from Zaehira Houfani in Baghdad (#1 and #2)

Raymond Chase r_chase at
Wed Aug 20 21:53:52 MDT 2003

Below, the first and second message from Zehira
Houfani, member of the Iraq Solidarity Project (Montreal), written while in

Raymond Chase
The pupil is gone, the master has replaced him

It was around 6 pm, this Sunday July 27th 2003, when the El-Birhana family
left their home in their car, driving towards their neighbourhood Church,
Al-Mansour, Hay Al-Andalous, right in the middle of Baghdad.

The El-Birhana family was comprised of the mother and her two sons, Tamer et
Mazen, respectively 35 and 27 years old. Tamer was driving the family
vehicle and was proceeding normally towards the end of the alley, when
suddently at the point of turning, the car was sprayed with US soldiers
gunfire. The entire Birhana family was killed instantly in a terrifying
bloodbath. The car that was following immediately behind, with two
passengers on board, experienced the same fate at the hand of US soldiers.

Shock and consternation in the neighbourhood! In these (rather durable)
times of heatwave, this is a really cold shower informing the world on the
true nature of the mission of the United States in Iraq. Human rights?
Democracy? None of that for the Iraqis. The only thing in store for them is
brutality, contempt, and humiliation, the most blatant form of which is the
body search of women by men at the checkpoints established by the US
military everywhere in the country. When the least respect for the Iraqi
people would have required that the US invaders assign such duty to women.

It is this same attitude of contempt which lead the soldiers to fire on
Iraqi civilians without any warning on this Sunday July 27th.  No one could
understand the behaviour of the US military in this massacre of 5 persons.
How can they behave so savagely with people they claim to have liberated
from the savagery of Saddam?

No journalist was tolerated at the scene of this crime. With utmost
brutality, the soldiers grabbed the Al- Jazeera Arab Network journalist and
took him away, before they closed the sector.  Closing the sector is what
they should have done when they invested the place, supposedly to catch
Saddam's young son whom they did not find however. They could have spared
innocent lives like those of the Birhana family.

Within minutes of the carnage, the soldiers took away the bodies of the
mother, the youngest son, and other victims, leaving Tamer's corpse, in a
pool of blood, on the side of the street for over one hour, under still
overpowering heat.

Alerted by the gunfire, the neighbours faced this spectacle in total dismay.
"Ya Haram!", whispers Laraba, a neighbour in her forties, drying her tears
with the old scarf she was wearing on her head. "Why have these damned
soldiers done this? These were good people, a Christian family held in
esteem in all the neighbourhood.  In 30 years, nobody ever held a complaint
against them.  Ya habibi ya Tamer! What have these criminals done to you ? "
"He wouldn't have killed a fly", Larama continued in my direction, "look how
they have smashed his head!" Difficult to withstand, the young man's head
was completely crushed and part of his brain was coming out of his skull.

Two hours later, only the dried blood of the Iraqi victims was left, to be
met at some point in the future with an official "Sorry", the umpteenth
criminal mistake which nobody will ever have to pay for. Not to mention the
fact that Tamer's father left to work in the United States several years
ago, and that Tamer himself worked as a translator for the occupying
forces... But for the latter, he remained the Arab, the Iraqi, the enemy.

Baghdad, July 27th, 2003

Zehira Houfani (writer and journalist),
Member of the Montreal Iraq Solidarity Project

The torturers have changed, the victims stay the same

(Pictures came with this report;
send an email to iptcanada at )

I couldn't believe my eyes! Is it so easy to torture someone in an Iraq
liberated from Saddam?

Yet the marks on the body of Al-Mountadhar Fadhel, a young Iraqi student of
23 years old, were so undeniably real, shocking, and above all completely

Al-Mountadhar lives in Hay El-houria, one of the poor, run-down
neighbourhoods in the outskirts of Baghdad. Most of the streets and allies
are inaccessible to cars. They are either too broken up or are drowned in
dirty water which nearly reaches up to the sidewalks. "It is the same
everywhere since the Americans arrived in Baghdad," Ahmed, a taxi-driver,
explained. In fact, the destruction of Iraqi state buildings,
such as the ministries, the factories, the universities, the administrative
centres, the city halls, etc., threw millions of Iraqi workers out of work;
including those city employees, among others, who were responsible for
collecting the garbage. All are on forced unemployment, just at a time when
there is so much to do to prevent infectious diseases and other epidemics in
this extremely hot weather. It is more than 50° and the garbage has not been
collected for weeks in Baghdad neighbourhoods. It took us more than twenty
minutes to move less than one kilometre and arrive at El-machtel street
where Al-Mountadhar lives.

