In Iraqi Shiite Town, Skepticism At Government
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A group of suicide attacks and car bombings in Iraq today, several dozen people are reported dead. One of the worst recent bombings in Iraq struck the town of Dujail last week. It's a majority Shiite town in a largely Sunni part of Iraq.
As NPR's Peter Kenyon discovered on a recent visit to Dujail, that doesn't mean it follows the expected sectarian fault lines of who's on what side.
(Soundbite of moving vehicle)
PETER KENYON: Dujail's thrust to life on a dusty Sunday morning in mid-September with police slowly searching every car that tries to enter. The seasonal sandstorms have coated everything with the sepia-toned layer of grit so that a pyramid of oranges at a roadside stand jumps out at the eye in startling relief. As do the charred remains of an office building where a car bomb killed 31 people and wounded 47 more two days previously. The building housed political party offices, shops, and a small medical clinic. It's not clear what the target was. The police station behind glass walls across the street was unharmed.
Dujail is mainly known for two things, a failed 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam Hussain and the brutal crackdown Saddam ordered to teach the town a lesson. The elderly were shot, as were children. Scores of people died from the effects of arbitrary and savage torture. Families here rejoiced when the dictator was captured, and Dujail would seem to be a natural ally for the Shiite-led government that is now struggling to rule Iraq. But don't try to tell that to Hadji Muhammad Aladdin Aldegaeli (ph), a 60-year-old retiree.
Mr. HADJI MUHAMMAD ALLADIN ALDEGAELI (Dujail Resident): (Through translator) The whole of Iraq is a complete failure. The government is a bunch of thieves. In the past, we had Saddam's party, a party of infidels. But now, we have many parties who exist only for the money. Iraq has been robbed blind.
(Soundbite of Arab singing)
KENYON: At a funeral for his cousin, one of the victims of last week's car bomb attack, Mohammad Sayeed Almasawi (ph) accepts condolences. His reaction to the attack echoes the worries voiced by officials in Baghdad and Washington, that if the recent security gains aren't quickly solidified and built upon, Iraq's future could be a slide back into chaos and bloodshed.
Mr. MOHAMMAD SAYEED ALMASAWI (Dujail Resident): (Through translator) For the past five years, Dujail saw no security breaches except for this one. I think this is why we were targeted. It is a message that the stinging tail of terrorism still exists. So the government has to wake up and uproot these terrorists.
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KENYON: As a crew shovels broken glass, Dr. Taric Mohammad (ph) picks through the rubble of his clinic. He recalls that the government more than once promised a hospital for this town of 80,000 people but never delivered. Now, healthcare will be harder than ever. When he's asked about the statistics that show that Iraq is a safer place now than it was a year or two ago, he shakes his head.
Dr. TARIC MOHAMMAD (Dujail Resident): (Through translator) It has been four years now. You say safety? Where is safety? While there are explosions everywhere.
(Soundbite of siren)
KENYON: Heads turn as a convoy bearing Salaam Almaslamawi (ph), a senior officer with the Shiite Badr Brigade, sweeps into view, an Iraqi TV crew in tow.
Mr. SALAM ALMASLAMAWI (Senior Officer, Badr Brigades): (Through translator) It just occurs to me that you should make a monument here for the martyrs of Dujail, he declares. They did not die ordinary deaths. They are alive with God. The crimes cannot be forgotten.
KENYON: And all of a sudden, he's gone again in a cloud of dust, and the extra security that slowed traffic to a crawl this morning has abruptly stopped. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Dujail. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.