us soldiers - the laughing stock of iraq's schoolboys

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by ObviousTroll, Dec 25, 2003.

  1. ObviousTroll
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    From: Wendell Steavenson
    Subject: The U.S. Army Goes to High School
    Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2003, at 1:13 PM PT

    Ibrahim Ahmed Hakmet is 16, a cocky, engagingly arrogant kid; slim, with close-cropped hair, a little acne on his temples, and a tendency to giggle at me, because apparently I remind him of his aunt.

    A few days after Saddam's capture, he was arrested by the Americans. About a hundred soldiers in armored Humvees and tanks surrounded the Amriyeh High School (a school for boys aged between 16 and 19). With the Iraqi police in attendance, they went from classroom to classroom matching faces to photographs and names to a list. They were looking for boys who had been at a pro-Saddam demonstration the day before.

    "It's against the law," explained Lt. Col. Leopoldo Quintas, commander of the 2-70 "Old Ironsides" Armored Battalion, which carried out the operation. "And they were displaying pictures of Saddam."

    It's subversive," added his public affairs officer.

    Ibrahim said he was the first to be caught because he was on his way out of school to get a doctor's note; it was midmorning, and he was the only student on the front entrance path.

    "An American officer shouted at me: 'Sit down! Sit down!' and indicated that I should kneel, pointing with his gun. Then he said, 'Get up!' I didn't understand what he wanted me to do, so I put my hands on the wall. He kicked me twice on the leg. He was very big. He checked me roughly, even behind my ears, and threw my English and Arabic books away. He cuffed my hands with wire, roughly. He sprained my wrist. And later, when he was taking the wire off, he cut me when he was cutting it with a knife."

    Ibrahim and several other detained boys (Ibrahim says nine or 10, the Americans say five or six) were put in the back of a truck. The truck broke down and had to be towed by a tank. An outraged crowd had gathered: parents, passers-by, kids from neighborhood schools, shouting and yelling.

    Ibrahim was rather enamored of his adventure.

    "We were laughing," he said, all tough and unconcerned, wearing his bandaged wrist like a trophy and using a single crutch to support the leg he said was kicked and beaten with a stick. "We knew we hadn't done anything. One of the Americans said in Arabic, 'Incheb!' Shut up!" Ibrahim was full of himself, laughing at the Americans to their faces, getting beaten for his defiance, and then asking for more. "The more I laughed, the more he hit me. It shows what kind of a weak man he was to hit a boy," he sneered.

    The Americans, in their efforts at zero tolerance, intimidation, containment, detentions, night arrests, and operations to arrest high-school kids, provoke only frustration, outrage, and distrust.

    "The soldiers went through my class," said Mr. Karim, the math teacher, " 'What is your name? What is your name?' The children were afraid."

    "They had no right, no right to come!" Mr. Hamza, the Arabic teacher, was indignant. "Is this American democracy?"

    The headmaster, Mr. Fadhil, said he was angry. The boys in the school were angry with him. He had not protected them against the Americans; he had invited the Americans to arrest them. Spray-painted on the wall of the school were slogans: "Saddam's High School!" "Down Down USA!" and "Down With the Informer Principal Fadhil!" They were quickly painted over.

    "Do you think Mr. Fadhil can keep his job after this unpleasantness?" I asked.

    Ibrahim hid his mouth behind his hand and giggled at such a silly question. "Oh we want him to stay! He's in our pocket now! Who else will pass us this year?"

    Ibrahim does not go to school very regularly. He says he has observed that those with an education and those without end up earning the same amount. He has been learning English for five years and cannot speak a word, except to understand some of what the American soldiers shouted at him. School, for him, is more of a place to hang out with friends than an institution of discipline and educational standards. The Amriyeh High School is newly painted and has some old computers. The classrooms are very bare: cheap wooden desks, benches, blackboard, and chalk. The Americans have been refurbishing schools, but it's often just a paint job. It's the state of lassitude and corruption that is the problem. Pay the teachers—a few bribes, threats, whatever—and they will pass you. Ibrahim shrugged, "The principal is a moody guy. Sometimes you can give him some chocolates and he is all right. Other times he wants a million Iraqi dinars."

