by Max Sawdayee


Saturday January 4, 1969

Some headlines in the morning papers run as follows:  ‘Today is the Big day!  Today the Spies Will Face their Judges!’  Or, ‘Great Iraqi People, Today You will See With Your Own Eyes the Traitors Who Made Us Lose the War!’

Baghdad radio howls urging the people to get ready for the coming trial.

At noon, returning from a visit, my wife tells me that another Jew, the agent of Toshiba Japanese Electronics, was taken away from his house in the morning.  She heard that his Muslim partner was also taken away.  This is rather shocking.  Taking a man away from his house on such a day must certainly spell evil for him and his family.

In the afternoon the weather starts to turn gloomy.  It grows cloudy, cold.  At five o’clock a mass of dust envelops the city.  It might be that the Heavens deliberately sent us this ugly weather as a sign of dissatisfaction with the forces of evil playing havoc here!

At six in the evening my wife and I leave the house for parents’.  But we decide to drive some distance farther, to see what is going on in the centre of the city.  It is curious how most of the streets are empty, and how all the big coffee shops on the main boulevards and on the river front streets are densely crowded with people watching TV.  Many of them also hold transistor radios in hand.  Everybody looks excited, nervously waiting for the climax.

When the TV broadcast opens up at six-thirty we are at my parents’ home, tense, worried, but no doubt ready to see what a dish the government has cooked to feed the people with. 

The show opens with a complete view of the so-called ‘Tribunal of the Revolution’.  One feels heavily oppressed on seeing this shabby, dreary, depressing place, especially when one remembers how many men, most of them innocent, have been tried here during the past eleven years – politicians, army officers, writers, poets, intellectuals and others.  The greater part of them were sentenced to death and executed, the ‘luckier’ few given hard labour for life, but many of them cruelly tortured beforehand.

In the big corner overlooking the tribunal is seated the President of the Court, Colonel Ali Hadi Woutwout, about 55 years old.  He is a typical Iraqi officer, fat, nervous and stern.  He is sided by two assistants, two lieutenant colonels. Next to them stands the Court Attorney, also a lieutenant colonel.  All of them are of course Muslims.  In the small corner opposite, sit the news media staff, correspondents of Iraqi and other Arabic newspapers, radio and TV, many of whom I know quite well from previous business contacts.  The atmosphere in the court is austere and solemn, and everyone there appears eagerly waiting for the ‘spies’ to show up.

Twenty minutes later, the President of the Court calls the defendants by name, to be brought into the court one by one….

The mere sight of these unhappy defendants coming up the stairs on their way to the court is horrible.  They are all well dressed, but they look haggard, thin, worn-out.  The kitchen utensils merchant of Basra who is the so-called leader of the spy network, aged fifty two, cannot even walk correctly.  He stumbles twice while mounting the stairs, and appears utterly exhausted.  I don’t exaggerates when I say that he must have lost at least thirty kilos since I last met him by chance about four months ago.  His present countenance makes me feel quite sure that he and his co-defendants have been awfully tortured in the past three months.  His brother and partner, about seventy-two years old, also appear dragging behind.  Extremely tired, he can hardly walk.  Sad also is the sight of a father and his two sons marching in file, observing one another sorrowfully for a long while.

In short, every one of the seventeen defendants, among them thirteen Jews, is the very image of terror. 

After the Court Attorney reads the bill of indictment – training saboteurs in Abadan, Iran; blowing up the Babylon Road Bridge in Basra; despatching coded military and political messages to Israel and Iran; receiving and distributing money that arrived through Iran.  The President asks each of them whether he pleads guilty or not guilty.  All but one, a Muslim, reply in the negative.  One can hear voices of laughter emerging from the benches of press correspondents, as though to convey the impression that the defendants’ pleading not guilty is surely untrue, or that it won’t help them at all.  Then the Attorney insists that they are guilty and that their guilt will later on be proved and confirmed by the tribunal, with the support of evidence by documents and witnesses.  He winds up by demanding a death sentence to each and every one of them for the capital crimes they have committed against the State.  None of the defendants betrays the slightest quiver or opens his mouth – except the seventy-two year old man.  He makes a little, a very little, movement, most probably noticed by only few among the audience.  Yet it draws my attention and sends me thoughtful for a couple of seconds.  When the Attorney demands the death penalty to all of them, this old man, brother of the so-called spy network leader, raises his face the fraction of an angle and looks up.  His lips tremble a little, as though he is saying something.  I wonder whether this man is seeking communication with God, telling Him that all these accusations are a fake and praying to Him to intervene.  I glance at my mother and detect tears welling up in her eyes.  She may be thinking along the same line as me.

