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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Saddam's grip of fear remains

By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online, in Umm Qasr

The tugboat crew at Umm Qasr is back at work. Though they now answer to British officers, not the Baath Party, these Iraqis are still reluctant to talk about Saddam Hussein for fear of bloody reprisals. One man breaks his silence for BBC News Online.

Much has changed in Umm Qasr in one week. The dusty streets around the town's two ports are no longer deserted.

Nor is it just children hoping for a handout of sweets who now wave and smile at passing British soldiers. Adults too seem cheerful at the occupation of their town.

A British soldier talks to locals in Umm Qasr
UK forces are trying to win over the Umm Qasr population
"We love you," cries one young man, as a convoy passes.

While the locals are more willing to express affection for the town's new rulers, it seems they may also be tentatively passing judgement on the old.

The mosaic portraits of Saddam Hussein which greet those entering Umm Qasr have all been defaced with bold strokes of red paint.

The Royal Marines running the town said they have neither the time nor the inclination to attack the town's many monuments to the Iraqi leader.

"If the local people want to do it, that's up to them," said Major Ray Tonner last week.

So have the people openly turned against their president?

The Iraqi people will still be afraid until Saddam Hussein is dead
Tugboat crew member
One of the Iraqis returning to work on one of the port's two tugs said he did not want to talk about Saddam Hussein while he was still in power.

"The people who spoke out at Safwan to the television cameras, those who dared to talk about Saddam, the ones who celebrated the arrival of the Americans, they are now dead," he said.

When the war began, many in the invading US-led force expected to be greeted as the liberators of the Iraqi people. The muted response (even occasional open hostility) from ordinary Iraqis has shocked some soldiers.

The tugboat crewman says agents of the government in Baghdad may still roam even occupied areas and Iraqis fear being seen to side with the invaders.

'I fear TV cameras'

"You never can tell who is in Saddam's intelligence service," he said.

"If I can't tell, how can the British find them? They can come into your home and kill you, even for just coming back to work at the port."

Tugboat in Umm Qasr
The tugboat is operational again
Despite these fears, one of the crew is willing to talk anonymously about his feelings towards the US-led invasion and the end of Saddam's rule in the town of Umm Qasr.

He spoke to BBC News Online:

I am 90% certain the Americans will win the war, but the Iraqi people will still be afraid until Saddam Hussein is dead.

Some of my family live outside Umm Qasr. I cannot contact them and I am very nervous. I cannot talk openly to television cameras because I fear for them.

I have come back to work under the British, so I can look after my ship. It has been taking in water and I wanted to save her. But some others say they don't want to come back to work.

They are afraid to be seen in the port, afraid that the war will not be won and that then Saddam will come back to get them.

I was only 17 when the people here rose up against Saddam in 1991. I didn't understand what was going on and didn't join in with my friends.

A Royal Marine in Umm Qasr
Many Iraqis have greeted the British
I thought everything was sunshine in Iraq, but now I know it was really darkness. When the Americans didn't come to help the rebels, my friends were killed or had to leave Iraq.

If this war is a failure, I will have to flee Iraq because I came to work under the British. If you stand up against Saddam, you will be killed.

I am very happy that Saddam is no longer in control here. The Baath Party people were scared and have left Umm Qasr, leaving only the ordinary, poor people.

I have a good job, but I have seen no rewards under Saddam. Nothing. I own not one centimetre of Iraqi land for my efforts. My home belonged to the government and they could have taken it from me at any time.

I just want the freedom to live my life. Talking now about my feelings is freedom. Before the war, they would put up messages from Saddam on a notice board.

Freedom

They would force us to repeat what he said as if it were the truth. If Saddam said something, the Iraqi people had to say the same thing.

When the Americans came, we stayed inside. We didn't want to be seen to help their army or the Iraqi army. The Americans broke down our doors and smashed our televisions. The British here now respect our things.

If the Americans and British pick a leader from amongst the Iraqi people, the war will be a success
Tugboat chief engineer
We help the British and they help us, as friends help each other.

I do not know who painted on the portraits of Saddam. Maybe all Iraqis hate him. Any Iraqi who wanted a good job had to join the Baath Party, but in their hearts even these people hated him.

But if you ask Iraqis if they are happy with this war, they will not be able to tell you.

If the Americans and British pick a leader from among the Iraqi people, the war will be a success. If they stay and take the things that belong to Iraq, then no Iraqi can agree with this war.



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