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They will commit the biggest mistake of their life if they don’t let Iraqis control the security situation. . . . The people of Mecca know their city. —Major Bassem Mahmoud, police spokesman June 2004 Baghdad 6.11.04 I’ve come downstairs to make a grocery run this morning and found Dahr in the lobby doing yet another interview on torture . The subject is a middle-aged woman from Baquba who claims to have witnessed some of the worst abuse, including rape. The woman has brought along her twelve-year-old kid, Taha, who in his restlessness starts letting ›y with embarrassing non sequiturs, like the names of all the former mukhabarrat of‹cers they know. Hawassim, the translator with a knack for ‹nding us ex-Baathists to interview, is clearly happy to see me. “Why don’t you take Taha to the store with you?” Fine. I’m in no mood to do interviews. C’mon kid, I’ll buy you a candy bar and a Coke. “And don’t say you’re American. He’s terri‹ed of Americans .” Hunh. I’m not sure how afraid he could possibly be of me— I’m only a couple inches taller than he is, bespectacled and looking a little befuddled because I’ve been working all morn169 ing. The only reason I’ve even emerged is because we’re nearly out of water and I need a pack of cigarettes. We walk out into the sti›ing heat on the quiet Friday-morning street. It takes us about ‹ve minutes to ‹nd an open shop, so I quiz Taha about his age, his school, his brothers and sisters. He answers cautiously, sizing me up, offering nothing. I think of all the troops who have told me that it’s the “smiles on the faces of the children” that make them sure they’re doing the right thing being here. I try to buy him a Coke and a candy bar, but even at twelve he still insists on paying for them, and we do the usual dance. Who’s treating who? No, put your money away. I’ll get it. I’ve ‹gured out enough Arabic to tell the shopkeeper not to take the kid’s money, this one’s on me. We’re halfway back to the hotel when he decides to try me out. “Do you like the American army?” “No.” Taha launches immediately into the story of how they arrested his mother right in front of him. “Why don’t you like the American army?” he asks when he ‹nishes the story. “For the same reasons.” That’s all I can say on the subject in Arabic. It’s hard for me to elaborate, but it’s essentially true. Later, when I write about this, someone will inevitably say, “Well, you just focus on the bad stuff. What about all the good stuff the American army is doing over there?” I look back at Taha and imagine giving it my best shot: “Well, actually, the U.S. military is here to free and bring stability to your country. What happened to your mother was a necessary but regrettable thing. And she’s probably guilty of allowing Baathists to meet at your house, just like the army said (though she’s apparently not enough of a security threat to be in prison anymore). You’re just focusing on the negative things. And look, kid, you’re going to have to learn this sooner or later, 170 BAGHDAD BULLETIN but you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet. So stop your whining and eat that candy bar. Actually, hand it here. Your Uncle Sam wants a bite, you ungrateful little punk.” But I say none of this. My Arabic’s still not that good. If anyone out there wants to explain all this to him, I’ll give you his number. He’s a sweet kid, quite sharp, I’m sure he’ll get it. After that I’m ready for an afternoon off, so I ask Saloomi, my colleague, to go to Khadmiya to ‹nd out about the worsening situation there. There were three attacks on the U.S. base there on Friday, after months of imposed quiet. The residents refused to let the Mehdi Army operate in the city for a long time, but they seem to have come around. Hiba—the translator I’m currently working with—and I take her children , Yousef and Hamoudi...


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