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Freedom, to taste fruits of handouts

Umm Qasr, southern Iraq, April 9: In Safwan, aid convoys spark riots. In Basra, looters run amok in the wake of British armoured vehicles. In Baghdad, television footage shows, an old man in his frenzy is beating a poster of Saddam Hussein with a shoe. Mobs cart away furniture and tyres and tubes. People fight amongst themselves over the share of loot.

This is the picture across Iraq’s towns touched by the forces of liberation. Lawlessness spreads like a pandemic.

“A man comes with his daughter, hurt in a firefight somewhere, weeps and cries with rage and says I want that medicine and picks it up and threatens to break everything. What do we do'” the paediatrician at the hospital here says. (The doctor does not want to give his name because he has this to say: “Saddam gone, good. Now British and American go.”)

After three weeks of war, that lawlessness is evident even if it is not as much on camera as it has been.

The nation of Iraq is teetering on the brink of statelessness. In Baghdad today, Iraq’s capital was being pillaged by its own shellshocked townspeople, a crazed lot after the incessant pounding from the air and the crossfire that claims innocents day after day after day.

It cuts across the population, this statelessness of the mind. Doctors and engineers and technicians and electricians and railway workers.

Tariq Abdul, a electrician here, admits that his sons might have been involved to in the looting that followed the invasion.

Isam Abdal Hasan, 37, with a daughter in his arms knows a smattering of English.

“There is no authority. People do what they like to get water and medicine. No food shortage. But water wanted.”

Isam, a ticket collector with the ‘Republic Railway’, has calculated that his family of seven — five children — has been getting water “donated” by the people of Kuwait through a new pipeline. “250 dinars for one bucket,” he said.

Abdul Hasin Manhal, 40, has two wives and a 10-member family. He is a crane operator in the docks for 25 years. But he is without work for a month.

“Some Baath Party people ran away to Karbala and Basra after we pointed them out. Now no fighting. But no water. No nothing. Everybody loot, everybody rob.”

In Umm Qasr now, the population is dependent on handouts. Its children beg; its men and women want telephones — to call relatives abroad — watches, pens, even the empty PET bottles. Water.

For 20 years under Saddam Hussein, the people Umm Qasr were denied the right to live with dignity. Now they are stripped of their dignity as an independent people that can fight for itself. They have been promised liberty by the American and the British forces. They seek deliverance.

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