Then the Counsel for the Defence, a civilian of about fifty years old, short and eclipsed, emerges from nowhere and claims that he will do his best to defend ‘these spies of the country’ but ‘would not like to see the traitors unpunished’!  His words, devoid of every rhetorical lustre, do not ‘defend’.  No.  I feel sure they were intended only to offend – to assert the guilt

The press correspondents loudly applaud.  They hail the President of the Court, the President of the State and the nation.  They shout: ‘Justice must take its course and the spies must be punished!’

And with that the President of the Court adjourns the first session.

My wife and I get up without saying anything to my parents.  We leave for home, silent and broken hearted.

Sunday January 5, 1969

Today the local press raises hell against the Jew of Iraq.  It alleges that the origin of evils and disasters in Iraq resides in the Jewish community, and that many Israeli-Jewish spies are still at large.  They must be arrested at once and brought to trial.

The radio is stirring no less commotion.  It claims that Jewish agents and fifth columnists are out to commit acts of sabotage in the country, and instructs the Iraqi people to notify the police or the army of the slightest suspicious act before anything wrong should occur.

It seems that events are taking an extremely dangerous turn for us, and that the government is determined to fight our very existence by all the means at its disposal.

We hear that the Jews accused of spying are being terrible tortured, and that at least one of them has already been killed.  Some Jews whom we didn’t see on TV yesterday, but who are also accused of spying, are being mercilessly tortured too.  For the moment it is not known exactly how many Jews the government will bring to trial.  Once we hear of seventeen, another time of twenty-two, and higher figures have also been mentioned.

A government announcement states that the second session of the Court will take place some time this week.

My Christian friend who is in the army visits me this afternoon.  He tells me that reliable sources disclose our rulers’ intention to make the blood of Jews flow in this country like a stream.  However, the purpose behind it all is the suppression of non-Jewish elements undesirable to the butchers at the top.  They are afraid that the people cannot be silenced if a large-scale purge is carried out, unless it is screened by a campaign to persecute the Jews.

My friend explains further that the Babylon Road Bridge in Basra, which is alleged to have been blown up by Israeli-Jewish spies, was never blown up at all.  A big lorry from the street below hit it, and some of its stones fell down.  That’s all.  But our rulers are looking for every kind of pretext to cling to.

Radio broadcasts abroad speak of a wide campaign launched today by world public opinion to halt these horrid trials framed by the Ba’athists in Iraq.  As to Israel, it is mute.  I haven’t heard any commentary on the subject from its station.  I assume that it wants intentionally to keep aloof under the circumstances.

Saturday January 11, 1969

The second session of the trial commences at eight-thirty this evening.  Curiously enough, it is not broadcast on TV this time but only on the radio.  Even more curious is the fact that what he hear through the radio is only a tape recording of part of what actually goes on in the morning sessions, most of whose proceedings seem to be kept ultra secret.  The government undoubtedly would not like to show certain details to anyone, lest something undesirable should be seen or heard, especially regarding the physical condition of the defendants or an unexpected zeal on the part of any of them to tell the truth.  The truth is certainly alien to the character of such a court.

Anyway, all the defendants of tonight (among them we hear four Jews, high school and university students whom we saw on TV last Saturday) deny all the charges hurled against them.  They deny having taken part in sabotage of any kind.

The manner in which these students deny the charges is very interesting.  Patiently and calmly they dismiss all the charges and assure the Court that they know absolutely nothing in their city of Basra except the university, the high school, their homes and their studies.

What is suspicious is that we know for sure that two of them are seventeen years old each, but in court they ‘admit’ that they are nineteen.  Do they lie, or are they forced to distort the truth about their age?  One cannot easily accept the former assumption, and it is obvious that the second assumption is the correct one.

The Court Attorney insists on the death penalty.  As to the Counsel for the Defence, we don’t even hear him this time, though he is a sheer puppet.  The session adjourns without a verdict being passed.

It is somewhat comforting that those students have denied all the charges.  But what is actually going on in the Court?  How are the trials conducted?  How can those students speak so freely?  What about the Counsel for the Defence?  Where is he?  At this moment I’m not capable of giving an answer to any of these questions.