BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE
photo by Buck Sargent
IRAQI CITIZEN SOUNDBOARD
A self-described 58-year-old medical doctor, husband and father of three daughters, this Iraqi blogger who writes under the name "Truth Teller" has been posting his opinions and observations about his home country of Iraq since January 2005. He recently agreed to be interviewed by email for the first in a planned series of ACS interviews with local Iraqis.
Disclaimer: The following views are strictly those of A Citizen of Mosul and are not officially endorsed by Buck Sargent, American Citizen Soldier, or the U.S. Military.
START OF INTERVIEW
I am Muslim, Arabic, Iraqi and Moslawi (from Mosul).
Do you consider yourself a Sunni Muslim?
I am a Muslim. All my life I feel I am just Muslim, only through the last three years did I start to hear the differentiation between Sunni and Shia. This came with the occupation as an action to weaken the Iraqis by separating them into fighting ethnic and religious groups.
You say you are a practicing medical doctor. Where were you educated and how long have you been practicing medicine?
I graduated from the University of Mosul Medical College in 1972, and [have been] practicing medicine since then. I had been in the United States in 1979 for a training course in nuclear medicine at John Hopkins Hospital, under supervision of Prof. Henry H. Wagner. In 1988 I got my degree in Nuclear Medicine, from Al Mustansirya University, Baghdad, Iraq.
Are you able to earn a decent living as a doctor in Mosul?
Now? Yes. The salary of the doctors at the time of Saddam was very low, less than $10 a month. Now my salary is about 600,000 ID [Iraqi dinar] which = $400 a month. But we depend mainly on the clinic income for a living.
Are you a believer in the duty and necessity of jihad against nonbelievers?
As a Muslim, I realize that the meaning of the word Jihad is misused. The jihad is to defend your religion, your country, home, family and properties from others. If the nonbelievers are peaceful and not causing a threat, I don't think it is my duty to fight them.
Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Ba'ath Party? Did you serve in the old Iraqi army under Saddam, and if so, for how long? Did you serve in any of the Iraqi wars of the previous 25 years?
I never [have] been a member of the Ba'ath party. I served in the Iraqi army twice, in 1973, one year after my graduation from the college (for one year), and in 1982 during the Iraq-Iran war (for two years), but I didn't share in the war. I was a medical soldier with a military brigade serving in the north of Iraq. I left the army for medical reasons. I had a staghorn renal calculus causing hypertension.
What is your general opinion about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq?
No doubt, I absolutely refuse the invasion. it is an illegitimate act of war against our country.
What is your opinion of American soldiers?
At the early days after occupation, I had the feeling that those soldiers are doing their duty, obeying the orders. I didn't blame them for their mistakes. But now I think that a lot of mistakes are due to personal behavior.
What are your frustrations or complaints with the U.S. military presence in Mosul?
In short: Even if they behave like angels, I will consider them as occupiers. And as an Iraqi Muslim, I can't tolerate occupation.
Did you vote in any of Iraq's recent elections?
Yes, I voted in the last two elections.
Did you support the new Iraqi Constitution? Why, or why not?
No, because it is the first step to divide Iraq geographically, after the occupation divided it ethnically and religiously.
Some Iraqis confess a longing for a return to a strongman like Saddam Hussein to confront the lawlessness and violence that persists throughout Iraq. Do you agree with this?
At the present time I will say NO, because it will lead to more bloodshed all over Iraq. In the past, before Saddam Hussein there were some leaders who governed Iraq [that] were neither strongmen nor dictators. The chaos and the lawlessness throughout Iraq were made and maintained by foreign forces which have an aim to keep Iraq weak and fragmented.
Some of your postings or reader commentary imply sympathy with the insurgency or "mujaheddin." What are your feelings about those that the American army is fighting here in Mosul? Do you agree with them, and if so, why? Please elaborate also on your opinions of the foreign fighters who have come to your city from neighboring countries in order to continue their jihad.
I agree with any patriots who defend his country. To expel the invaders is a legitimate action. But it is the duty of the Iraqi people, not the foreigners. There is misunderstanding of the term "mujaheddin." We use it for those who fight for holy purposes. If the Iraqis cannot defend themselves, then it is the duty of the Muslim neighbors to help them in their Jihad. There are many conditions to real jihad. I think not all of them are available here in Mosul.
