Iraqis Voice Fear of Signing Away Their Identity
Civil employees must declare in writing to obey the orders of the U.S. administration.
By Michael Slackman
HILLAH, Iraq — After all that
has happened in Iraq — the bombing, the fall of the government, the disruption
of services, the looting, the crime and foreign troops in the streets — the
latest affront to many Iraqis is one sentence in one document. All citizens
who work for the government are required to sign a document that states,
"I will obey the laws of Iraq and all proclamations, orders and instructions
of the Coalition Provisional Authority."
Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
June 18, 2003
In an Islamic society where faith and state are intertwined, many fear this provision is designed to undermine their religion.
Hundreds of residents of this city about an hour's drive southeast of Baghdad
took their concerns to the streets Monday in a peaceful demonstration, and
their leaders are threatening further protests — even a call for a nationwide
strike — if the document is not amended. The U.S.-led administration has
"We are afraid that this is paving the way in order for
the Americans to abolish our Iraqi and Islamic identity," said Said Adnan
Unaibi, who serves as a local representative for one of the two main schools
of Shiite Muslim thinking in Iraq. "This represents a provocation of the
The Coalition Provisional Authority, as the U.S.-led administration
is known, is moving aggressively to assert itself as the sole legal authority
in Iraq and to rub out any remnants of the former Baath Party regime. It
has drawn a line in the sand, and in order for Iraqis to have a role in the
running of their country, they must agree to the conditions laid down by
civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III.
One of those involves
signing a form that is primarily a denunciation of the now-outlawed Baath
Party, which Saddam Hussein relied on as one of his pillars of power. Tucked
into the form is the sentence that has infuriated so many Iraqis, not just
in this city near the ancient ruins of Babylon but also in Baghdad.
Iraqis want someone to be in charge, but many also chafe at the idea that
they have become wards of the United States. That conflict creates a problem
for the Americans as they try to enforce rules, restore security and create
a normal rhythm of life in a country that they have concluded is not yet
ready to run itself.
"They are quite capable intellectually," said
Lt. Col. P.J. Dermer, who is working with the civil administration to develop
grass-roots democratic practices in Baghdad. "The assets are there. The mentality
doesn't exist. They need us. They know it's up to us to walk them through
Many Iraqis don't see it that way.
Ali Hussein Ali
is a pathologist in Hillah. He was finally going to receive his pay this
month when the person giving out the cash asked that he sign the denunciation
form. Shiite clerics in the south have issued fatwas, or religious
edicts, instructing that the forms not be signed. Ali wanted his money, and
he wanted his job, but he also wanted to be true to his faith.
So he penciled in his own addendum: "But it should not contradict Islamic law."
"We will cooperate with an Iraqi government," he said. "They should not try to control our principles."
Ali works in the 17th of July Health Center, a rundown clinic in a walk-up
near the center of town. A few doctors, a nurse and a pharmacist work there,
although they are short on medicine and patients. They are not short on hostility
at their circumstances.
"According to what the U.S. government said,
this was a liberation," said Dr. Hamid Naimer, 41, the director of the clinic.
"Now that they say American law should be implemented, it means this is an
occupation. They didn't say anything about Iraqi law. This is a full occupation."
The south of Iraq is primarily populated by Shiites, a branch of
Islam that accounts for more than half the population of Iraq. Hussein, a
Sunni, vested power in his religious brethren and oppressed the Shiite majority.
While U.S. troops are being shot at now in Sunni communities in central Iraq,
the Marines who patrol this city say almost everything is under control here.
One officer said they have not been the targets of any planned attacks.
That has allowed the Marines and the Army unit here to focus on nation-building,
rehabilitating infrastructure, giving out gasoline and offering cash gifts
of $40 a month to pensioners. It also has meant paying salaries for all 38,000
government employees, a mammoth task.
But the efforts have been at
least partially undermined by blanket decisions that have come out of the
civil administration. The two major problems arise from the decision to dissolve
the Iraqi military, which was the largest employer in the country, and the
inclusion of the one sentence in the denunciation form, according to Marines,
who have been providing security in the area.
"It's a real issue,"
Lt. Ernest Adams of the 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment Marines, said of the
document. "We are here for the benefit of the Iraqi people. They are afraid
we will take their religion away. That's why we are here. To protect them."
Some of the Americans here said they were taken aback by the severe
reaction to the form. This week, for example, many members of the faculty
at Hillah University refused to sign the form, one official said. They were
paid anyway, but the conflict has not been resolved.
"From my personal
perspective, it's not a big deal," Adams said. "We want to get them paid.
But it's very important to the Iraqi people."
After the protest Monday,
several community leaders met with top military officials in the city and
asked for the inclusion of a short clause in the document, something along
the lines of "in the interest of the Iraqi people." The request was passed
up the line to Bremer's office.
In the past, Bremer's staff has refused
to make any changes, and it appears likely that position will remain the
same, according to civil administration spokesman Stewart Upton.
"Up to this point, we've told them straight up there will be no deviation from the form," Upton said.
There is a feeling among some administrators, he said, that the issue is
simply being used by those who want to cause conflict.
not be true, but clerics such as Unaibi are using the clause in the document
to promote the idea that the U.S. is implementing a plan to wipe out Iraq's
"If they are not responsive to our demands, there
will be a strike and demonstration in Hillah," he said. "If that doesn't
work, we will call on all Iraqis to demonstrate. I think we have the capability
to do that."
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times