|Filed October 15, 2002 By Jeremy Scahill
TIKRIT—When the people of Tikrit, the birthplace
of Saddam Hussein, chant "We will give our blood for you,
oh Saddam," they mean what they say. As they went to the polls
today in a national referendum on the Iraqi leader, many Tikritis
pricked their thumbs with needles or knives before pressing them
on the box marked "Yes."
|As the people of Tikrit went to the polls
in a national referendum on the Iraqi leader, many pricked their
thumbs with needles or knives before pressing them on the box
Polling places across this small town a few hundred miles north
of Baghdad were packed. People danced and sang as they crammed around
ballot boxes, many eager to openly display to foreign journalists
which box they had marked.
"This selection of the leader of Saddam Hussein is a weapon
to reject all American army intrusions into Iraq," said a
man waiting in line to cast his "yes" ballot.
"This is the land of Saladin and the land of the leader Saddam
Hussein," yelled a man dressed in traditional Kurdish garb.
"Our grandfathers didn't accept the crusaders and we
will never accept Bush."
Baghdad may be the capital city of Iraq, but Tikrit is Saddam country.
On April 28, 1937, Hussein was born in a mud brick hut in the village
of Al-Auja on the outskirts of the city. Since taking power in Iraq
in 1979, Saddam has built up Tikrit, erecting a massive palace surrounded
by great cement walls and guard towers. Anti-aircraft batteries
lie on rooftops throughout the city center, as well as in bunkered
ditches along the desert roads in and out of Tikrit.
Foreign journalists are almost never permitted to enter the city.
On the outskirts of Tikrit, a huge gate spans across the four-lane
highway. A massive mural sprawls above, depicting an epic Saddam
Hussein riding on horseback, galloping toward Jerusalem. Missiles
and warplanes fly above him. The nicely paved roads into Tikrit
are lined with hundreds of posts decorated with various portraits
of the Iraqi leader.
But Tikrit's significance in Arab history cuts much deeper
than the current Iraqi president. It is also the birthplace, in
1138, of the Muslim holy warrior Saladin, who crushed the Crusaders,
liberating Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187.
At the outskirts of the city today, a busload of foreign journalists
was permitted to film the massive gate to Tikrit. A trickle of cars
sped in and out of the city, honking their horns—some brandishing
large Iraqi flags. But as the journalists were about to re-board
the bus and continue into the city, several flatbed trucks full
of Iraqi Army soldiers sped through the gates. They loudly chanted
slogans of loyalty to Saddam. Cars began stopping and within minutes
the roads in and out of the city were jammed with a mob of people
dancing and chanting.
The scene at various polling stations within Tikrit was identical.
One after another, people repeated that they were voting "yes
to the leader Saddam Hussein and no to Bush." Children wore
T-shirts featuring a smiling Saddam with the phrase "As Saddam
Says, So Does Iraq." Women passed out plastic bags filled with
pictures of the president and a handful of small candies.
|In Tikrit, Iraq - the birthplace of Saddam
Hussein - many voters marked their ballots with their own blood,
saying they were wiling to shed their blood against America.
"Today is like a national wedding," said Adnan, a Professor
of engineering at the University of Tikrit. "Saddam is Iraq
and Iraq is Saddam."
Though this referendum has been dismissed by Washington as a sham
and a show, this process of confirming the leader, rather than electing
him, was not conceived by the current Iraqi government. In 1921 the
British colonialists held a referendum in Iraq to confirm the legitimacy
of the puppet government of King Faisal I.
No exit polls are available, but results from today's referendum
are expected late tonight or early tomorrow.
Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally
syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He is currently based
in Baghdad, Iraq, where he and filmmaker Jacquie
Soohen are coordinating Iraqjournal.org,
the only website providing regular independent reporting from the
ground in Baghdad.
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