If you had sons, would you encourage them to openly resist the "occupation"? Would you encourage them to kill or maim American and Iraqi soldiers? Do you believe it would be worth the cost of their lives to do so?
This is a difficult question, because I have no sons, so my answer will not reflect what I really feel if I had one. But I will suppose if I had one, and try to answer this question. As a matter of fact I will not ask my son to do things I didn't do. To resist the occupation is a sacred duty, but not necessarily by fighting. I think that I resist the occupation in my blog. This is OK for me and [would] be OK for my son. I am a doctor and my duty is to save lives, not to kill. I wouldn't encourage anyone to kill even the occupiers. (I personally have good mental impression of the Americans who I knew during my temporary residence in the States 25 years ago).
If the U.S. military were to withdraw from Iraq prematurely -- and before the Iraqi Security Forces were strong enough to operate on their own -- do you believe it likely that violent attacks would escalate, or even a full civil war may erupt and tear the country apart?
The country is torn apart already. Kurds in the north, Shia in the south, and Sunni in between. The US withdrawal will change nothing; it may facilitate the proposed tear. I don't thing the bloodshed will be worse than now. The Ministry of Interior death squads are fully active under protection of the US troops. As well as the Kurdish robbers are wandering in the city killing and stealing the citizens, again under cover of the US (sorry to say so, but when they came to Mosul before the entrance of the US troops, the citizens of Mosul kick them out and kill many of them, now nobody can hold a weapon to protect himself). If you ask me how did I know that the Kurds did those crimes, I will say: it is too clear to be unnoticed. If the US military withdraws now, there will be escalation of violence, but for a shorter period than that taken by the US to impose their supposed peace. Three years of chaos, bloodshed, and violence under the US occupation is too much for us.
Wouldn't you prefer for your children to live in a stable Iraq governed by the rule of laws chosen by the people, rather than decided by the whims of anunelected and unaccountable elite?
Yes, I prefer for my children and for myself to live in a stable country, not necessarily be it in Iraq. But I don't prefer to leave my country in the time it needs me most. Elected or not-elected government makes no difference to me as far as treating all the people with the same standard; no political, ethnic or religious differences (as what happens now under this government).
The "anti-occupation" forces kill many times more Iraqis than American soldiers with their brutal attacks and methods, yet you appear to continue to vocalize support for their cause. Do you believe that they truly have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind when they detonate bombs and initiate gun battles in civilian neighborhoods? (If they simply wanted to fight us, we would gladly meet them far outside the city in the remote desert areas).
What I think that you consider accidents happen as a result of anti-occupation acts. I believe that most, if not all the attacks which happen near the schools, mosques, churches, and market places are aimed against the Iraqi people, not against the occupation. They are pro-occupation acts, not anti-occupation. I still accuse [Iraq's enemies] for these acts. The resistance never attacks civilians. I am pro resistance, anti-American as far as there is occupation on the Iraqi land. If you want them to fight you in the remote desert, simply withdraw your force to the desert. They will follow you right away.
The longer the "insurgency" keeps planting bombs, the longer our Army will have to remain here. Can you explain this contradiction?
You are right, this is the reason [that] made me say that those are Iraq's enemy. Just announce it clearly and honestly that you are going to leave according to a fixed time table, the real resistance will stop immediately, as the cause of the resistance is gone.
Your school-age daughter is a fairly well known blogger in her own right, and has even been published in the New York Times Select online site. Does she have journalistic aspirations of her own, and if so, do you support her endeavors?
You probably mean "Najma," the Star from Mosul. She is a genius, her real dream is to study computer engineering abroad (but this probably won't happen -- not abroad, I mean). She is now in her final year of secondary school, next year she should be in college. She writes everything by herself, even her language is better than mine and my wife's. She sometimes thinks of being a journalist. She only thought of that after her readers supported her, but her real passion is for computers. I do support her, as much as I can. As much as the situation allows at least!
You often speak out against corruption and fraud in the new Iraqi government. However, elected governments are no more immune to dishonesty than than unelected ones, the difference being that they are held up to the light of public scrutiny rather than clamped shut behind steel shutters. Could you have voiced your displeasure with the old regime publicly or on the Internet?
