by Max Sawdayee


Monday January 27, 1969

At dawn I resort to the balcony alone, after a sleepless night.  I exercise some yoga lessons in order to refresh myself a little following the terror of last night.  The weather is cold and dull, the sky overcast, and I’m extremely tired.

At 06:00 wife joins me in the balcony.  She awakes early this morning.  She takes up my transistor and tunes it to the first news bulletin of the day.

In my somersault pose I hear the announcer blaring with pride the execution of nine Jews, three Muslims and one Christian, in the towns of Baghdad and Basra.  I fall to the ground.  I say to myself, ‘it’s a horrible day!’  for ten minutes I don’t move. I just can’t.  I feel so dizzy that my head may blow up. I cover my face with both hands and plunge in deep though for a while: ‘This is a most severe blow, not only to the Jews of Iraq but to all the Iraqi people, and to all justice- and freedom-loving people the world over.  Our murderous rulers have added another black page to the chronicles of this country.’

Wife, her cheeks trickling with tears, goes to the kitchen to prepare coffee, as father and brother, pale and shaken, suddenly come in.  Father says nothing, but a sudden feeling of loss submerges all of us.

We chat on the situation.  Then we decide to take a little drive outside to see how things look.  We are very cautious not to drive in a main street or approach the spot where the hanging takes place.  When we tune our car radio, the announcer is still howling madly.  ‘Great people of Iraq! You great people of Baghdad and Basra!  Today is a holy day for all of you!  Today is your feast!  The day of your joy and happiness!  The day on which you have got rid of the first gang of despicable spies!  Iraq, your beloved Iraq, has executed, has hanged, has settled the account with those traitors!  You great people of Baghdad and Basra, get free, move, go to your Liberation Squares to see with your own eyes how the traitors are hanged!’  then he goes on to read the names of those ‘traitors’, perhaps for the third or the fourth time.

We take small, secondary, un-crowded streets, and stop some ten metres from the main Sa’adoun Street, not very far from the Liberation Square.

Masses of people, red, excited, smiling, laughing, walking fast, running, jostling – all with one and only one goal:  to reach as quickly as possible the square where the ‘traitors’ are hanged. We take the same streets we came from, and return home.

Wife tells us that she has heard from neighbours that the ‘spies’ now hanged in the Liberation Square were actually executed at the central prison at about eleven o’clock last night.  They were brought to the Liberation Square at about two in the morning after improvised scaffolds had been erected by prisoners mobilised from the central prison, and by soldiers.  She has heard also that many people were already there at two in the morning watching the scene of preparations for the hanging.

At 09:00 we switch on our TV.  The sight is indescribable.  The Liberation Square, which is roughly a circle of about half a kilometre in diameter, and which is the largest public square in Baghdad, situated I the best and most famous South Gate district in the capital, is flooded with some hundred and fifty thousand spectators – men, women and children.  Almost no room is available for anyone there to move.

But the most horrible thin in the square is of course the view of the nine victims hanged, and the manner in which they are distributed over the big square.

The poor ‘actors’ of the scene, eight Jews and one Christian, are dressed in special, humiliating brown linen trousers and shirts, barefoot, with the hands of some of them (for some mysterious reason) dressed in special white gloves.  All of them are labelled with large sheets of paper stating, first of all and in big letters, their religion, then in small letters the reasons why they are hanged.

The shocking manner of their distribution is certainly of strong influence on the mobs and of great significance as to the vastness of the square and the huge number of spectators.  The nine victims are not hanged all together in one small spot or corner, as they should have been, but are equally spread out all around, filling three quarters of a circle, with about seventy metres separating each from the other.  Some of the gallows were made to entertain even two victims at a time.  With their feet nearly two metres above the ground, they look like nine angels of death surrounding the big square, as though to prophesy disasters and catastrophes that will befall this miserable country in the near future.

