Sunday 20 April 2003

Freedom descends into chaos

Anger at US grows as hunger, looting and gunfights grip the streets.

After enjoying its first taste of freedom in 20 years this week, Baghdad chose to turn on its American liberators. George Bush had promised the Iraqis freedom and it didn't take them long to use it. But perhaps not in the way he expected.
With their city burning, its public amenities looted, and only a vague promise of democracy to look forward to, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to exercise their new rights. They were angry about not having water, food and power; and angry about having an American army in their country.

They didn't want Saddam Hussein back, but most Iraqis were clear about why they had been 'liberated'. 'America bombed the communications ministry, the agriculture ministry and the sports ministry,' said Amir, a taxi driver. 'But they didn't touch the oil ministry.'

Sure enough the building was standing intact next to its charred neighbours in the government district, heavily guarded by US troops in contrast to the museum which had its priceless collection destroyed and stolen.

Iraq's new freedoms took many forms in this crazy, dangerous and historic week. For the first time in their lives Baghdad businessman Abu Noor and his two sons sat down with a foreigner and let their true feelings about Saddam pour out. For 20 years Abu didn't dare to tell any stranger what he really thought but just watched the cruel regime in silence. 'If you said anything the Mukhabarat [Iraq's intelligence service] could find out. Then you would disappear.

'Saddam led us into war after war and dragged Iraq into poverty. Then we had Uday to look forward to. He was a psychopath . We thought of the future with dread.'

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the US invasion, and the disastrous chaos that has engulfed Iraq in its wake, there was little doubt most Iraqis were celebrating the end of their tormentor Saddam. But what happens next, they wanted to know, as they looked around them at the nightmare of criminality that has engulfed their country.

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