‘We were collaborators, the caller said, and we would be punished’

THE SUN blazes down on the protective wall of concrete drums – hundreds upon hundreds of them – and Major Saad stands in the car park of the Amariyah police organised crime unit with a story he wants to tell. Behind him is the shell of a suicide bomber’s car.

“I took the call from al-Qa’ida,” he says. “He was a young man with an Iraqi accent and he acknowledged that they had failed to kill us the first time. Then he said, ‘We are coming’.” Major Saad has a pistol in his belt – like most of his colleagues, he was a cop in Saddam’s regime – and intelligent eyes that are watching to see if the reporter will ask the question he wants to hear.

So I ask him what he said to the al-Qa’ida man on the phone. Major Saad smiles with relief. “I said to him: ‘Come! We are waiting for you!’ ”

A tough guy is Major Saad, along with Colonel Feisel and all the other cops in the organised crime unit who chase Iraq’s growing army of kidnappers while they wait for Osama bin Laden’s men to return. “Maybe they will come – maybe they won’t,” Major Saad says. “But let them come.”

What saved the police earlier this year was not the palisade of concrete drums; they were erected only after the bombers had attacked. There had been two cars, one to smash its way through the front gate, the second carrying the bomb.

But the second car also hit the gate, just hard enough to pull the wires from the battery which would have set off the bomb. “There were 500lbs of explosives and four torpedoes,” Major Saad says. Torpedoes? Iraq never had a single submarine. No, Major Saad insists, four big shiny torpedoes with fins on the back. And very gently, another policeman tells us that the torpedoes were from the Iranian navy.

Both bombers were shot dead by the police. One was carrying a scrap of paper which suggested he was a Yemeni, though neither has been officially identified.

Not a single suicide bomber, in fact, has ever been formally identified as a non-Iraqi, despite the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that “foreign fighters” are behind the attacks on the Iraqi police. More than 600 officers have been killed here in the past four months. A police officer and his brother were the latest to be gunned down in Baghdad this week.

The policemen at Amariyah were lucky. After the first assault, they built their walls of concrete barrels. But that’s when the phone calls began. “The man would call every week or so – he still calls now – and he would be put through to the organised crime unit and ask for the officer’s name,” Major Saad says. “So later, when he started calling again, he would come on and ask for us by name.

“The man wasn’t a foreigner. He had an Iraqi accent. He was an Iraqi. He called me twice, by name; both times I was on the night shift. He was quite normal, just saying each time, ‘We are coming’. There was no religious talk. He just said we were collaborators and would be punished for this.

The Iraqi police believe that the Wahhabi Sunni groups around Fallujah and Ramadi, originally set up as religious organisations by Saddam when he wanted to allow Sunni fundamentalists an outlet for their spiritual demands, have simply adopted al-Qa’ida’s theology and its cause – although Major Saad insists that Bin Laden has no cause “because he kills innocent people, like in Madrid”.

Unfortunately for the police, millions of Arabs do believe that Bin Laden has a cause and the insurrection that began around Fallujah and Ramadi has now spread to Baquba, Samara, Mosul, Kirkuk, Kerbala and other cities.

Nearly 60 per cent of Iraqis believe life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a poll released yesterday. But many have little faith in occupying troops, and nearly one in five say attacks on them are justified, the survey of 2,500 people by Oxford Research International showed.
Courtesy Josh Kirby

Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there