Spreading Freedom and Liberty the American way.
Minister of State Adnan al-Janabi, an intimate of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, tells NEWSWEEK that he was so incensed by his treatment by American soldiers as he tried to enter the Green Zone to go to a cabinet meeting that he resigned in protest.
An angry Al-Janabi not only resigned from the government, but is now denouncing the American military as an anti-Iraqi occupation army. He is hardly a raving anti-American. An insider since the days of the former Coalition Provisional Authority and one of the country’s most prominent Sunnis as leader of the huge Janabi tribe, he was given the minister of state portfolio in Allawi’s government. For a while he served as justice minister. And he remains the campaign chairman for Allawi’s slate in the elections, the Iraqi List.
On Jan. 12, Al-Janabi was on his way to a cabinet meeting when he came to checkpoint 18 of the Green Zone, one of several that Iraqi VIPs use to vary their routes as they try to avoid assassination. He says he properly identified himself as a minister and showed his ID badges, but got into a dispute with the soldiers at the checkpoint. A lieutenant called over to adjudicate decided, Al-Janabi says, to place him under arrest and bound his hands in plasticuffs. “My hands were tied in the way they do it to terrorists. The lieutenant, he knew who I was. We are all under threat, any minister, we live every hour under the threat of being assassinated, and this is how they treat us.”
Al-Janabi refused to say what led to the incident. “I don’t care what the circumstances are,” he says. “I’m a minister of a state that is supposed to be sovereign under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 [which formally ended the occupation of Iraq and created the Iraqi Interim Government]. The forces of occupation have no respect for me.”
A spokesman for the American military in Iraq called the incident regrettable and said an apology has been given to Al-Janabi. The military added that it was changing procedures at checkpoints to avoid similar incidents.
The minister’s experience is hardly an isolated incident—nor even the worst example of it. Hachim al-Hassani, another minister, of industry and minerals, who was a long-time exile in the United States, has suffered two humiliating incidents. While in the Governing Council, he was denied entry on his way to an important meeting (Iraqi government offices, especially at the cabinet level, are nearly all in the American-controlled Green Zone). When he protested, a soldier lost his temper and punched him in the face, according to Al-Janabi. Al-Hassani confirmed the story, saying, “Yes, I was punched by a soldier. I was very calm with him. I just kept talking to him. He kept punching me, and I kept talking to him. The situation was very dangerous. We handled it very wisely at that time. I kept thinking I still have major things to do for my country. I was thinking about the [Iraqi Islamic] party. I was thinking about my country. It could have been much worse.”
As someone who lived for many years in Detroit, Al-Hassani is hardly someone who doesn’t understand or communicate well with Americans. It’s even harder for the many Iraqis who show up at checkpoints with no English, no badges and no clear idea of what’s going on. “The problem is probably that the soldier wanted to go home. I think he wanted to create some situation where he would be sent home,” Al-Hassani said. “I asked that he should get court-martialed but I never followed up. I forgot about it. I hope he’s back in his country.”
Al-Hassani is a lot more forgiving than many would be. A month ago, as an interim government minister, he had a similar problem. He entered by checkpoint 2, one of three favorite Green Zone entrances for suicide bombers to attack, so traffic is channeled with one lane for VIPs, military, embassy traffic—to prevent congestion and tailback into the Baghdad streets where vehicles are especially vulnerable—and the other lane for everyone else. As a minister, he’s entitled to the VIP lane, but a young soldier told him to go back. When he tried to tell them who he was, says an aide, “They just laughed at him. Go back in line Mr. F