NAJAF, IRAQ, November 26, 2015 – Salam Alaykum, which is the Islamic greeting “Peace be upon you” carrying hopes that you are all doing well. Najaf, Iraq is a wonderful place however under Saddam Hussein, it was not such a great place to be.
There is a feeling of being safe and secure, roaming the streets and driving around from one city to another without any security issues.
Speaking with one of the Najaf Governorate’s council members, Khalid Al-Jashami, he says that there are thousands of security personnel deployed to facilitate traffic and ensure the safety of the visitors along the way.
Al-Jashami added that on normal days, police officers receive approximately 100 reports ranging from simple law violations to crimes committed.
During the Arbaeen season, the 40th day following the seventh-century martyrdom of the third Shia Imam, Imam Hussein, that number surprisingly drops to an unbelievable zero.
“During the Arbaeen season, the visitors get along and resolve their disputes peacefully. It’s remarkable to see that people just find a way to avoid any confrontation and even when a dispute arises, they are willing to forgive and move on,” explained Al-Jashami.
Another police officer facilitating traffic told us with a smile, “It’s the love of Hussein. It brings all of us together.”
One of most striking experiences so far was visiting the Intelligence Agency in Najaf, which is basically Iraq’s FBI equivalent where there is a personal story behind our visit.
I was born in Iraq in 1990 to a middle-class family in a small village called Khudr in the Province of Muthana.
My father was forced to drop out from the College of Engineering at University of Basra because he refused to join the ruling Baathist party. Consequently, he opened up a clothing store. My mother was a teacher.
In 1991, there was a national uprising against the brutal and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. Due to political reasons, the uprising failed.
Many of the rebels were tortured and executed. My father was detained for a short period but he managed to escape and flee to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
If you were arrested in Najaf, it was likely you would have been tortured and executed in the building we visited. The director of the agency welcomed us with open arms.
He was impressed with our project
“As you know we are facing serious security threats. But we are determined to do our job and provide security for the visitors” he shared.
Then he came forward and smiled,
“This was not the case before 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This place used to be a torture house, a hub for oppression and injustice.”
My father always told me that during Saddam’s dark era, people were horrified by anything related to law enforcement. People would go far to avoid walking by government buildings and making eye contact with police officers.
My father would be proud to know that I went to that once upon a time torture house yesterday and sat with officers that represented a regime that the people Najaf feared. Fifteen years ago, my father never imagined that could ever be possible.
Today it is. I need to call him and let him know.