‘This Is the Freedom’

From Dahr’s blog

Mohammed works at our hotel. He just came up to deliver our laundry. When we asked how he was doing, he took off his sunglasses to show us a black eye. “Not so good,” he said.

Someone was drinking beer outside the hotel last night, and when Mohammed asked him to please move away from the entrance of the hotel the man stood up and promptly assaulted him.

“He said, ‘This is the freedom, and I want to drink here,'” Mohammed recounted. “Then he beat on me some more.”

Mohammed used to work as a translator at Abu Ghraib. He quit because some mujahideen saw him coming out of the prison one day, pulled him out of his car, threw him on the ground, and while holding a gun on him said, “We will kill you if you complete your job with the Americans!”

Needless to say, he quit. Just 3 days before he was threatened, the mujahideen killed one of his friends from work. He knows of five other translators whom the mujahideen have killed as well.

After his death threat, he approached an MP at the prison and told him he was threatened by the mujahideen and could tell the Americans where his attackers went. He had seen them drive to a nearby home.

“That is not our job,” was the reply of the soldier when given the evidently “inactionable” intelligence regarding the precise location of resistance fighters who had assaulted an Iraqi employee.

While working inside Abu Ghraib one day, Mohammed saw a friend of his who had been detained. He knew his friend was innocent. Soldiers had arrested him when they raided his home and found 5 million Iraqi dinar ($3,500), which he had because he was about to get married. The soldiers suspected him of funding the resistance.

Yet Mohammed couldn’t speak to his friend. You see, he had once before made the mistake of talking to a friend in the prison. The punishment for that misdeed had been prompt: the MPs had locked up Mohammed himself after he had worked 3 months as their translator.

“During the morning I was working for the coalition as a translator,” Mohammed explained, “and that night I was a prisoner!”

He was held for 4 months before being released, at which time he was told by a soldier, “Sorry, you are innocent.”

But work is nearly impossible to find in Baghdad, so Mohammed resumed his work as a translator for another month. This time, he knew he knew better than to speak to an incarcerated friend. Nevertheless, he told MPs that his friend was not guilty of anything, and an MP told him, “We know he is innocent.”

Then came the incident with the mujahideen, and Mohammed had finally had enough.

Mohammed studied for 7 years to be a doctor, and even worked two years in a hospital. “I am a peaceful man, I’ve never fought anyone in my life,” he explained. “But problems keep finding me here.”

As it turns out, Mohammed was also detained by Ba’athists during the regime of Saddam Hussein. They held and tortured him for 6 months. Thus, his willingness to work with the coalition…

Yet another tragic story in occupied Iraq, one of countless tragedies that are woven throughout Iraq today. These days, I don’t have to send a fixer out to find a fascinating story for me to cover. I can just talk to the man who happens to deliver our laundry.

Despite having the most powerful military on earth roaming the streets of Baghdad, the security situation continues to degrade from horrible to staggering. While every day in the news we see the car bombs and attacks on U.S. soldiers, Mohammed’s incident last night is indicative of the general lawlessness that has engulfed the capital city under the occupation.

Crime is rampant, and looters abound. Not on as large a scale as during the fall of Baghdad, but they are at work daily. For example, the other day at the site of a bombing, a car that was destroyed by the blast was pushed off to the side of the road. Looters promptly commenced stripping it of parts. Security guards and Iraqi Police stood by watching as men worked feverishly removing the tires.

Looters steal the wheels off of a car destroyed moments before by a bomb in Baghdad while fellow Iraqis watch with interest.

Ominous signs erected by the Coalition Forces are scattered about Baghdad. Signs which ever so subtly warn people not to park in the wrong place:

“Anyone Parking In This Area Will Be Detained”

Signs at checkpoints which read:

“No Photography, Violators Will Be Shot”


“Use of Deadly Force Authorized”

Stenciled warnings on metal sheeting that lines one side of a bridge over the Tigris River read:

“By Order of The Coalition Forces
Do Not Tamper or Remove Sheets
Under Penalty of Force”


“This is the freedom,” indeed.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.