Readings — From the February 2009 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
By Kazim, a Shia resident of Amara, Iraq, from a personal narrative recorded by the Current Violations in Iraq Project. Directed by Daniel Rothenberg of the International Human Rights Law Institute of the DePaul University College of Law, the project, which employs an all-Iraqi staff of interviewers and analysts, has collected testimony from 1,929 individuals on human-rights violations committed in Iraq since 2003.
Not all of the deeds of man are equal, just as not every person is equal. Therein lies the difference between good and evil.
I am a simple young man. I live in the governorate of Maysan with my family. My three brothers and I used to own shops. I used to sit in one of the shops with my friends Raad, who lived in our neighborhood, and Hasan, who was from a neighborhood nearby. We discussed many things. Since we were young, our ideas were often similar.
After the fall of the regime, various militias emerged under different political factions. We saw men entering the market wearing black clothing and holding weapons. They had new cars with tinted windows. We heard people say, “Those guys are from the Mahdi Army.” We were impressed. My friends and I admired their power and the way people revered them whenever they entered the market. Raad, Hasan, and I decided to join the Mahdi Army.
I visited my neighbor Sayyid Abbas, a comman der, to ask him how we could join. He said, “The Imam’s army welcomes anyone who loves Islam, loves the Imam Mahdi, embodies the traits of the Imam Mahdi, and follows Islamic teachings.”
“My friends and I would like to join,” I said.
“Welcome to you and your friends,” he said. “Come tomorrow to the office of al-Sayyid al-Shahid al-Sadr to complete the recruitment forms.”
The next morning at the office, they asked us routine questions: name, address, and date of birth. They also asked if you were a member of the Baath Party, because if you’d been a member you couldn’t join the Mahdi Army.
After we filled out the forms, we became members. We started carrying out operations around Diwaniya. All of a sudden we were riding in new cars with tinted windows. With each operation we were transformed from simple young men into arrogant soldiers.
One day in 2006, Sayyid Abbas left to provide protection for the Shia pilgrims, and he asked us to stay at the office to guard it. In the evening a lady came to the office crying and holding a little girl. “May God prolong your lives,” she said. “Please help me.”
“Please, sit,” Raad said. “What’s the matter?”
“My husband,” the lady responded, “accuses me of lack of honor and says he might divorce me. I don’t have anybody in Maysan. My family is in Baghdad. I don’t have anyone to turn to but you.”
So we said, “Give us your husband’s name and address and go ahead of us. We will come to your house and fix the problem.”
After she left, we drove a pickup truck to the lady’s house. We wore black and carried weapons. We knocked on the door, and a man answered.
“Is Abu Hana available?” I asked.
“Yes,” the man answered. “I am Abu Hana. Please come in.”
Raad said, “We would like you to come with us to the office.”
“What?” Abu Hana said. “Why do I have to go with you?”
I yelled at him, “Come with us! Don’t argue!”
He was afraid and said, “Okay, sir, I’ll come with you.”
We put him in the car and went back to the office. We threw him into a dark room and tied him to a chair. Raad started slapping his face.
The man screamed, “What did I do? Why are you hitting me?”
I kicked him in the chest until he fell to the ground with the chair.
He kept yelling, “What is my crime? Why are you hitting me?”
Then Hasan hit him hard in the mouth and said, “Shut up!” He started bleeding from the force of the blow.
At that point the director of our office entered with Sayyid Abbas and said, “What is this? What are you doing? Why are you hitting this man?”
“Because he wants to divorce his wife, who is an innocent, kind woman,” Raad said. “We said we’d help her.”
Then Sayyid Abbas began yelling, “You help her by beating up her husband?”
The director of the office ordered Sayyid Abbas to interrogate us regarding Abu Hana. He apologized to Abu Hana and had him sent back to his house.
Sayyid Abbas and the director expelled us from the office. Because they kicked us out, Raad, Hasan, and I bore a grudge against Sayyid Abbas and everyone in the Mahdi Army.
After about two weeks, a neighbor of Hasan’s learned of our expulsion from the office. He was a member of Ashab al-Qadiyah, enemies of the Mahdi Army. Anyone kicked out of the Mahdi Army could become a member of the Ashab al-Qadiyah militia. The man asked us to join. He told us that we’d be riding in new cars like we used to and that people would respect us. So we all agreed to join the militia.
We went to the house of Hajji Sadiq, the high commander in Ashab al-Qadiyah. When he asked us why we had been expelled, we told him our story. Hajji Sadiq told us that the expulsion was excessive because we were grown men and shouldn’t have been insulted in that way. He said we should take revenge on everyone who had harmed us and that we must hold all accountable for their actions, especially young women. He said that we must get rid of girls with bad reputations in order to cleanse our city of whores. There were more lectures about retaliation. He said God does not allow one to keep silent when faced with the truth and that we must take action against all those who violate the law.