The young man told us that everything had started in the area of the Souk
el-bayâaa market. "I had gone there to buy a tape recorder, because in these
places you can find less expensive products than in stores," he added.
Al-Mountadhar explained to us that in the markets, souks, or other
commercial places, you can always find people who are called locally
"sidewalk salesmen." Sometimes they leave the sidewalk and directly take
over the roadway. This was the case on that day. These small, informal
merchants, mostly young people, had spread out all kinds of wares on
cardboard, or small wooden tables, or directly on the road. In general,
these are people who can't find a job and so create their own work. All
countries, particularly in the third world, which are plagued by
unemployment, are familiar with these kind of salespeople. "I was in the
process of negotiating the price of the product with a seller" continued
Al-Mountadhar, "when an American soldier brutally kicked and overturned the
cardboard with everything on top of it."

He pushed me along and then, as I instinctively raised my hands to protect
myself, the soldier suddenly threw himself on me, followed by his
companions. I tried to protest, but I was hit, my hands were tied and I was
pushed towards a vehicle which I was made to enter. As it started to move,
my eyes were blindfolded."

Some people in our democratic countries find it difficult to realise that
American soldiers are capable of being just as cruel as the torturers of
Saddam or any other famous dictator. However, it is to the United States
that some dictators, especially from Central and South America, send their
torturers to be trained. Hence cases of abuse by soldiers against the Iraqi
population take place every day. "Who do we complain to?" people ask me in a
desperate tone, "the Americans are both the judges and the torturers."

The young Al-Mountadhar also found it difficult to believe what he went
through, not in the jails of Saddam, but in those of the American army. "The
military vehicles drove about 15 or 20 minutes," continued the young man.
Because he was blindfolded, he couldn't provide any information about the
place where he was taken. He remembered that, after getting out of the car,
he was dragged for several meters before he was taken down a flight of
stairs to end up on the ground.

"The only words I kept repeating non-stop were, "I did nothing! Let me go!"
Shortly after, I was picked up and my head was shaved. "I had long hair,"
said Al-Mountadhar with a note of regret in his voice. Next, I was pushed
face towards the wall and my hands were tied above my head. When the first
blows hit my body, I couldn't stop myself from crying, not so much because
of the pain, but because I found all of this so incredibly unjust coming
from those who were claiming they had come to liberate us from the
oppression of Saddam. They beat me for hours. It was an eternity. At each
blow from what seemed to be a thick cable, I felt my flesh tear. I could
hardly hear the words of my torturer, "To teach you to push an American
back. Why did you push an American back?" I lost consciousness several
times, but each time was revived. It was horrible. I had never thought I
would live such an experience outside Saddam's regime."

After the beating, the soldiers kept the young man, covered in wounds and
blood, late into the night. In the end, it was past 1:00 am when he was
released, or rather thrown into a deserted street near a commercial centre.
It was in the middle of curfew, that is, the time when the young man most
risked being killed, either by the soldiers themselves, who have a
reputation of being trigger happy, or by any of all these forces of evil:
bandits, criminals or other networks of gangsters which have flourished in
the shadow of the occupation and create terror among the Iraqi population.

"I felt very weak and I had difficulty even getting on to the sidewalk,"
continued Al-Mountadhar. "All the while, I was calling for help. Finally, a
couple of people coming out of a building approached and carried me to the
nearest mosque. The brothers helped me, cleaned my wounds and kept me until
curfew was lifted, before taking me home."

It is important to realise that not all Iraqi victims of abuse like
Al-Mountadhar will openly tell about what they have undergone, let alone
denounce their torturers. Far from it; the tyranny of the preceding regime
sowed among them a fear so deep, that it will take training in a democratic
culture and human rights before they will be able to practice them and
reappropriate their country and their future. This is one of the great needs
which presents itself to humanitarian organisations concerned with human
rights. In this area, Quebec and Canada enjoy a good amount of trust from
the Iraqi population.

Greetings to everyone!

Baghdad, 30 July 2003
Zehira Houfani (writer and journalist),
Montreal member of Iraq Solidarity Project

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