    Amriyeh is a suburb with Sunni Triangle sensibilities, where a lot of families from Ramadi and Tikrit settled. It's also an area in which Saddam distributed land to Mukhabarat (intelligence) officers.

    "These are their sons," explained Mr. Hamza, the Arabic teacher.

    "This was a real country to be proud of," said Ibrahim. "I am Iraqi. They are humiliating every Iraqi when they humiliate Saddam. Even if Hitler came here he would not fill our eyes [make us proud] as much as Saddam did." Ibrahim has read about Hitler.

    When the Americans arrested him and his school friends, they took them to their base nearby (a former Republican Guard barracks) and held them in what Ibrahim described as "a cage," and what the colonel called "a temporary holding facility," although he wouldn't let me see it "for security reasons."

    The soldiers let them out to use the washroom and to be questioned. They were fed chicken and macaroni and chocolate bars for lunch. Ibrahim said it was pretty good.

    "They are civil in a way," Ibrahim said. "They are afraid of the situation here, and that's why they behave badly." But he is not intimidated by them. His family has seen plenty of American injustice. His father (something to do with the former government, though exactly what Ibrahim wouldn't say) has been detained three times, his uncle twice. His cousin was shot in the leg at an American checkpoint when he didn't understand what the soldier was shouting. His grandmother had three and a half kilos of gold and an heirloom diamond necklace taken during a nighttime raid on her house. All run-of-the-mill, unverifiable stories of the kind I have heard many times.

    "A foreigner will always be the weaker one." observed Ibrahim. "This is my country: They came by force they will leave by force."

    The Americans questioned Ibrahim and the others and determined that they were just schoolboys protesting; there had been no particular resistance involvement.

    "I would have preferred not to have done it," said Lt. Col. Quintas, while acknowledging that the operation at the school had been undertaken on his initiative, "But they need to understand that they are not allowed to do this and that there are consequences."

    The boys were released that evening and driven home. Ibrahim said that was the only time he was scared—he was worried the Humvee he was being taken in might get hit by the resistance.

    They rang the doorbell. His father came out.

    "It was funny," said Ibrahim. "He didn't know if they were going to return me or take him!"

    :laugh:
     
  2. eric
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    Hey guy,

    I will tell you right now if you have come here to start trouble you will be gone in a half-second !
     
  3. ObviousTroll
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    Is that true? Looks like someone needs a visit from the hug bug! :D
     
  4. jimnyc
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    Mr. Troll,

    Eric is correct. We welcome you to the board, and I'm hoping you didn't come here to just rile people up. Your opinions are welcome here whether the other members agree with you or not, but let's try to keep it civil.

    So let's look at this in a dfferent manner. Tell us your thoughts on the article you posted.
     
  5. nbdysfu
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    but Wendell Steavenson is pretty well known for her particular interests in certain kinds of stories. She Writes, very informative first hand stories of things that she experiences in her travels. However, her travels are usually pointed at finding hot topics.

    Steavenson pointed out the corruption of Georgian Leader Edward Shevardnadze, back in 1998, with her book 'Stories I stole'.

    She also wrote this story about refugees from Saddam's regime:


    http://www.otherpeoplesstories.com/020.html
    Other people's stories

    Wendell Steavenson on bearing witness in Iran

    There are maybe half a million Iraqis in Iran. Haitham, my translator, escaped four years ago with his brothers and sisters and parents. They got out through Kurdistan, paying smugglers to bribe checkpoints along the way. He said it cost $1000, which is a fortune in Iraq, where the dinar is so devalued an army general now earns $5 a month. He used to be an oil surveyor in Baghdad. Now he is 34 years old, handsome with a good thick beard and a deep vertical furrow in his forehead. He works in Document Center of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which holds the archives that record, in black ring binder files, human rights abuses of Saddam’s regime under labels like: EXECUTIONS, DEATHS UNDER TORTURE, DISAPPEARED PERSONS, DEPORTED FAMILIES, MARSH AREA CRIMES, CHEMICAL ATTACKS ON THE KURDS DURING THE ANFAL, TORTURE , AMPUTATION, MASS GRAVES, DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY, INTERNALLY DISPLACED FAMILIES, PRISONS , which has subsections for KNOWN PRISONS and SECRET PRISONS.

