The Night the Americans Came

January 27th, 2006 - by admin

Ali Fadhil / Guardian – 2006-01-27 23:23:58

(January 11, 2006) — Last weekend an American special task force unit raided my house. It was precisely the kind of terrifying experience I have had described to me over and over again by Iraqis I have interviewed in the past two-and-a-half years. My wife, Zina, described it as like something out of a Hollywood action movie.

It began at half past midnight on Saturday when explosives blew apart the three entrances to my house. We thought we had been caught in a bombing, but then a rifle sneaked round our bedroom door and shot a couple of bullets blindly; suddenly our room was filled with the wild sounds of US soldiers.

My three-year-old daughter Sarah woke to this nightmare. She pushed herself on to me and shouted “Daddy, Americans! They will take you! No, no, not like this daddy…”

She tried to say something to one of the soldiers but her tears stopped her from speaking. Instead of blaming the soldier, I could see she was blaming me. I tried to calm her down but, as I did so, the soldier threw me on to the ground and tied me.

They then took me downstairs and made me sit in the living room while they smashed every piece of furniture we have. There were about 20 soldiers inside the house and several others on guard on the roof. A blue-eyed captain came to me holding my Handycam camcorder and questioned me aggressively: “Can you explain to me why you have this footage?”

I explained. “These are for a film we are making for Channel 4 Dispatches. There is nothing sinister about it.”

But that was not good enough. He seemed to think he had found very important evidence. Hooded and with my hands tied I was taken to an armoured vehicle.

I was then driven to an unknown destination. I spent the entire journey thinking back on what has happened in the past two years of the occupation. I have so often heard of such things happening to others.

But now I was experiencing it myself, and I too could feel the shame and humiliation. It is this kind of disrespect for the privacy of the home — that tribal people regard as a terrible humiliation — which Sunnis in the west of Iraq see as legitimising resistance.

When the journey eventually ended I found myself in a small room, two metres square, with wooden walls, a refrigerator and an oval table in the middle. Soon two men came in, civilians, wearing vests. “Do you know why you are here, Mr Fadhil?” they asked me.

I replied: “To be interrogated?”

With a broad smile, one of them said: “No. There was a mistake in the address and we apologise for the damage.”

So that’s it. They blew three doors apart with explosives, smashed the house windows, trashed all our furniture, damaged the car, risked our lives by shooting inside rooms aimlessly, hooded me and took me from my family who didn’t know if they would ever see me again — and then, with a smile, they dismissed it as a small mistake.

So was this intimidation or just a typical piece of bungled repression? I don’t know and cannot tell, though I have yet to have my tapes returned. I do know, however, the effect it has had on my daughter.

Sarah hates all soldiers and calls them Americans even if they are Iraqis. There is no way she will change her mind about them after that nightmare. There are many Iraqis — Iraqis who welcomed the fall of Saddam — who feel exactly the same today.

Dr Ali Fadhil’s investigation for Guardian Films will be shown on Channel 4’s Dispatches later this year.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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