A Nation at War

Jeff Koopersmith

Full Gallup, Part 3
"Dakhil" and the Hitherto Fruitless Search for Saddam Hussein

Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, and -- yes -- The Gallup Organization in a loose concert of ignorance
By Jeff Koopersmith

November 1, 2003 -- NEW YORK -- The mainstream media continues to cooperate with the Bush Administration's policy of giving short shrift to the Muslim psyche, and especially the Iraqi sense of place.

In the West -- where the expressions "family, national pride, and friend" are tossed about like so much salad -- we are less likely to recognize the importance of diverse cultural perspectives, above all when they are linked to unassailable and even unwise fidelity.

So sayeth not the irresponsible and sometimes non-curious American news media, where nowhere have we heard a word about stunning Arab loyalties, even between those of contradictory opinion, that might be our "enlightenment" answering the question concerning why exactly Saddam Hussein has not been "discovered" -- and may never be.

It is the Arab term "Dakhil" which provides the underpinning for the arrangement in which the hunters, namely the US Military, and the hunted, namely former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, now find themselves.

Dakhil, as is the case with countless social mores, has its roots in tribalism. The tribe -- acting as a putative family -- supports and protects its constituent no matter his trespass. He need only ask.

In Tikrit, Saddam's official tribal capital, there is little, hardly even any grudging, cooperation with Americans who are deemed as occupiers.

The tension there can be tasted, the aggressiveness and aggression is deadly. Yet it is most unlikely that Saddam hides there. Neither he nor his protectors -- his tribe -- are that witless.

Hussein, a murderous villain, is a member of the al-Majid tribe. The leader or head of this tribe is one Sheik Mahmud al-Nada, a cousin (and some say a look-alike) of Saddam. The Sheik is yet prominent and deferred to even now in most Iraqi quarters. It was he who planned the funerals and burials of Saddam's sons Qusay and Uday.

The American presence in Iraq, occupation or not, is fuel for this clannish fire -- an important detail of Iraqi culture, perhaps, that our intelligence services, the Pentagon, and the Bush inner circle neither anticipated nor properly appraised. When an ancestral people feel set upon, they naturally move toward older and what are perceived to be as more reliable systems of fortitude and sustenance.

Tribal vigor is on the rise in Iraq. Make no mistake about that fact -- and, therefore, their ability and propensity to protect and hide their own increases each day.

Even devoid of American threat, Saddam might very well be able to plead for protection from his tribe -- and get it.

Worse for the hunter: any tribesman would more willingly die by his own hand, suffer torture, or worse, rather than give up the goods on the protected. The shame related to such an action is far worse than death to an Iraqi male and, generally, most Arabs.

In a culture rife with citizens willing to enter into suicide pacts using themselves as deadly bombs,- the intelligence officers on whom we Americans rely should have anticipated this problem well in advance and made certain not to launch an attack on Iraq until such time as Saddam was captured.

Almost any Arab journalist or sociologist will tell you that the $25 million we have offered for Saddam's head will not override the character of Dakhil. Americans, including this writer, find this hard to accept as truth; however, when one considers that a transgression involving tribally guaranteed protection is a fate worse than death, then perhaps we have misjudged the loyalty of Iraqis and overplayed our trump card -- our own sense of greed.

Lawrence Smallman, writing for Al Jazeera in Tikrit, gives notice to Americans that this city "reverberates to the memory of Saddam Hussein."

"Reverberates." This is not to say that Iraqis defend Saddam's history, his murderous instincts, and his cunning avarice. Yet the same Iraqi natives who loathe him for much of what he did or failed to do in Iraq would still protect him from American soldiers or agents.

One need only think of a mother and child to come close to understanding this fealty.

One might also listen to Iraqi Sheik Mahmud's ideas. As a man who might be protecting Saddam, and who honored the death of his sons, the Sheik offered, in an interview with Al Jazeera, that Saddam "… is a man of extremes. He's extreme in his generosity but extreme in his injustice and stubborn in his mistakes."

