Dujail Resident Recalls Saddam's Wrath
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2005 In the summer of 1982, Mustafa Hassan Ali al-Doujaily watched the Iraqi army enter his hometown. Soldiers flattened date palm and fruit orchards and surrounded the town for months, beating and intimidating the populace into submission with systematic harassment, kidnappings and killings.
Doujaily spoke with American Forces Press Service by telephone from his home in Iraq.
More than 140 Shiite men and boys were killed, and several hundred more were captured -- including women and infants -- many of whom remain missing more than 20 years later. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein brought his wrath down on Dujail, a Shiite town on the main road from Baghdad to Tikrit in the heart of the Sunni triangle, after a failed assassination attempt on the town's outskirts.
Today, Doujaily works with the Iraqi army as a media liaison official. He hopes to see Saddam pay the price for his reign of terror in Iraq.
Doujaily, 36, bears not only his town's name, but also its scars. He said he hopes that Saddam will find the fate that eluded him in July 1982, when residents of Dujail, a town of 75,000, fired on the dictator's convoy.
"I was about 14 years old when Saddam killed people in my village," Doujaily said. "Some of my relatives were imprisoned," he added, saying that many were never heard from again.
Doujaily said Saddam captured more than 500 women and children and sent them to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. He then captured more than 600 people in Balad, accusing them of aiding the residents of Dujail in the failed ambush. Reports from international human rights groups and Iraqi government officials estimate the total number arrested after the failed assassination attempt to be about 1,500.
"His commandos besieged the town, shelled it by tanks and heavy artillery and bombed it by jetfighter," Doujaily said. "Helicopters flew over the houses and scared people. Nobody was allowed to enter or go out (of the town)."
Prosecutors seeking to convict Saddam say a Shiite religious party, the Dawa, was behind the assassination attempt. Dawa members were trying to avenge the dictator's 1980 killing of hundreds of their party members. Dujail, a once-prosperous farming town 50 miles north of Baghdad, had strong ties to the Dawa party, and villagers did not support Saddam's decision to war with neighboring Iran, a Shiite enclave to the east.
During that crackdown, human rights groups report, Saddam shipped the 1,500 detainees to prisons in Tikrit, Baghdad, and another prison near Saudi Arabia, where the prisoners were tortured and executed. Conditions were so bad, reports say, that nursing women and their infants died.
An Iraqi special tribunal announced July 17, 2005, that the first criminal case against Saddam would stem from the massacre of Dujail villagers. After a brief hearing today, the Iraqi judge in the case granted the defense a delay until Nov. 28. Saddam, defended by a legal team of more than 20 attorneys, could face the death penalty if found guilty.
"Under Saddam everybody felt like slaves," Doujaily said. "You couldn't study what you wanted or travel or call your brother if he's outside Iraq."
According to Doujaily, the regime was hyper-suspicious. Family members of those who traveled abroad were questioned.
"Saddam's security detail would ask, 'Where is your brother? Why is he traveling? Is he trying to avoid military service?'" Doujaily said. "They would imprison a man's father so the son would return to Iraq and join the Army." Many, Doujaily said, lost ears because they refused to join the military. Residents of Dujail believe Saddam's retaliation was organized by his half brother, Barzan Ibrahim; former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Baath party official Awad Hamad al-Bandar. The three are to be tried with Saddam.
Under Prior to Iraq's liberation by coalition forces, most Iraqis earned about $3 per month, not enough to feed, clothe and shelter a family, Doujaily said. He was unemployed despite having marketable English skills and a college degree.
The arrival of coalition forces changed his lot.
"The American Army entered my intersection early in the morning, and I went there to say, 'Welcome to my country.' It meant a new life was coming," Doujaily said. "The next day I was on my roof and saw the helicopters over us. I shouted, 'Hello! Welcome!' because I knew what it meant for us and what it would mean for my children too," he said.
Doujaily says that although Iraq is in turmoil, Iraqis are better off now than they were under Hussein.
"I say things are much better with the presence of the Americans." He said violence is prevalent not because of the coalition, but rather because the insurgents have made Iraq a "playground for their evil deeds."
"Iraq wasn't better with Hussein. We were living under a fog. There was no communication with the outside world. We did not develop," Doujaily said.
Military forces, in particular, served with great hesitancy under Saddam's regime, Doujaily said.
"I served in the army for so many years like most the Iraqi guys: under hard conditions (and) fighting for unknown reasons," he said. "I do envy American soldiers for this particular reason: They know why and what they are fighting for."
As Saddam's trial gets under way, Doujaily said he hopes Saddam will meet the same fate as many of his victims.
"My family and I and almost all Iraqi people hope Saddam will be executed. He is a killer. He likes blood," Doujaily said. "We want peace, and I want my children to live in peace forever. We hope the new constitution will bring a new life where we help each other and love all people."