Dujail, Iraq, Asharq Al-Awsat- Referred to by its inhabitants as “al Smijah” (the little fish), because it is shaped like a fish, and located 50km north of the capital Baghdad, the town of Dujail was transformed overnight from a beautiful green city into a city of death following a an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life on 8 July 1982.
Asharq al Awsat visited Dujail a day before the trial of the former Iraqi dictator and 23 years after its men were rounded up and its fields brunt, a day after an ambush targeted Saddam. The people of Dujail remember that stifling hot Thursday all too clearly when the president exacted his brutal and bloody revenge.
• Hassan Ibrahim Hamza’s eyes fill with tears as he recalls the visit. He signals with his arms to the location where Saddam’s convoy was attacked by a group of young men from Dujail, numbering no more than a dozen. The former dictator had entered the town gloriously in a bomb-proof convoy, accompanied by tanks and armored vehicles, the sort which no one had seen before.
Currently the deputy head of the municipal council, Hassan revealed, “Saddam’s visit was well choreographed. When suddenly shots were fired at his convoy, his bodyguards responded and killed the gunmen. Half an hour later, Saddam appeared on the balcony of the medical center, where his guards were being treated, and threatened the people of Dujail with vengeance.”
• A.D, a representative for the parents and families of political prisoners seized during the incident, repeats statistics that appear to be well known by all the town’s inhabitants. “In total, 259 people were martyred. 143 were tried at once and then killed. Others were put to death in later trials. 612 men were detained after the botched assassination attempt by the state security services from 78 different families. Five families lost all their male members while thirteen children were born in jail. 16hectares of arable land was destroyed and an entire neighborhood, the al Wihda area, was totally destroyed. Some houses were blown up with their inhabitants inside,” he said, adding that, “the dead were buried in unmarked graves. Many died in jail or perished in the desert.”
Mohammed Hassan Mahmud al Majid, son of one a tribal leader and currently deputy governor of Dujail, indicated that suppression started after Saddam came to power when men when groups of men were detained; All the male relatives of Mahmud al Majid were arrested, including Mohammed, when the family elder refused a gift from the president as he felt other poorer families were more deserving. Mohammed was sentenced for seven years behind bars.
Following Saddam’s infamous visit in the summer of 1982, an estimate 1450 of Dujail’s citizens were arrested, out of a total of 4000, with a number of families and individuals taken for questioning to intelligence centers and Abu Ghraib prison, and then transferred to the al Sawamah desert where they lived for three years; many died from hunger and disease, according to Mohammed.
Under the supervision of Taha Yssin Ramadan, later Iraq ’s vice president, agricultural land was destroyed and the river of Dujail , one its oldest landmarks, over 4000 years old, was buried under a tiled street.
• Children were not sparred the former dictator’s wrath with some victims as young as seven. Mohammed Jamil Ayyub, aged seven, was killed after hia age was changed to twenty five, with other male members of his family, according to survivors, scattered near Dujail. Najem Abd Jawad’s fate was similar; the eight year old was put to death after a warrant signed by Saddam.
• Thaer Hussein Yass, from the al Khizri tribe, remembers hearing about the president’s visit as an eleven year old boy. “We ran from our houses until we reached Dujail’s school and then the medical clinic. Standing on top of the building, Saddam said angrily, “These actions will not serve you and we will not forget what happened” and then left the building. Mass arrests started that day, Thaer recalled. Twenty days later, “I was arrested at home and detained with all the members of my family and taken in crowded ice cream vans to the security headquarters where we stayed for 11 days.” They were later moved to Abu Ghraib where “we grew old and would no longer fit in our clothes. We did not know the fate of our elders. We were then moved to al Busayyah, in the desert south of al Samawah. We lived in stone huts for three years with other families from Dujail. Many died there. We never knew why our relatives were killed and we were persecuted when we did not know anything about politics.”
• Ali Kadhim al Zubaydi revealed, “At the time, I was a teacher at al Kadhimiyah but my family and tribe were living in Dujail. After the incident, my entire family was detained, including the family of my eldest brother, Abd Jawad Kadhim.” No one told us about what happened to my family. They were all massacred, including two children, Mahmu and Najm Eddine, whose ages were changed to 25. They were killed with all the others. Barzan al Tikriti [Saddam’s three half brothers] and Taha al Jazrawi [Ramadan, Saddam’s deputy] took part in the revenge assault on the town.”
• We were unable to meet Amal and Zeina, who were less than three months Old on July 182, as they dies in Abu Ghraib, were their mother was detained, due to a lack of milk and medicines.
• His voice trembling with sadness and pain, Ali al Hajj Hussein, spoke the death of his seven brothers, after his nineteen year old sibling took part in the assassination attempt. “After Saddam was shot, the security services responded by shooting randomly and killing dozens. In total, 43 members of my family were taken for questioning at the intelligence headquarters. Barazan al Tikriti, Taha al Jazrawi and Smair al Sheikly (former Minister of Interior) oversaw the torture.” Recalling the violence inside Iraqi jails, Ali revealed how a man later sentenced to death told other inmates how he was taken to a room where Saddam was sitting. “The president asked him “Do you know me?” The man answered affirmatively and was hit by an ashtray whose marks remained until he was sentenced to death.”
He painted a grim picture, familiar by now of death and suffering in Iraqi detention centers, Abu Ghraib jail and then unforgiving desert. “Many children and adults died for no fault of their own.”