I missed my Samir today. I was sat in front of my telly in the hotel room thinking about Saddam’s appearance in court. I was tired. I’d been poolside last night with one bottle too many of red wine talking sex with French journalists listening to the odd explosion outside our walled compound.
I needed to sleep-in but a Sudanese friend called early and woke me. He seemed distraught. He told me that his cousin, a Sudanese with an American passport had been kidnapped last week. He was responsible for trying to find money to take to one of the many ‘kidnap offices’ on Karada. A big industry in lawless Iraq. They passed the money and were told that their cousin would be waiting at home. But two days later they still heard nothing, until news came that his dead body had been found in the street. Abdullah looked at me with sad eyes. He came to Iraq 15 years ago fleeing a civil war in his own country, but all he has ever seen here is war and hardship. “still better then home” he insists. “you know Iraq has never been more unsafe, they respect chickens more then humans now. You know you can be killed for as little as $15 – I know a cafe where you can hire people to kill. More important people are little more expensive maybe $50.”
Abdullah left and I went back to bed, fell into a deep sleep and missed Samir who I was supposed to meet around the pool. So there I was sat waiting for Saddam’s courtroom appearance on my own. I suddenly thought to film it, with Samir and his family, but I was a little nervous. Yesterday I’d put my foot in it with Saha and I was worried she may be angry with me still. I’d pushed her too much asking probing ‘Paxman’ like questions about her mother and Samir. I left her in tears. I felt terrible.
But I went anyway and Saha was out. Samir was with his brother. Neither seemed bothered about Saddam’s tv appearance until I pushed them. I wanted to film them, especially ‘Saddam loyalist Saha’ but she was out. Finally the pictures came through and it was electric. Samir and his brother watching avidly. Even Fadi, the wayward son, pulled himself away from his porn sites on the internet to come see.
Samir got angry. “This man should not be speaking. He will stir the people up again. He knows how to get to them. They should kill him now and have done.” Then Saha and Rita arrive home. They rush into the room. Saha is unrepentant about her views. “He should not be tried. He is still the President. Iraqi people love this man.” WHAT? I’m shocked and look to Rita to make sense of this. After 2 years living in America, maybe she can shed light on this. She looks at me.. “you know Sean, we all love this man. Me too.” Samir leaves the room. He has heard it all before.
Later, driving back to the hotel, he tells me that his children do not love Saddam in the way I think. He remembers first seeing Saddam being paraded on tv with his long beard, being manhandled by a dentist. “You know I hate the man passionately but when I saw this it made me so depressed. He was our President, our leader for years. Imagine if Britain was invaded and they took the Queen and did this her and showed her on television, imagine how the British people would feel. My children are like all Iraqi people, they are proud and they feel wounded by what has happened. It doesn’t mean they want to defend Saddam .. but he was our President Sean for 25 years.”
We pull up to the checkpoint that leads into our hotel. 5 young guards all with Kalashnikovs open the car to search it. Security has been increased since the recent suicide bomb attack on the hotel complex. I smile at a burly looking guard and attempt small talk. “You see Saddam on tv?” he looks at me sternly and smiles and holds his thumb up to me. “Saddam .. a very good man.” I look at the guard next to him. He is smiling too. “Saddam.. a good man.” We drive through leaving the guards clutching their guns. I look at Samir, thinking about our pro-Saddamist guards and how easy it would be for them to switch loyalty, or be providing information about who and where people are staying in the hotel. But Samir is angry, “what did I tell you… stop talking Saddam with people will you. These are tense times.”
Newly liberated Iraq is certainly no place for small talk.