BY SHANANAAZ HABIB
BAGHDAD: Getting new clothes for his two children for the Hari Raya, or Id as the festival is known here, is the furthest thing on Ismail Salman’s mind.
“What clothes? The most important thing is food, not clothes. I need to buy milk from the shop because my wife does not have enough breastmilk to feed Ali, my two-month-old son,” he said.
Ismail, who has not been paid for two months for his work protecting and policing the Health Ministry, has another 18-month-old son to feed.
“How do they expect us to live without salaries? It’s Ramadhan and we want to give something good for our children. But we cannot because they don’t pay us our salaries,” said Ismail, who was among the many demonstrators protesting outside a police station in Baghdad on Sunday.
Some 1,500 men had not been paid for two to three months for guarding key installations, basic services and ministries from looters and saboteurs and they got together and staged a loud protest demanding their salaries or they would resort to “other actions.”
Haidar Abid Mohamad was so angry that he threatened to burn the police station down.
“The police told us that they have nothing in their hands. No money and everything is in the Americans’ hands,” he said.
We’ll stay here until they give us our money. If they don’t, we will burn the police station or enter the building and break everything inside.”
Like many other guards, when Haidar was recruited three months ago, he was promised a monthly salary of US$120 (RM456), which was a princely sum when compared to the average US$3 (RM11.40) Iraqis were getting each month under the Saddam Hussein regime.
So, they did not mind when they were told the following month that their pay for protecting the services in the country had been slashed to US$50 (RM190) because something was better than nothing.
But even so, most have not seen any of the money yet.
Kadam Mohamad Mehdi said 200 of the 1,500 guards got paid but this was simply because they were relatives of people with contacts with the Iraqi Governing Council or the higher-ups in the police.
“It is a case of who you know. The cousin of a cousin of so-and-so gets the money but what about us?” he said.
“It is worse than when Saddam was in power. It was better then because under the old regime, at least we got paid every month.”
Kadam is protecting the Transport Ministry and he is so annoyed because he paid a US$100 (RM380) bribe to get the job.
“I thought it would pay off in the long run if I have a monthly income. There are no other jobs around. So, how do we feed our families?” he asked.
The food rations programme under the Saddam government, which most Iraqis in the last 12 years were dependent upon to meet their daily food needs, is continuing under the present interim governing council.
So people are not starving here because they are still getting their monthly ration of flour, beans, sugar, tea, oil and soap. The rations, however, are very basic and do not include other food items like fresh vegetables, eggs, meat or fish.
Naser Ismail said he was getting desperate because he was not being paid. His father has passed away and he is the sole breadwinner of his family of nine. His brothers and sisters are too young to work and Naser has to find a way to pay the house rent.
“I will fight if they don’t pay me. I’ll make like a terrorist and cause trouble or I’ll do like thieves and steal,” he said.
There was a huge traffic jam in parts of the city as the police had closed off a number of roads leading to the site of the demonstration.
An annoyed Hamad Shimal said the roads were closed to prevent people from coming to show their solidarity and support.
“Nobody from the ministries came to listen to our problems. Where is the Interim Governing Council? They don’t care about us,” he said bitterly.
“Maybe if somebody kills somebody else too, nobody is going to care any more.”
Barbed wires around the police station kept demonstrators from getting too close. Policemen stood inside the barbed wire enclosure and tried to pacify demonstrators, who were on the other side. This did not seem to work and there was quite a bit of a shouting match instead.
Later at night, there were about four loud blasts in the city. Then, the electricity supply came down and the whole of Baghdad was again plunged in darkness.
Did you find this article insightful?