December 16, 2003
THE OUTLOOK

Joy Fades as Iraqis Chafe Under a Grim Occupation

By EDWARD WONG

New York Times

MAHAWIL, Iraq, Dec. 15 — In the evening gloom, on a dirt track a quarter mile from this country's largest killing field, the two brothers spoke of the need for answers.

They wanted Saddam Hussein to tell them — to tell all of Iraq — why the bullet-scarred remains of more than 3,000 people had been dug up here last summer. They wanted to know why one of their cousins was among those found, why this cousin had disappeared 12 years earlier while buying flour at the village market, why members of the Baath Party had killed so many of their own countrymen.

Those were the easy questions.

More important, said the brothers, Dhiya and Ayad Abed, they wanted to know why life had gotten worse for them since the American-led forces ousted Mr. Hussein. Why did they lack electricity and fuel, why were there no jobs, why were armed bandits roaming the streets?

"It was inevitable that he be captured," said Dhiya Abed, 27. "There was no other way for this to end. But the Americans have to do something for us because things are worse than before."

The Abed brothers and others in this rural area provide a sobering glimpse into the impact of Mr. Hussein's capture on Iraqis, including those who suffered enormously under his rule. The joyous bursts of gunfire that echoed throughout parts of Iraq on Sunday are already a distant memory. Many people are left wondering how they will push on with their daily lives in a country controlled by a foreign power and filled with political and economic uncertainty.

Nowhere do those concerns seem more ominous than in this village, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, where many families lost members to execution squads. The bodies at Mahawil began accumulating in 1991, during the ill-fated mass uprising against Mr. Hussein. This is the largest of the country's more than 260 potential mass graves identified by human rights workers.

So one would expect the people of Mahawil to be clamoring for accountability from the imprisoned Mr. Hussein. They are, but they are clamoring even louder for accountability from the American occupiers.

"I'm against the Americans," said Alaa Abdul-Nabie, 25, as he drove some visitors along a palm-lined dirt road to one of the mass graves. "I'm a Muslim and Iraq is an Islamic country. The Americans should get out of Iraq and let the Iraqi people build their own country and do what they should do. The Americans don't have a pretext to be here now that Saddam Hussein has been captured."

Mr. Abdul-Nabie stopped the car next to a length of concertina wire protecting the graves. He lit a cigarette and glanced at the burial mounds, many marked by scraps of clothing — a pair of boots here, a torn shirt there.

"People who refused him, he just buried them," he said. "Saddam had authority over all Iraqis, and because he had authority, what could people do?"

Few things illustrate the brutality of Mr. Hussein's rule more potently than the mass graves. He will undoubtedly be called on to explain them during his trial, whenever that takes place. Though senior American and Iraqi officials are saying Mr. Hussein will be brought before an Iraqi-led criminal tribunal, some residents of Mahawil said they preferred to see him judged in an international court.

"Of course he should answer for this; he had to know about these graves," said Muhammad Moussa, a Sudanese worker at a poultry farm near the graves. "I think he should be taken to trial in an international court. Not only have Iraqis suffered under him, but other people too."

Down the road, the Abed brothers echoed those sentiments while reflecting on their family's loss. Their cousin went to the market one day in 1991, they said, and was inexplicably picked up by local Baathists. The Abeds did not know his fate until they found his remains 12 years later.

Mr. Hussein, Mr. Abed said, "should be taken to an international court.

"We're not in a situation where we can have an Iraqi court," he added. "Naturally, the graves should come up. Most of the people were innocent and didn't do anything."

But the brothers did not dwell on the subject. There were more pressing matters, they said. Ayad, 21, a law student at Babylon University, waved his hand at the gathering darkness. "There's no electricity," he said, clutching two textbooks to his chest.

On the highway running past Mahawil, two policemen watching over traffic were preparing to end their shift. It was too dangerous to stay out past dark, they said.

"Saddam was a great personality," said one of the guards, Uthman Eddan. "He ruled the country for 35 years. Now, there is no security, and you can't even trust your friends."