‘ALL WE WERE DEMANDING WAS JOBS’ – Al-Amarah youth speak out

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THE recently aired videotape on satellite TV channels showing some British soldiers assaulting a number of unarmed citizens has stirred strong reactions among citizens in Maysan province, Iraq.

Many people remembered the incident which took place in 2004 in the centre of Al-Amarah, and told the Al Mada newspaper about what happened.

Ahmad Jassim (30) said that the assault took place in Dijlah Street, the largest street in Al-Amarah, in front of the eyes of the then local officials.

‘All we did was demonstrate demanding jobs and asking to be appointed in government departments’ he said.

‘Most of the demonstrators came from poor families. We were unarmed and we did not intend to attack anybody. We were just shouting slogans to be saved from starvation.

‘Most of us belonged to families whose relatives were executed by the former regime. We dreamt that after the fall of Saddam we would get some benefits that would enable us to live our life with dignity.

‘However, we were surprised to see the British soldiers, who had gathered around us, start shooting at us. They also arrested some and beat them violently near the wall of the governorate building.

‘I was among many young men who ran away after hearing the sound of bullets.’

Another citizen, Ammar (52), said: ‘The British commander in Al-Amarah promised us at the beginning of that period that they would provide job opportunities for us.

‘They wrote down our names many times. Each time we gathered at their offices, we would hear the same promises, but none of them came true.

‘Anyone who wanted to be appointed had to pay huge amounts as a bribe to the go-betweens and the influential figures in the governorate. We, the unemployed, were angry and we were looking for solutions.

‘The number of unemployed had reached 5,000. We demonstrated from time to time, and said whatever we said always. However, on the day when we were shown on the video, we saw the British soldiers guarding the governorate building.

‘There were no Iraqi police. The British soldiers were deployed all over the building and were ready to shoot.

‘When we approached the building, they opened fire. Some of us ran away. The British soldiers managed to catch a few of us and they were beaten badly. We even heard that some were killed and their families were threatened not to speak to the press.’

A young man who preferred to remain anonymous and whose right leg was amputated said, ‘We, the unemployed, gathered every day near the governorate building demanding a solution to our problems.

‘Some of us were graduates and others came from poor families. We did not have any political motives and we did not want bloodshed. However, during this last demonstration, which satellite channels showed part of, even though we threw stones at the British forces, they smiled back at us.

‘We thought they were used to democracy in their country and would support it. One of us said they might even negotiate with us. Another one said they would respect our freedom of expression as we see in news bulletins.

‘They were subjected to all sorts of violations, but they never were agitated. However, as we came closer to the building, a number of tanks and British soldiers attacked us.

‘There were three helicopters in the sky. I do not know what made them angry. They attacked us as if we were armed. They killed about 10 people. I ran away with those who managed to run away.

‘However, after a few minutes, I felt a fire burning inside my leg and realized it was bleeding. Some friends carried me and took me to Al-Zahrawi general hospital in Al-Amarah.

‘There I found many young men who were hit during the incident. After staying one night in the hospital, they told me they must amputate my leg. I am still unemployed because of the handicap.’ He asked for compensation for those who had been hurt because of this incident.

Ahmad is a famous photographer in Al-Amarah. He spoke about that incident and said, ‘In fact I was present at every demonstration and filmed what was going on.

‘Sometimes I sold my footage to the satellite channels. I was present during this demonstration and I filmed most of its events. In fact it was a peaceful demonstration.

‘The demonstrators demanded job opportunities for over 3,000 young men who had gathered near the governorate building.

‘They shouted slogans demanding that they be saved from death. None of the demonstrators carried a gun. Most of them were angry because the officials were mocking them.

‘They never fulfilled their promises to provide jobs to the unemployed’. He added, ‘I talked to some of them and filmed their conversations. They said one would not get a job unless one paid large sums of money.

‘One would never be employed on the basis of qualifications and merit. The young men who took part in the demonstration were dreaming of a rosy life after the fall of the dictatorship.

‘It never occurred to them that heavy fire would be targeted at them with live ammunition. Some of them fell; others were hit and injured badly.

‘I filmed the incident from the beginning to the end. At first the British soldiers tried to target me, but I managed to hide my camera until it was dark. I hid it near the river which passes by the building where the youth were beat up – the governorate building.

‘The snipers shot at me. However, eventually, I managed to escape after I was hit in my leg and in my arm. I intended to sell the clips to a satellite channel.

‘However, the next day I found a note near my workplace carrying a death threat if I disclosed this incident. I felt somebody was following me. I feared the consequences and as a result I destroyed the footage.’

Commenting on the clips which were shown in the satellite channels, photographer Ahmad said, ‘I have played this tape many times. Whoever says the tape was fake and the Al-Amarah incident did not happen, is a liar.’