by Max Sawdayee


Thursday October 23, 1969

News from the north is rather disconcerting.  It seems that the situation there is getting out of hand.  Government troops are burning everything on their way.  Whole Kurdish villages are set ablaze, their population massacred or chased away.  The Ba’ath is trying to subdue the Kurds by force of arms, and by terror as it is doing here.  But Mulla Mustafa Al-Barazani is no coward.  He is a born fighter, experienced in mountainous engagements.  It is currently known here that his tough warriors are killing government soldiers by the dozen every day in response to Iraqi army methods or murder and destruction, ambushing and trapping enemy soldiers everywhere in a wild mountainous region which only they, the Kurds, know and hold quite well.

Any while the Ba’ath is getting closer and closer to the Soviet Union, the Kurds are getting closer and closer to Iran and the West.  It is true that Al-Barazani ultimately cannot defeat Iraqi troops, yet he can put the Ba’ath regime in a most untenable position, so that the latter is liable to be overthrown unless it seeks a practicably fair solution to the Kurdish problem and halt butcheries on both sides.

We are receiving such huge quantities of airplanes, tanks, guns and other war supplies and equipment from the Soviet Union that the Soviets are beginning to master and dominate Iraq.  It isn’t unlikely that this country will, in the near future, turn into the strongest Russian bastion in the Middle East.

I wonder what the Shah of Iran, and other leaders in the area who, like him, earnestly wish to preserve their independence, think of such a nightmare!

Thursday October 30, 1969

The Stop

Late in the afternoon wife suggests that I go to the nearby market, for a change, to buy two small phials of a certain orange juice powder known as ‘Tang’.  Both children love it.  I take my elder daughter with me and set out on my ‘mission’.

While crossing the main Al-Nidhale Street on my way back home, holding the two orange juice powder containers with one hand and my daughter’s hand with the other, a big truck approaches carrying a huge black war tank, heading to the north of Baghdad.  At first I do not notice that the truck is going with speed.  Once I do realise that, I try to run with my daughter to catch the other side of the street quickly.  As luck would have it, the two glass phials fall from my hand in the middle of the pavement and break into tiny pieces, strewing about a square metre of ground with the golden powder.  For a fraction of a second I think what to do, and decide to stop with my daughter just where we are, in the middle of the pavement, assuming that the truck driver may have seen what happened.  If so, he may suspect something, for sheer curiosity or suspicion, which he may exploit as a pretext against a Jew.

My assumption is correct.

The truck halts close to us with a crashing noise.  The driver, a fat, imposing soldier of about forty, gets down from his seat and comes running to see ‘what I have done’.  Another younger soldier, seated next to him, also comes running, with a small grey submachine gun in hand.  While the driver, turning cherry-red, keeps looking with suspicious, wide-open eyes at the gold-coloured powder scattered on the ground, the other soldier looks at me with sharp, burning eyes, and pointing his submachine gun towards my daughter’s head as he would do in a moment of confrontation.  The soldier driver shouts at me nervously: ‘What sort of powder have you deliberately sprayed on my path?!’  I try my best to convince him and his companion that it is nothing but orange juice powder, and that the whole matter is nothing but a small accident.  No use.  They would not believe it.  So I take some of the powder from the ground and put it in my mouth to prove to them that it is simply fruit powder.  Again no use.  The driver demands to see my papers, and when I show him my identity card, he orders me to join him to the Rashid Army Camp for questioning.  Daughter, hearing this, gets scared and starts to cry.  I say nothing but look at the driver for a moment.  What bothers me most is that the other soldier continues aiming his gun at my daughter’s head.  I feel highly unnerved.

