BAGHDAD: Athir Kamel is an entertaining man. Working as a guide-cum-driver, his easy nature and endless jokes always put journalists at ease.
But on Friday evening, as he watched US troops walk in and out the Palestine Hotel like they owned it, he broke down: “I am ashamed to be an Iraqi. My heart is bleeding and no medicine can heal the wound. This is not my country any more.
“This is not Iraqi Baghdad. This is American Baghdad. I am not a man anymore,” he said, his normally jovial face pained with tears streaming down.
A mechanical engineer by profession, Athir, who spent many years abroad and speaks fluent English, pleaded: “Please, if you can find a solution for me, let me know. I don’t mind going to Malaysia to wash dishes or do some small job.
“I don’t want to remain in Iraq. I don’t want to be a slave in my own country. Please take me away.”
He said he was so ashamed to see Iraqis “jumping like monkeys” when the US troops marched into Baghdad on Wednesday and placed the American flag over the head of the statue of Saddam Hussein.
“Ashamed is too small a word to tell you of the pain I feel inside. Only the day before, the Iraqis were shouting that they would give their blood and soul for the leader and now they are welcoming the Americans.”
He said his heart wrenched in agony when he saw some Iraqis going up to the American troops to give them roses and cigarettes.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening. Many of us Iraqis were crying inside the hotel but there were no cameras there. The journalists were busy with the drama outside and forgot about the sad ones inside,” he said.
He believed many Iraqis felt just like him or even worse.
“I am not crying for Saddam. I am crying because we have lost our dignity. Some Iraqis are still sleepy today but tomorrow, they will be crying, too, for sure,” he said.
Athir was horrified to see the extent of looting going on in the city and said he was deeply saddened by it.
“This is the land of Babylon, the birth place of civilisation. But our people are stealing medicine and shooting doctors? These people are not really human.”
A number of Iraqis are blaming America for the lootings in the city. They said America knocked out the government, police and security apparatus of the country but deliberately did not put anything else in place.
Asad Mohamad, an accountant by profession but currently working as a guide for journalists, said he was not surprised to come across a file detailing all his activities when he went to the abandoned intelligence office on Friday.
He believed that the Saddam government had planned to arrest him after the war for associating with foreigners.
But despite this, he has very strong feelings against the US attack on Iraq.
“It is an invasion. If the US remains here, I will travel outside the country or join some revolutionary movement against America. They will bring drugs and AIDS to this country.
“It’s shame on me to stand silent.''
Asad said the ultimate blow for Iraq would be if Israel was allowed to open an embassy here.
“Israel is our enemy. How can we shake hands with someone who is killing one of our brothers in Palestine everyday,” he said.
As for the looting, he said, this was tragic and he was ashamed to be an Iraqi.
“In every house, there’s a toilet. Those people are the toilet of Baghdad,” he said.
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