One day in 2007, I was sitting at home. There was a knock at the door, and my mother answered. It was Sayyid Abbas’s wife, who was going around offering sweets to the neighbors to celebrate her husband’s promotion from the rank of brigade commander to sector commander. When I heard this, I grew angry. I called Raad and Hasan to tell them about Sayyid Abbas’s promotion. We met at Raad’s house and decided that we should kill Sayyid Abbas because he had gotten us expelled.
I spent a day watching him, and, at eleven o’clock that night, he left his house and got into his car. I approached.
“How are you, sir?”
He got out to greet me and told me he was doing well. Then Hasan and Raad came out from behind the car. Hasan pointed his gun at Sayyid Abbas and ordered him to get into the car with us. He got in, and we took him away from town. It was pitch-black. There were very few cars. Sayyid Abbas realized that we wanted to kill him.
Hasan held the pistol to his head.
“You dogs!” Sayyid Abbas said. “Are you going to kill me?”
“Shut up!” said Hasan. “You’re the dog, not us!”
Raad started laughing. “Of course we’re going to kill you! Why else would we bring you here?”
Then Sayyid Abbas turned to me. “How about you, Kazim? Do you want to kill me, too?”
“Do you think,” I answered, “we brought you out here just to admire your handsome face?”
“God is my shelter,” Sayyid Abbas said. “You’re evil murderers. If you kill me, you’ll burn in the fires of hell while I will be a martyr and go to the eternal heavens.”
He continued to swear at us. I pulled out my pistol and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Then we took him out of the car and placed him on the ground. Raad grabbed a large rock and threw it against Sayyid Abbas’s head until it shattered his skull. We had a meat cleaver in the car. Hasan brought it out, and we cut him into pieces until one couldn’t tell the difference between his head and his limbs. We left him on the ground and took off in the car.
Sayyid Abbas’s men searched for him. They found his remains after two days, but they
didn’t know we were the ones who killed him.
Hajji Sadiq had advised us to eliminate women who had a bad reputation. I remembered a girl who used to have relations with my uncle before she got married. I got her address from my uncle, and Raad, Hasan, and I decided to kill her.
We went to her house at one in the morning and knocked on the door. We heard a man on the other side of the door say, “Who’s there?”
“My brother,” I said, “we are from the al-Sayyid al-Sadr office. We are searching every home for arms. We would like to search yours as well.”
“My brother,” Raad said, “open the door. It’s a simple routine check.”
The man opened the door and Hasan held a gun to his head. “Where’s your wife?”
“Why?” the man screamed. “What do you want with my wife?”
Raad and I went inside the house.
The man’s wife was in the kitchen shaking.
“You slut!” I said.
She was pregnant and wearing a nightgown. Raad pulled her hair, and she started to scream. He smacked her on her mouth. We grabbed her, forced our way past her husband, and placed her in the trunk of the car. Her husband couldn’t do a thing. We went to a place behind one of the primary schools. I stopped the car and got out. I opened the trunk and took the lady out.
She lay on the ground and begged. “Please, don’t kill me. I’m in the seventh month of my pregnancy. Please have mercy on me and my unborn baby.”
I shot her in the head. She fell to the ground, a still corpse. We got in the car and drove away.
A month later, Raad died in a car accident. Then I realized that when people die, they take nothing with them but their virtuous deeds.
Soon, Hasan went to Baghdad to work. I was left alone to work in our shops.
All I can do now is hope that God will forgive me for my crimes. I hope that those I treated badly, those I brutalized, will forgive me. I often say to myself, “I killed Sayyid Abbas because he was cruel to me and kicked me out of the office. But what did that poor woman and her unborn baby do to deserve to die?”
People still speak badly about that woman. They say that members of al-Sadr’s office killed her because she was a whore. Yet God knows and I know that this poor woman was innocent. Her only crime was having an honest relationship with my uncle before she got married. After she married, she never contacted my uncle again because she was faithful to her husband. Every day I want to go to her husband and tell him that his wife was a virtuous woman and that we killed her because we were reckless young men.
As I said before, not everyone is equal. It is true that we are young men who killed, looted, and plundered. We were members of the Mahdi Army, but not all the members of the Mahdi Army are criminals. There are those who work for good, who try to prevent evil and to help the oppressed. And there are others who engage in killing. It is the Ashab al-Qadiyah who kill the innocent people and young girls.
I hope my story remains a secret. And I wish for the occupier’s withdrawal from our country, because that is the reason why everything has happened.
More from Daniel Rothenberg: