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Worry for the future trumped my first taste of freedom. The scars of what Saddam left behind persist.
It was early afternoon when my friend took me to the house of a man I had never seen before. They introduced another man: “This man is a major lieutenant in the military intelligence department, he will take you to find your brother.” These words revived my dead hope. I believe this gesture was a significant and early step towards the reconciliation between the perpetrators and the victims.
We drove to the military intelligence department. It was a large compound consisting of many buildings, yards and prisons. Thousands of people were there; some looting, others reading the thousands of dossiers and documents. It was mind-blowing that one day this place could be overrun by civilians. It had been one of the most horrible places during the era of Saddam, practically sacred ground for the Baath regime.
I remembered when I was summoned to that place a few months after my brother’s arrest. They made me sit and wait for five hours just to know the reason for the summoning. The stillness of the room was as heavy as death, despite its being filled with dozens of suspects. The order, structure and security of the place epitomized the strength of the regime. It was unimaginable to see it violated by looters, the most confidential documents and investigative files thrown into disarray, or worse, destroyed, by children driving donkey carts and looking for booty.
Our escort led us to a secret underground prison. People who were looking for their missing loved ones mobilized behind us to open the prison. We could not open the electric doors of the prison because there was no electricity, so we planned to come early the next morning with generators to open the prison’s door. When I returned the next day, the American troops had occupied the place and would not let anyone in. Nearly three years later, the day before New Year’s Eve of 2007, the Iraqi government executed Saddam in that very place.
Eventually I found my brother in a different place. Saddam’s secret forces had murdered him after holding him captive for six months. They buried him in a secret cemetery behind the Abu Graib prison, and it was there that my search was put to an end.
Saddam is gone; however, the scars of the wounds he inflicted and the fallout that resulted from his removal will take very long time to heal, if healing is, in fact, something we can hope for.
Razzaq al-Saiedi is a fellow and researcher at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He reported on conflict and politics in Iraq for the New York Times, 2003-2007.