The Sheik, like so many Iraqis today, may be relieved that Saddam is no longer in power, but believes that democracy cannot work in a multicultural society such as Iraq's. He judges that a monarchy is best and "the only feasible solution." In a sense he is condemning Saddam, who after all helped cement Iraq as a republic -- although a spurious one.

It is true of course that a monarchy is better prepared to deal with conflicting sub-cultures. In a true monarchy the buck starts and stops with the King or Queen.

While studying political science intensely, one learns in the early hours that the paramount form of government is, theoretically, a benevolent dictatorship. The problem of course is finding successive munificent dictators.

To gain a clearer picture than Brit Hume of FOX News is giving you and your children about what we face in Iraq, consider this: Iraqis were not thrilled with Saddam, but they are far less tickled with our sons and daughters carrying big sticks to insure their "freedom."

As firsthand accounts describe, Iraq is filled with children taunting our older children in uniform -- waving posters of Saddam and taunting our soldiers -- not because they loved Saddam Hussein, but because they detest us.

Journalist Smallman writes:

My driver tapped me on the hand and told me to follow -- he had spotted someone I might like to interview.

Sure enough, I was sitting next to a Saddam in-law -- who cannot be named. He was happy to tell Aljazeera.net what he thought of Saddam and Iraq's occupation.

"When I see the Americans here, I feel like my throat is being squeezed," he said.

He straightens his shimagh, or headdress, and looks at a Humvee with two soldiers in it, not 200m away.

"I'm sure if Americans had Iraqi troops patrolling their streets, searching their houses, stopping their cars and pointing guns at their women and children -- they would be the first to resist.

"Who is this Bremer? What on earth is he doing in Baghdad? By what right does he make decisions for our country and our people?

"What right do Americans have to put the soles of their boots on the back of Iraqi necks when they make arrests? What right do they have to put bags over Iraqi heads? But let them continue, for every day they act like this -- more will come to take part in fighting them."

"Saddam is safe because nobody -- even those who hate him -- would ever think to hand him in. The vast majority here would rather have him back than continue with this occupation -- ask anyone you like, and you'll see."

"I'm sure if Americans had Iraqi troops patrolling their streets, searching their houses, stopping their cars and pointing guns at their women and children - they would be the first to resist"

On the outskirts of the town is a graveyard where Hussein's parents and sons are buried.

All water supplies to the site have been stopped; the woods planted around the site are dying. The grass has turned yellow and the soil to dust. A total silence pervades.

I found Qusay and Uday's graves.

Occupation forces had removed the Iraq flag that once covered them. Moreover, the doors to the grave of Saddam's mother were broken open -- the plaque to her tomb removed as a war trophy.

But Saddam is not gone. Walking around alone, there is an eerie feeling of being watched.

Until he is caught, many Iraqis will always be looking over their shoulders, wondering if a man who controlled their lives for more than 20 years may still have some final part to play.

One senses the truth in his account. We don't see much of Tikrit, part of Iraq's Salah al-Din province on FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC or CNN.

Nor did the Gallup Poll spend much time assessing the views of its population, nor the substance of Iraqi viewpoint in that nation as a whole. Gallup unprofessionally chose only to poll in Baghdad -- where American strength supersedes the courage of Iraqis to tell the truth.

Gallup thereupon wildly announced so-called majority support for American presence in Iraq. I believe they did so with full knowledge that it had no idea of the truth about Iraqi national opinion -- any more than Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or Paul Wolfowitz could have anticipated it.

Whether Gallup polled only in Baghdad (an action akin to relying only on New Yorkers' attitudes to measure the opinions of the United States) from fear for its employee's safety to travel further, or from design, or on a proposition from the White House is unimportant.

It is their, our, and our leaders' almost complete failure to understand the Iraqi ethos that is indefensible, and that which may come to consume us, far more than today.

JEFF KOOPERSMITH is a political consultant, opinion research authority, policy analyst, and self-described "renegade lobbyist."

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