    One morning we drove to Dowlat Abad to do some interviews. Thousands of Iraqi exiles have settled in Dowlat Abad, a suburb in South Tehran. We walked through the neat brick housing blocks, along the quiet, tidy main street. Mosque on one side, the women’s annex opposite. I was looking for people to interview. I asked Haitham if there was a teahouse where people gathered; he said no, they met at the mosque and I couldn’t go in there. I asked him if there was an Iraqi restaurant at all, a shop selling Iraqi music? We found the Ali Baba sandwich shop and bought a very good falafel sandwich. Mohammed, who worked in the Ali Baba sandwich shop, said he came from Basra and left after the uprising in 1991; he had fought against the regime and there were reprisals. He broke up the fried falafel with the edge of a spoon, “I don’t think there’s any hope they’ll remove Saddam,” he said, “If they wanted to do it they would have done it earlier.”

    “Will you go home?”

    “If I get a chance. It’s my country and there is nothing better than to go back home.”

    The television repairman said he came from Mosul, the oil town in the north; he escaped a year after the uprising because he had been in the army for seven years during the Iran-Iraq war and there was pressure for him to join up again. The fish man stopped scraping the scales of a fat carp with a cleaver, wiped his hands on his apron, offered me a date from the sticky blocks in the front of the shop. He told me he was deported from Baghdad with his family more than twenty years ago because his grandfather was Persian. They deported six members of the family, but kept his brother behind in prison as a hostage. No one had heard of him since and he had become disappeared.

    The proprietor of a vegetable shop next door was a good-looking man, kind and dapper. He looked too intelligent to be a shopkeeper and when I asked him what he had done in Iraq he smiled and said he had been captain of a merchant naval vessel with a crew of a hundred. He had been all over the world, every port there is. He was captured by the Iranians in 1986 and spent two years as a POW. A woman came in and bought some cucumbers. He weighed and counted change, paused as she left and leaned forward. He spoke a little English; once, you could tell, it had been much better, but now he was out of practice.

    “I don’t want to stay here,” he said in English, “I want to leave. I am very tired of this place.”

    What is wrong?

    “My life,” he said, inescapably tired of it.

    What do you mean?

    “I mean all my time I was traveling on a ship and now I am in one place.”

    He had somehow brought his wife and two of his children to Iran, but left his eldest son in the care of his parents in Baghdad. His father has since died and he has not seen his mother or his son, who was three years old when he was captured, since 1986. He has not contacted them. “I am afraid to put them in danger,” he said. But his eldest daughter had married and moved to Sweden, and through her he knows that his son is well and about to go to university next year.

    What does he want to study?

    “He wants to be a ship captain!” he said, and the vegetable seller shone with pride.A few days later, we drove two hours down to Qom to talk to other Iraqi exiles. Qom is the spiritual heart of the Islamic Revolution, home to 30,000 seminarian students; the streets are full of white turbans, black turbans, brown clerical robes and black chadors. There are blue mosque domes among gray beige crumbling concrete square houses that look bleak in winter without sunlight or green leaves against them.

    The stories here were different from the ones we heard in Dowlat Abad. We went to the home of a woman who had been in prison in Iraq. She and her husband and their seven children and their son’s wife lived in three rooms around a small cement courtyard. There was a thin carpet on the floor, a few cushions, piles of unmatched plates in the kitchen and a television perched on top of an unplugged stove in the corner. The family came from Basra, her husband was arrested after the uprising and she was arrested a year later. She knelt on the floor, a black triangle of enfolded chador animated by a flashing pair of naked hands, and told me these things clearly and with a measure of good humor I could not fathom. From time to time she smiled. I could see she had a small dot of blue tattoo on the bridge of her nose. She was tortured in prison for several months; they beat her, knocked her front teeth out and put electric shocks on her ears. Her husband was hung from the ceiling and beaten. When he was released he could hardly move his hands and he was so starved that when he ate food again it damaged his intestines. She said that after the family escaped her sixty-year-old mother and two of her brothers were arrested. They released her mother and one of the brothers; her other brother was executed.

