him.He pulls his gun, but it clicks. He starts running with his children right behind him. The three men are chasing him. The father and his two children are running for their lives and try to climb a fence. His children are slowing him down. But he cannot leave his kid, so he takes cover under a car. The three assassins pull him out of the car and shoot him twice in his head. In front of his children! It seems to be a pattern that ex-party members are always shot in the head, execution-style.
Fadhil Agar al-Aboudi was an air-condition repairman, 41 years old, and married with 8 children. He was never a party-member! Alaa says that the only reason they can see for this assassination would be that Fadhil had objected to the idea that a mosque was going to be built in a building that formerly was used by the bath-party. Fadhil claimed that it was not possible according to Islam to do that. His interpretation is that it has to be built on land that is your own, and not on land that has been taken away from somebody. Thus,since this land had been taken away from the Baath-party it was not suitable for a mosque. So one reason could have been that the religious groups that wanted to transform this building into a mosque took his objection as him being a Saddam loyalist, objecting to the idea. Another reason could be that religious groups do not accept any kind of dissention. As with the first case there was no investigation. The body was taken to the morgue in Basrah. The family wanted to retrieve the body and give it a proper burial, since an autopsy clearly was not needed:--- there could hardly be any doubts in terms of the cause of death in this case. The problem was that a paper signed by a judge was needed in order to be allowed to take the body out of the morgue and this happened at night so they were not able to obtain the body.

Alaa concludes: “My uncle was the first person related to the bath-party to be killed after the fall of the regime. They always shoot them in the head, and they never use the same car. In fact, they don’t always use cars. Three days ago one person was assassinated by people on motorcycles.” Interestingly, the last words that Alaa utters before we leave his home is that it is a shame that Saddam had been captured by “foreign troops”: “We still consider him one of the Arab leaders.”