Many people gather all around by now and begin to ask silly questions.  The scene lasts for about a quarter of an hour, when someone among the crowd, a decent man, approaches and asks both soldiers to get into their truck and make away, as no harm has been done and noting of importance has occurred.  A woman brings a broom from a nearby shop and starts to clean the pavement in a hurry, pushing glass and powder aside.  The driver, simply feeling ashamed of himself, his anger stilled, takes his companion up the truck.  Turning back to me, he shouts: ‘Hey Jew, you were wise and lucky to stop where you were and not move!  That saved you!’

In Iraq today this trivial incident could have turned into a life-and-death issue.

I am glad to be back home with daughter.

Friday November 6, 1969

Nasser last night: ‘We will have our territories back by war!  We will resort to force and violence!  We will cross into Sinai on a sea of blood with a horizon blazing with fire!”

At long last it comes!  That stirringly hot speech has not been so unexpected.  I would have been astounded not to have heard it at this very time.  Defeated in his wars of ‘destruction, attrition or otherwise submission’, Nasser is deeply hurt in his innermost feelings.  What is most disturbing is that he cannot any longer face an unmanageably restless Egyptian people demanding an urgent ‘military solution’, frequently sermonised by himself.

And as neither his people nor any other Arab people vest in him their former trust, he is obliged to lie, exaggerate, or address his listeners in tall words.  If he has come to that, he is sure to find that the bigger the lie the more credible it sounds! 

Thursday November 13, 1969

The Ba’athist methods of torture and murder are not remitting.  They go their usual large-scale, highly sophisticated process.  Every morning Iraqis begin the day by discovering that relatives, friends or acquaintances are missing, confirmed dead or subjected to torture in a prison.

The Ba’ath is moving fast to liquidate all opposition in the country.  They started first with the Nationalists, and are presently carrying on with former Democratic Party members and communists.  That of course includes many army officers.

The Soviet reaction to the purge of Iraqi communists is rather astonishing.  It looks even cynical.  While Russia secretly asks the Ba’ath not to molest the communists, it supports the regime openly and wholeheartedly.

The purge mess now engulfs a new and most valuable element: physicians.  No fewer than twelve of the best Iraqi general practitioners, surgeons and other medical specialists have been thrown into prison.  Some of them are accused of having large sums of money abroad, others of not having paid taxes for years.  One of them, one of the three most celebrated bone surgeons in the country, has lost the capacity to move both his legs as a result of torture.  Another, one of the four greatest Paediatricians here, has had his backbone broken with an iron bar in the Fadhiliyya prison.

Many surgeons and other specialists have fled the country to Austria, Switzerland and England, waiting for the overthrow of the present regime.  A famous general surgeon, a friend of mine, who operated on my tonsils in 1966, told me the other day when visiting him with my daughter to examine her tonsils, that he was renewing his passport to go abroad with his foreign wife.  When I asked him his opinion about what is happening to his fellow professionals, he wouldn’t answer, but shaking his head, said ‘Drop that harmful subject please.’  I noticed that he felt uneasy at my question.

A Jew taken from the river front street some time ago has died from torture in Al-Fursan prison.  His family knows about that, but has not received any reply to its request to see him, either from the army or from the government.

Wednesday November 26, 1969

While the Iraqi army in Jordan was severely hit by the Israelis a week ago and another time two days ago, as fighting has been going on between the two sides, ‘Al-Jamhuriyya’ newspaper hastens to clarify the relation between the Iraqi army in Jordan and the ‘spies’ active in this country!  It says:  ‘Of course on the discovery of spy networks and the execution of all their members here depends the safety, the utmost safety, of our army units on the Jordanian front.’

The responsible men at the top are perplexed how to look after our troops in Jordan.   According to them, the danger facing these troops does not emanate beyond the borders, but from dry figures indicating how many ‘spies’ are sent to the gallows and how many not yet!

Meantime we hear today that Mr Woutwout, the hangman President of the ‘Revolution Court’, has secretly sentenced seven other Iraqis to death.  One of them is a well-known Jew who has been under torture in the army intelligence headquarters for at least seven months.  No date has yet been fixed for their execution.