    Was it because your family escaped?

    “Yes, because of me.”

    How did you make the decision to leave?

    “I was just very frightened.”

    Do you have any contact with your family in Iraq now?

    “No, there is no chance.”

    Would you like to go home?

    “Yes of course I want to go home.”

    We talked to other Iraqis, a Mullah with dents scarred in his shins from being beaten in prison, his wife who had organized a society of former women prisoners and a woman who had lost four sons and five brothers and whose story of killings and arrests, property confiscated, hiding, spanning twenty years of harassment was so entangled and endless it was impossible to figure out who exactly had been executed. Which brother? When? Why?

    As we drove back to Tehran in the evening Haitham wanted to know if I had gotten what I needed. Torture stories all day, all the same brutal misery.

    “Yes, I got what I needed,” I said. Though it was tiring and miserable and after a while the litany blurred into a similitude of beatings and torture and electric shocks. I found myself asking for small details that would make a story different: what food did you eat in prison? How many people were there in your cell? Did they torture you every day or twice a week? How do you know the injection they gave your father before his release from prison caused his death three days later? The people I talked to were eager to be telling their stories. Not for catharsis, but for information. I was a foreigner with a notebook and they wanted to help me know and understand and they wanted to explain how much, the quantity, the precise volume of suffering that had happened.

    “Yes the things people said were very good, but very bad.” I paused, and thought. “Is there anything else in Iraq now, apart from the fear?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean when I listen to exiles the only thing I can hear is the torture. Is that all there is?”

    “There is some life. I had friends. I miss my friends.”

    “And you still have relatives in Baghdad?”

    “Yes of course.”

    “Can you contact them?”

    “I think it is dangerous. And I do not like to take the risk.”

    It was evening. The desert went by, ridged, dry and dark, a salt lake and barbed wire fence interspersed with watchtowers enclosing an army base.

    “I know a man who called his father in Baghdad,” said Haitham. “He had not seen his father for many years. He dialed his home number and his father answered. He said, ‘I am your son,’ and gave his name to his father. There was a pause and his father replied, ‘You are wrong I do not have a son with that name.’ And he hung up the telephone.”

    ____________________ _______________________

    I have a lot of respect for Steavenson.

    As far as I'm concerned, the way Steavenson has written it, the kid in your story sounds like nothing more than young baathist troll complaining about some scratches and bruises, and is probably also lying about his mistreatment.
     
  6. nbdysfu
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    By the way, that avatar rocks! I remember seeing that clip a while ago, who is that guy?
     
  7. ObviousTroll
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    ObviousTroll Guest

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    It's Steve Ballmer from Microsoft rockin' out there! Feel free to steal it, because so did I. :cool:
     
  8. ObviousTroll
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    Well, to think that the so called "valiant and gallant troops" are bullying kids at school is pretty funny, isn't it?
    Even more when you consider that the kids aren't really impressed. :D
     
  9. nbdysfu
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    Sigh..:rolleyes:

    well at least it's a Baathist getting bruises around the wrist and wailing bloody murder with no repercussions.

    With Saddam, half the kid's family would have been shot, a quarter would flee into Iran, the last quarter would be made into pariahs, and he himself would have been tortured with drills.

    If a little cretin such as himself can laugh at the American soldiers for such policing actions and continue to openly denounce them, that far outweighs any negative angle you can put on this story.
     
  10. Johnney
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    this id have to agree with. if they were getting mistreated, i sure it would be something else a little more harsh.

    i would go as far as bullying. its not like they jsut picked out these kids for no reason. as far as not impressed, how many kids that age are impressed by something like that? i mean, they'd try to save face in the presance of thier friends.
     

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