How did Iraqis feel?
Here’s the New York Daily News story about yesterday’s handover. And here’s the full file I sent. Since it’s published now, I think you should be allowed to read much more of what I found out:
Reaction handover ranges from jeers to jubiliation
By Christopher Allbritton
BAGHDAD — Iraqis’ responses to today’s surprise handover ranged from jubilation to a cynical shrug, with some people saying nothing had changed because the Americans were still here and their tanks still in the streets of Baghdad.
Traffic went about its normal routes, with the exception of Firdos Square, where U.S. Marines famously felled Saddam’s statue April 9, 2003. A barricade that for the last year had blocked the roundabout was removed, allowing traffic to flow freely.
There was no honking of horns or celebratory gunfire as following the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in the summer of 2003 and their father’s capture in December 2003.
But everyone knew about it. The super-secret ceremony occurred about 10:30 a.m. today, and soon the news was all over local radio and television.
For Fahdin Mohsin, 32, an actor, the announcement was a welcome surprise.
“I was in the taxi when I heard,” he said. “It was good it was two days early.” Most people interviewed thought that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi or departing CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer had moved it up to outfox Iraqi fighters hoping to disrupt the handover with massive violence.
“We kept hearing about this deadline for more than six months, so this is a good surprise,” Mohsin added.
Tonight, he plans to drink for pleasure, something he never did before. He said he used to drink to dull the pain of life under Saddam rather than celebrate.
“But tonight I will drink in a different way,” he said.
He will not be alone. The Iraqi Communist Party, represented in the new government by Minister of Culture Mufeed Mohammed Jawad al-Jaza’iri, was in a partying mood. At 5 p.m., about 50 revelers tied on red headbands and marched into the parking lot in front of their headquarters on Inner Karradah Street. While watchful gunmen watched the traffic stream by — with a few honks in solidarity — they waved red flags and hoisted a banner that read, “The Communist Party congratulates our people for ending occupation and restoring sovereignty.” A three-man band banged out peppy martial tunes while the group chanted and danced in the heat. Women tossed sweets and candies to the cars passing by.
“I am so enthusiastic about the handover of sovereignty today,” said Farouk Fa’ak Babaan, 56, a Arabic teacher, poet and novelist. ” Now, the Iraqi people are struggling, after the handover, to achieve as much as possible.”
As he spoke two men watching television of the handover coverage waved goodbye to Bremer as he appeared onscreen boarding a C-130 transport plane.
But others were too bitter to celebrate.
Qasim Alsabti, who runs the Hewar Art Gallery, waxed poetic when he said today was “like yesterday, like tomorrow.”
“There is no sense of happiness because of the death still walking the streets,” he said, alluding to the precarious security situation in the capital. “I still have no guarantee that I can go out even 100 meters.”
He said he was interested in seeing the new government do something good, especially about the security, but the American presence was still noticeable enough to depress him.
“The previous 35 years were like a fever,” he said. “But the last year has been like death.”
Another man, smoking a nigila in a tea shop and who declined to give his name, said the pains of the occupation — the humiliations at the hands of soldiers at checkpoints, the abuses of Abu Ghraib and above all the constant threat of random violence from car bombs or fighting between the military and insurgents — has made him nostalgic for Saddam’s rule.
“At least we felt safe then,” he said. “There was no killing, no looting.”
He scoffed at the handover, which fulfilled a United Nations resolution officially ending the occupation.
“The occupation still exists in Iraq,” he said. “Politics are just games and the stronger one is the winner, always.”
The only two things good that have come from the occupation, he said, were satellite dishes and mobile phones, both forbidden in Saddam’s time.
“But we lost a lot of things,” he said in between puffs of apple-flavored tobacco. “We lost our factories, our industry, money, our oil, our state.”
For people and parties not members of the new government, there’s a widespread feeling that the restrictions still on the interim government and the continued presence of American troops mean that Iraq is still under the boot of the Americans.
“It’s not sovereignty, we know that,” said Alsabti. “When they leave the country, maybe we can celebrate then.”
As you can see, quite a bit more depth than what made it into the _News_ story. But they’re limited on space. I am not — at least on B2I.
I also wrote all of this one, but you wouldn’t know it, since they left my byline off. That was two solid days of reporting.
UPDATE 8:11 p.m. +0400 GMT Looks like my byline was just left on the Web story. I hear the print version has it.