Reporter's Notes Iraqis Differ in Their Attitude to Americans - 30 April, 2003

Three weeks after American troops entered Baghdad, some Iraqis are grateful to them for liberating their country, while others blame them for all their troubles.

"The Saddam Hussein regime in the early years of his rule was the best regime in the Arab world," Iraqi teacher Abdallah Haris, 52, tells RIA Novosti. "But this regime," pointing to nearby American tanks, "is no good from the start. No jobs, no electricity, no water, no safety".

The interview is taking place in Baghdad in a square occupied by the Palestine Hotel, which during the war accommodated foreign journalists who also worked there. The appearance there on April 9 of American tanks signalled the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Since then the square in the centre of eastern Baghdad has become a venue for political activity. It is used for all demonstrations and rallies, and hundreds of people gather here from early morning to harangue about Iraq's destiny and future.

As soon as the talk began, several dozen people crowded around us. Some listened in on, while others wanted to join.

"To be sure," Ruweida Raad, a Baghdad University girl student, agrees with the teacher, "life is no longer safe. But I hope that with a new government formed, order will return to the country. To blame all Americans for everything would be wrong. The cause of all Iraq's crises and sufferings of the people," she is confident, "was Saddam Hussein and his policy." "We lived," Ruweida says, "in a big prison. Now we can look to the future with optimism, while just three weeks ago all we and our parents dreamed of was to get a piece of bread not to die from starvation".

Many in Iraq think like that girl student, especially intellectuals and also those whose prosperity depends on their own enterprise and talent. In particular, Iraqi theatre producer Qases Sarraj believes that "an era of freedom has dawned in the country". "Now we can work without looking over our shoulders at censorship, without supervision by security bodies," he notes.

"In former times I was often called to the security department," says Husein Abbas, owner of a print shop. "You can't imagine things I was accused of by men who ran the district where my print works was located. And they just wanted a bribe".

All Iraqi businessmen had to buy off officials, echoes Baghdad trader Muhammed Al-Ani. "To clinch a deal," he says, "I gave up half of the profits to staff of the ministry which was responsible for the paperwork".

Also pleased with the changes are Iraqis who had to leave their country and could not return under the former regime. "Four years ago," says a young computer engineer, Muhammed Abdelqerim, "I fled Iraq for Italy. The Iraqis who lived abroad did not believe that the Americans would really topple Saddam and that we could ever come back home. But here I am. Despite an uneasy situation, life in Iraq today without Saddam Hussein is better than abroad. It is not safe here, but there are friends, parents, and the house where I was born." "No one but the US, no opposition, no Kurdish leaders would have ever overthrown Saddam Hussein," he is backed by electrician Saad Abdeljabbaar. "This could be done only by the Americans, and they did it. And I reckon," he goes on to say, "that American troops should stay on in Iraq as long as is necessary to establish security. They have not come here to occupy Iraq, but to unseat Saddam Hussein. If they had not done this, he and his children would have ruled Iraq for a thousand years. So let them stay here for two or ten or even fifteen years".

These words evoke a storm of indignation among the people around us. Dozens of them begin shouting and waving arms. "Iraqis would never agree to foreign occupation," Jalal Ahmed, a worker of the Baghdad municipality, outshouts the others. "Yes, they helped us to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We thank them. But now they must leave, the Iraqis themselves can and will run their country".

"Look," he goes on to say, "at the results of meetings between Americans and Iraqi opposition leaders. What use are they? None. They sat down, talked and departed. The US is deliberately barring them from agreeing between them, to say: 'You see, the Iraqi people cannot govern themselves'".

But most of the people around us are concerned not so much about big-time politics as daily problems. "We are without wages, without jobs. The little money we still have will soon run out," Hazilyo Jafar, a former air defence soldier, warms up. "In a week's time I will have nothing left to buy some gas to cook meals. If the Americans cannot bring order, set up a government in Iraq and provide us with jobs, let them allow us to do it ourselves. If this chaos goes on, I will belt on some dynamite and blow up an American tank. I am not alone. I speak on behalf of the poor. There are millions of us. We are hungry. Our children are also hungry".

The remarks by the ex-soldier are vigorously supported by most of those who have thronged about us as we talked. "If the Americans do not leave in six months by themselves," building worker Hasan Abud says determinedly, "we will drive them out by force. All of us will rise and expel them".

The kind of sentiment that will prevail in Iraqi society in another three weeks or three months will depend a lot on how soon the occupying authorities establish law and order in Iraq, and, most important of all, provide them with a steady livelihood.