In the old regime, we had one family of thugs, now we have thugs every where: the government, the Ministry of Interior, the police, the ING, the Iraqi army, Badr forces, al Mahdi army, al-Dawa party, and the SCIR, not to mention the US troops. All are stealing Iraq's money. At the time of the old regime, there was reconstruction, building, and paving of roads. The electricity was much better, no fuel shortage. Even at the times of crisis, the causes were obvious (the sanctions against the Iraqi people). Frankly speaking, no one could voice his displeasure publicly. The Internet was very restricted and under strict observation.
Have you ever considered becoming personally involved in the political process, as many courageous Iraqis have done in the face of terrorist threats?
I hate politics and the politician. When I started my blog, my aim was to publish health-related topics, I don't know how I slipped into these political arguments. The spirit of my job as a doctor is against the acts of terrorists.
You and I both presumably wish for the same outcome, for Iraq to join the ranks of free and prosperous nations. Yet, we find ourselves on the opposing sides of the struggle. Why do you suppose this is?
My wish for Iraq to join the ranks of free and prosperous nations is part of my personality and loyalty to Iraq and its citizens. Frankly speaking, I don't think any American soldier in Iraq wishes the same outcome. Your presence here is part of your job as a soldier -- to fight, kill or be killed -- not for building or reconstruction. Sorry to be so offensive, but the facts on the ground give this supposition.
I have worked and interacted with many Iraqi Kurds, and I have yet to meet a single one who did not consider our two countries as "brothers." In contrast, this feeling is either totally absent or decidely less-enthusiastic among the Arab population of Mosul, even though both groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim. What do you think accounts for this difference in attitudes?
The main two parties of the Kurds dreamed for decades to have their independence from Iraq. Of course, this is not shared by all the Kurds. The Americans gave them the opportunity to do so. The Arabs want all Iraq as a united country; the Americans destroyed their wish. This has nothing to do with religion; even the Christians have the same feeling regarding this. Another thing is that the Kurds [are] under the control of Massoud Barzani, which isn't different too much from Saddam Hussein. I mean no single Kurdish person could criticize his government without fear of arrest or reprisal.
Where do you see your country in five years time?
Depending on the situation during the last three years, I see a very dark future. The country is being depleted of its [brainpower]; most of the university professors, doctors, engineers, pharmacists and so on are leaving now to Europe or the Gulf countries. After five more years only the savages, the gangsters, and the hopeless people will be here. Maybe some people like me will be here also.
Describe your dream for the future of Iraq. What would you like to see happen and what would you prefer your grandchildren's Iraq to look and be like?
A free, democratic (a real democracy), prosperous, safe and peaceful Iraq. Every other thing will follow automatically.
END OF INTERVIEW
Clearly, "Truth Teller" views the conflict through the blood-stained prism of his own experiences, which, as a practicing medical doctor, are likely extensive. Not unexpectantly, he ultimately suffers from a lack of the broader context of the overall Iraqi narrative as survived by millions of his fellow countrymen, notably the Kurdish population of the north, a markedly divergent perspective that I will seek to unearth in future installments.
Not all Iraqis think as he does, anymore than all Americans think like Al Gore or Michael Moore (shudder the thought), and one could easily take issue with several of his political prognoses. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to begrudge him his institutional pessimism, an outlook he has earned and deserves if he so chooses -- as well as one likely indistinguishable from a bare preponderance of our own countrymen.
TT's day-to-day existence is undoubtedly severe and problematic on many levels, as such he may be forgiven for believing the Coalition-promised oasis of a better life to be purely a mirage. However, several of his statements -- two in particular -- offer hope that even the most jaded amongst a people bred on disappointment and betrayal already have intuitively grasped the rare opportunity for change that the cruel vagaries of history have presently afforded them.
"To resist the occupation is a sacred duty, but not necessarily by fighting. I think that I resist the occupation in my blog." [Emphasis added]
It appears he may well have already internalized the main tenet underlying our very presence on his soil. And regarding his dream for the future -- it reads as nothing less than a veritable blueprint for winning the War on Terrorism:
"A free, democratic... prosperous, safe and peaceful Iraq. Every other thing will follow automatically."
Dare I say it, but spoken like a true-believing (if not unwitting) Bush Doctrinaire. Oftentimes the truth hurts, especially to those who would lay claim to it.