'We've Been Suffering ... What Took You So Long?'
Abdul Rahman Almotawa, Arab News War Correspondent
BASRA, 12 April 2003 In the towns of southern Iraq many are asking the US-led forces: "Where have you been? Iraq has been suffering under Saddam Hussein's regime for 30 years. What took you so long?"
A man told Arab News about the daily suffering and the destitution in which many in this area live. He talked of the exodus from Basra and other once progressive cities to little towns in the south, escaping British shelling and the jets on official and civilian locations at the entrance to Basra.
"We Arabs have been known throughout history for our pride," he said. "We are not poor my village Misan is the wealthiest in the world for its oil. We are afraid of an occupation masquerading as liberation. American and British companies will rebuild, but with our money and we will be forced to pay for any service we get. Is this the price of so-called liberation that we pay for what they have taken from our land?"
He is not the only one to express these sentiments. But Iraqis have also led the Anglo-American forces to the hiding places of Baathist groups. They did this only after the American and British forces began to tear down the statues of Saddam Hussein and crossed out in red paint huge posters bearing his face.
The cities in the south (Safwan, Azubeir and Umm Qasr) all suffer from lack of water, electricity outages and shortage of medical supplies.
Chaos reigned international aid distribution posts. The cities are in need of security to prevent theft and pilfering that has increased in the administrative vacuum and as a result of hunger and destitution.
An Iraqi woman carrying a child of no more than a year waits for clean water. The water provided to southern Iraq by Kuwait is not enough. Drivers wait for hours to get water from the pipe to then transport and sell it to citizens. But the water costs more than most families can afford.
One young man suggested filling the huge reservoirs with water and pumping it into homes so that people wouldn't have to wait for hours for water. Apparently, the engineers in the British forces say that the reservoirs are not suitable for use they must be cleaned and purified and repaired before they can be filled with clean water in order to prevent huge health and environmental problems.
The military and civilians accompanying the journalists tried in vain to calm those assembled at entry points for aid deliveries. Some young men began to throw stones at the car.
In Umm Qasr we stood in front of a group of children innocently inquiring about the equipment the journalists were carrying. One asked me: "Did you see what Saddam did to us? No water, no food what is wrong with you? Don't you have a brain?"
Another child of about eleven, called Ali Abdul Rahim said: "My father was in prison for about a year because my uncle opposed the regime." Is he out now? "Yes. The men of the regime, around 500 have escaped to their families in the north, leaving their posts. We are relieved."
The boy said the cities in the south are safe from war, but not from hunger. "You could be walking in the street and an armed man will stop you and take your car and any equipment you have to sell it so that he can eat and drink and feed his family."
Does he still fear Saddam? "Me, no. My father and uncle were both in prison, but in spite of that I am not afraid. I promise you, nobody is scared of the regime any more."