December 1st 2003 - Faruq
02 Dec 2003
Modified: 03 Dec 2003
A man I met the last time I was here is now working for a human rights organisation. Call for solidarity actions at the end of this piece.
Yesterday I was loitering on a corner when a familiar face caught my eye. It took a minute to place him: the last time I saw him Faruq was a teacher in Qataiba Boys’ School in Thawra, shouting angrily that the people would not fight for Saddam but would fight for their country and would not accept foreign domination - neither the Baathists nor invasion. He was far from the only one who said it, but the only person I saw venting real fury, openly displaying a genuine and emotional response to what was happening, among the already dangerous whispers of truth between the vocal announcements of What You’re Supposed To Say.

He’s still teaching but also works for a human rights organization called the Patriotic Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Iraq, based in the building which used to be the Office of Peace, Solidarity and Friendship on Old Rasheed Street, near the Jumeriya Bridge. The building, though partly derelict, houses several human rights groups.

Thabat checked down a list: “This is cluster bombs, this is cluster bombs, this is cluster bombs, but you know, there are no cluster bombs. They will not come and clean them up.”

A doctor was standing outside his home waiting for a taxi when he was shot dead by American troops. “There were thieves nearby and they ran away. The soldiers chased them in the vehicle and they were firing, firing, everywhere, and they killed him. And they pay nothing. They say he was in the wrong place. If they shot him in his house they would say he was in the wrong place.”

On November 8th a man was waiting in the bus station when soldiers came and began searching people. He reported to the group that they stole 160,000 Iraqi Dinar from him – about $80. He didn’t see the face or rank of the soldiers responsible because they’d covered his head with a bag. They didn’t give him any paper stating that the confiscation had been made, nor the value, nor the reason. This happens a lot, according to Thabat’s list of cases, in people’s homes as well as on the street.

Thabat said that in only one of all the cases reported to the group had the victim been given a paper stating what had happened but, he said, the paper was worthless. It didn’t bring anything from the CPA or CMOC (Civilian Military Operations Centre). In not a single case that has been reported to him has any compensation been paid or any action been taken against the perpetrators.

He’s a lawyer but that’s almost irrelevant here. Where is the court, where is the process, where is the justice? He’s acting for Baqer, the boy I met a few days ago who was shot by US troops, but the soldiers and the military have impunity. The CPA and CMOC officials tell him to come next week, come in two weeks, and never give anything.

Another of the groups based in the building began in the 1960s and has branches throughout the country. There is an association focused on prisoners, both under the old regime and the new. They looted the relevant buildings after the war to get the information which would help them to record what happened to people. They’re kept busy with the huge number of people now detained without charge by the coalition, trying to find out who is still alive but held incommunicado, who is dead, where they are being held, for what and when they will be tried or released.

A couple of days ago I received an e mail entitled “The good news” from someone in the US. Each sentence began, “Since president Bush declared major combat over on May 1st…” followed by an assertion purporting to be a benefit which has accrued to the Iraqis as a result of the war or some item of progress in rebuilding the civil and physical infrastructure. Apparently all the courts are now functioning. The lawyers laughed when I told them.

Yet friends and families of the detainees and the missing have called a demonstration for Friday (December 5th), marching from Tahrir (Liberation) Square across the bridge to the coalition-occupied Republican Palace. On Saturday there will be a vigil at Abu Ghraib prison. Saturday is also the date for the Kimadia workers’ demonstration, though there’s some doubt whether it will go ahead because a lot of them are scared to participate.

Qasim Hadi, the leader of the Union of Unemployed Iraqis (UUI), and Adil Salih, from the Union’s leadership committee, were arrested in Baghdad on November 23rd. They’ve now been released, but Qasim was arrested along with 54 Union members during the 45 day protest this summer at the CPA headquarters, demanding either jobs or social security for millions of unemployed people. The Union and its protests have also been attacked by Islamist parties. They pointed out that Qasim and Adil’s arrests breach the rights to freedom of association and organisation.

It doesn’t make much difference, if you’re the one on the receiving end, who’s carrying out the arrests, who’s detaining you without charge, who’s randomly shooting at you, who’s refusing to clean up the cluster bombs.

I know it’s short notice – that’s because the detainee protest here has only just been organized – but it would be great if people could organize any kind of solidarity demonstrations for next weekend, the 13th. The march is Friday and the vigil is Saturday, so maybe corresponding vigils on Saturday could highlight the huge number of people detained without charge here.

For anyone wanting to do press releases, the text of the leaflet here reads:

“Demonstrate for the Rights of Detainees
“The coalition claims there are only 5000 detainees. This is a lie.
“Most of the detainees have not been charged and are being held without legal representation. They are classified as ‘suspected terrorists’. This is illegal.
“Support the rights of the detainees. Support families who do not know whether their loved ones are alive. Oppose the occupation
“Join a peaceful demonstration beginning at Al-Tahrir Square at 10am on Friday, December 12th, to march over Jumhuriya Bridge to the gates of the Republican Palace that is occupied by the coalition. There will be a vigil at noon on Saturday December 13th at Abu Ghraib prison.
“This demonstration is organized by friends and families of the detainees.”

For testimonies from people who have now been released from detention, see the Christian Peacemaker Team website –