In One Night, Iraqi Turns From Friend to Foe
Man Who Supported U.S. Occupation Calls Americans 'the Devil' After Alleged Raid on His House
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
01/23/05 "Washington Post" -- BAGHDAD -- The day after the soldiers came, Imaad ordered his mother to go through her refrigerator and pantry and throw out all the cheese that had been made outside Iraq. He went around and collected any images of Westerners in the house, threw them in a pile and burned them until they were floating bits of ash. He struck his mother repeatedly and forbade her to watch foreign news or movie channels on their new television.
The Americans were "the devil," Imaad ranted.
By all accounts, Imaad, 32, was a typical, mild-mannered college graduate who spoke English well and had quietly supported the U.S. presence in Iraq -- until Jan. 5, the night the soldiers came.
His story about that night, told days later in his small living room, is the story of how the U.S. military made an enemy of one man during a 20-minute encounter.
The U.S. military, along with Iraqi security forces, routinely conducts raids throughout Iraq to try to catch insurgents. For the troops, the missions are often dangerous; soldiers say one of the greatest difficulties they face is figuring out who is a friend and who is an enemy.
Since the war began in March 2003, 1,077 American troops have died in hostile action, official figures show. In addition, insurgents kill Iraqi troops on an almost daily basis.
Often, soldiers on raids find illegal weapons, ringleaders and vital information that can prevent more attacks. But often, the raids turn up little and leave hard feelings among civilians who resent foreign soldiers bursting into their homes, breaking doors and gates and pointing guns at their heads. They resent these men catching their wives and daughters in their bedclothes. They resent them barking orders, telling them to get on the ground, invading their homes, emptying drawers and turning over mattresses.
On the night of Jan. 5, Imaad and his mother, Um Imaad -- both of whom declined to give their full names for fear of retribution -- were watching a movie in the living room. As in most other parts of the capital for the past two months, their Adhimiya neighborhood has electricity about two hours a day. So the generators outside were humming at about 9 that night, and the television was turned up so they could hear.
Imaad said they were startled by a loud banging at the door. He went quickly to open it. When he did, Imaad said, there were about a dozen U.S. soldiers standing with their guns pointed at his head.
Imaad and his mother said the soldiers rushed in, ordering them to sit together while they searched the house. "You look poor," Imaad recalled one of the soldiers saying. "Why?"
Imaad answered in English: "I have not been able to find a job, although I'm a graduate of the College of Arts." His heart was pounding, Imaad said. His mother, a chatty widow who adores her son, sat next to him, shaking.
The soldiers went to search his bedroom. He heard laughing, and then they called for him, he said. Imaad went to his room and saw that the soldiers had found several magazines he kept hidden from his mother. They had pictures of girls in swimsuits and erotic poses. Imaad said the soldiers spread the magazines on his bed and put his Koran in the middle.
"This is a good match," Imaad said one of the soldiers told him.
"It was a nightmare," he said. "I will never forget those bad soldiers when they put the Koran among the magazines."
Within 20 minutes, the soldiers left without arresting him or his mother. While the soldiers went next door to search his neighbor's house, Imaad began to slap his mother, he said. "The American people are devils," Um Imaad recalled her son repeating.
He left her and went to a mosque to spend the night. "I asked God to forgive me," Imaad said, "because I could not prevent American sins."
The Army's Task Force Baghdad, which includes soldiers from the 1st Cavalry and 82nd Airborne Divisions, are mainly responsible for securing the capital city.
Lt. Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for the 1st Cavalry, said Task Force Baghdad soldiers were not involved in the raid that night. He said other U.S. units, including military police, operate in Baghdad but that he had no information about their possible involvement.
Army Lt. Col. Daniel Baggio, another military spokesman in Baghdad, said he also could not confirm that a raid took place that night. "That sort of behavior is not condoned by the U.S. military, and I find it hard to believe U.S. soldiers would do that," he said. "I'm not saying it didn't happen. It just seems odd."
Neighbors corroborated parts of Imaad's account. They said the soldiers raided their houses on Jan. 5, telling them that they were responding to an explosion in the area. One man said a soldier angrily punched him and broke his nose. The injury was apparent a week later.
They said American soldiers raided one side of the street, and Iraqi security forces raided another. They said the soldiers arrived in armored vehicles and left after about two hours, taking several Iraqi civilians with them.
The neighborhood is known to harbor insurgents, including some who moved to Baghdad from Fallujah after a U.S. offensive there in November. Neighbors acknowledged there were anti-American groups among them, but they said not everyone opposed the foreign troops or Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government.
Imaad and his mother said they had no memorable encounters with soldiers before Jan. 5, no reason to hate or mistrust them. But Um Imaad said she had been distraught since that night at the changes in her son, a plump man with a round face and a receding hairline. His father died in the Iran-Iraq war two decades ago, leaving mother and son with only each other for support.
Um Imaad, who wore a simple white scarf tucked around her brown, crinkled face, said that after the raid she thought she was going to lose her son, too. "He had a crisis," she said, explaining what happened.
Um Imaad brought Imaad pills from the doctor to try to calm him. He looked at the yellow ones, then the red ones and refused to take them. "All these belong to Jewish people," he said, pushing one set aside. "And these others are from bad or foreign people."
Imaad said that two weeks after the raid, he was still struggling to return to normal. He was no longer hitting his mother, but he still would not allow her to watch foreign television or buy products made outside Iraq.
Imaad said he was embracing his Muslim faith as never before. He spends most of his time at the mosque praying or reading the Koran. He is also looking for a job.
Before the war, Imaad worked for a commerce company, making about $50 a month and spending most of it on transportation. He has not been able to find work in the nearly two years since.
He never really held the Americans responsible for that, he said, until the night of Jan. 5.
"I used to have a good opinion of the Americans," Imaad said. "But they are the enemy. They are bad."