It is a perfect, masterly, cold-blooded, wicked, diabolical way of distribution indeed.  It is certainly the best way for everyone in the square to see each one and all of the victims, suspended high enough in the air, from such odious improvised scaffolds quickly installed and made from three pieces of wood tied together.

The sight of the nine, their heads twisted and drooping, their bodies dangling from the gallows and swinging high in the air, with all these vengeful mobs, all excited, agitated, cheering, dancing, chanting, singing, cursing the dead, spitting and throwing stones on them, or jumping high to catch their feet or their toes – well, this sight is most humiliating and sad, and most unforgettable.  It shakes one to the bones.  It shakes even one’s faith in humanity.

A high Party official, Salah Umar Al-Ali, holds a microphone on a high bench near one of the bodies, looks rather dissatisfied yet.  He would like to see the ‘occasion’ still happier, not to be missed.  He is doing his best to excite and enrage the mobs more and more.  His voice is already hoarse from shouting, but he persists on as loudly as his throat can afford, ‘You great people of Iraq!  The Iraq of today shall no more tolerate any traitor, spy, agent or fifth columnist! You foundling Israel, you imperialist Americans, and you Zionists, hear me!  We will discover all your dirty tricks!  We will punish your agents!  We will hang all your spies, even if there are thousands of them!” The, ‘Great Iraqi people!  This is only the beginning!  The great and immortal squares of Iraq shall be filled up with corpses of traitors and spies!  Just wait!’

While this man stands howling, the TV camera wants to entertain spectators with the sight of hanged bodies not only from a distance.  It goes close to each of the bodies, showing it from head to feet – the head, where blood is dropping from the ears and the nose; the labelled sheet of paper, focusing particularly on the word ‘Jewish’; the hands, open and motionless; the trousers, already smirched with earth and mud thrown by the mobs;  and the dead feet; - and back to the head, slowly, carefully, seeing to it that all details are quite clear, lest everybody should miss them.

The huge mass of spectators, looking at the bodies of the hanged with a desire to tear them to shreds, consists mainly of school and university students, workers, soldiers, policemen, Party officials, and of course thousands of Palestinians including commandos.  At about ten in the morning one could see long lines of villagers, barefoot, who came running, or by whatever means of transport, to relish the sight of the hanged.

The number of spectators steadfastly rises; and when the President and the Minister of Defence arrive at eleven, the mass absorbs approximately two hundred thousand.

Amid the loud cheers of the excited mobs, the blaring voices of TV speakers, march songs and music on the radio, and the wheeling of jets and helicopters over the square, the President of the State, Marshall Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr, arrives at the square standing in a special army jeep, with Defence Minister Hardan Al-Tikriti by his side.  The two come to view for themselves the magnificent panorama of murder and blood, the sight of the greatest battle they have won in their lives.

When I see this scene on the TV screen, and look at this ‘leader’ coming to the mob-jammed square, I recall – not without irony and contrast – a huge painting by Baron Gerard I saw in Fontainebleau (near Paris) some time ago, showing the battle of Austerlitz.  Napoleon comes on the evening of the battle, the 2nd of December 2805, to inspect the field and to hail his troops of the biggest and most atrocious battle he has ever won in his life.

The contrast is crying.  To Napoleon, it is in Austerlitz that he defeats his enemies, the strong, combined Russian and Austrian armies.  To Al-Bakr, it is in the Liberation Square that he ‘defeats’ his enemies, nine unarmed, helpless, defenceless, innocent citizens.  And it is here in the Liberation Square that he has come to hail his brave, victorious troops – the ignorant, the misled mobs.

Before switching the TV off, I cast another look of profound pity at each of the hanged victims, as though to convey to them my feeling that they will rest in peace after they suffered inexpressible tortures, and that their souls may now be high in heaven.  They may tell their Creator about their agonies, the suffering of their wives, children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, probably our own suffering for them as well.  They may try to convince Him to act here and now, to straighten what is crooked.  I for myself undertake to do my utmost, whatever the cost, to uncover the truth about all that has been done here to destroy innocent human beings, for people everywhere to listen and to know.