Thursday, April 10
In Iraq towns, allegiances shift quickly to winning side
Charlie LeDuff, New York Times, April 9, 2003

KUMAIT, Iraq — Three sheiks met an American colonel in the center of town today.

"Would you like us to point out the bad people to you?" the tallest and most regal of them asked.

"Yes, point them out and we'll take care of them," the colonel said, his arms pinned to his side by a crowd of men and boys curious to hear their liberator speak.

"Of course," the regal sheik said, "We can point them out to you and then we can take care of them ourselves."

"No just go about your business," the colonel said.

Of course there is no business to go about. There is nothing here. At the central market there were a few dried berries, tea, small piles of salt, nothing more. In Al Amarah, a city nearby, the hospital and banks have been looted, scavengers were taking tires from military vehicles and a boy emerged from the police station with a wooden door.

The towns and villages are destroyed and nearly everybody agrees that it was 35 years of the Baath Party that destroyed them.

Though the Americans have promised to hunt down party officials and prosecute them, it is nearly impossible to do. ...

...After all, the local men whisper, many families had informants, and every neighborhood had a member of the party. This connection proved important for employment, promotions and the well-being of their children.

... In this conservative Shiite village just a few miles east of the Iranian border, they say allegiances flow in the order of Allah, family, village, clan, tribe. Relations are a complex stew of history and allegiances. An enemy one day may be a friend the next. A rival becomes a brother-in-law. The settling of scores will be done by the men of this village, not the men of America or Britain.

According to the Moroccan journalist Anas Bouslamti, who has studied the Middle East for 15 years and was in Kulait today, a family could not eat without some government connection, and all but the most destitute households were tethered to the regime in some way.

"In times like these when the power is collapsing, the people shift to the winning side," Mr. Bouslamti said. "When the power falls the people say they had nothing to do with it. They saw nothing. They are innocents. The same thing happened with the Nazis, the Communists and the Taliban."

This evening, black plumes of smoke billowed from the center of Al Amarah and loud explosions rumbled across the desert. The Americans had pulled back to base camps or were bivouacked on the outskirts of the city on the Tigris. The war for internal power is on. [...]
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