Monday, December 29, 2003

Ahmed Ibrahim, the senior undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for the Iraqi Police.

Not less than 43 photographs of Ibrahim and other senior police officials decorate his office walls and desk, including at least three identical photos of Ibrahim shaking hands with L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq.

Like many Iraqis working closely with the Americans, he is officially an optimist.

Asked if attacks would increase or die down now that Saddam is behind bars, Ibrahim referred to a brief window of time just before death when Muslims believe there is clarity and forgiveness and then it's all over.

“These operations are just like the awareness before death for those who are behind these attacks. The violence will come to an end soon. We have intelligence and we have every indication things will be over soon.”


Iman Khider, 46, is another optimist. It's refreshing to hear the hope in her voice and the confidence she has in a new Iraq. But she is an exile. Her reaction to Saddam's capture is wholly unlike the feelings of many, many Iraqis here who regardless of their oppression are still grieving for their country after watching Saddam give himself up without a fight.

Iman is more than thrilled to be back in Iraq after an extended vacation and an attempt to study abroad turned into more than two decades away from her family.

"Twenty five years I spent outside Iraq, moving from place to place, UK, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the US. All of these years, Iraq was in my eyes. I don't remember a day that I did not think of Iraq. All of my family is here except me."

In addition to her mother and father, who are still alive, Iman has 7 sisters and a brother.

She is married to another Iraqi exile who has a contract with the Defense Department to help rebuild Iraq. Both Iman and her husband worked most recently in a opposition radio station in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. They've also lived in New Jersey.

Iman left Iraq when she was 19. She had wanted to study art but was rejected by the College of Art because she was not a Ba'athist. She decided to study outside of Iraq instead, and was on vacation in Lebanon when the Iran-Iraq war started and she could not return.

At the same time, Iman had worked in a government ministry. While in Lebanon, she applied to the Iraq embassy to continue her studies outside of Iraq but was rejected because she was a government employee.

"I was told I will face the death penalty if I did not return to Iraq," she said. She finished college in Lebanon anyway.

"In Iraq, the government was always asking my family about me. I stopped giving information to my family for 17 years. I tried to send verbal messages to them because it was too dangerous for them for me to send letters."

Iman managed to see her mother once, when her mother visited Amman shortly after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. It was their first meeting in 17 years.

Three months ago, Iman finally made it back to Baghdad, driving in from Kuwait. She says she will never leave Iraq again.

She found new generations of her family she had never met. Even the younger members of her family had gray hair. But it took several steps before she could bring herself to their doorstep.

"I was supposed to go directly to my family, but I could not get out of the car because of my emotions. I went directly to the Sheraton instead," she said.

"I stayed in the hotel and called them by phone after two hours. I told them I will call you tomorrow, it's difficult for me to see you today. Then one by one I saw them. I was afraid I would not be able to withstand my feelings."

Mostly Iman is confused about why the old regime viewed her as such a threat.

She's returned to find a country broken by sanctions and brainwashed by Saddam. When his statue fell on April 9th, she knew it was a historic moment. But it didn't move her as much as the video of his capture.

"I shouted when I saw him. I called him a dog. Twenty five years I'm waiting for this moment. I said, 'I paid 25 years of my life, I lost my family because of you.' I left the house, I walked for a long time, from al Jadida Street to Haifa Street. I felt that my rights were returned to me, finally, just then."

As for rebuilding Iraq, she is confident that capitalism will bring in a new era.

Iman is angry about the coalition's mistakes and their inability to provide basic services such as electricity and gasoline. She faults the coalition for not securing Iraq's borders, and for not keeping their promise to improve and add to the rice, milk, tea and sugar that Iraqis get from the food rationing program.

But she's confident in the long term.

"We've opened a new page. People want to work, they want to eat and Saddam was an obstacle to that. The Iraqi people can't be patient. They want to catch something in their hands and the Americans are very slow to act. Iraqis have suffered a lot so they are in a hurry now."

"I'm optimistic. I know the Americans are telling the truth about the old regime. They are very slowly improving their way of doing things. They depend on trial and error and this takes time."