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5/1/03 - IRAQ’S BEDOUINS EMERGE - 2003-05-01

With the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, Iraq’s Bedouins are emerging from their desert isolation. Since U.S. forces moved into Iraq, the country’s southern Bedouin tribes have started shedding their fear. They are returning with their flocks of sheep and camels to fertile grazing grounds near the Euphrates.

Their independent lifestyle brought Bedouins into frequent conflict with Saddam Hussein’s regime. When the Bedouins refused to join the party, Baath officials withheld food rations. When Bedouins tried to avoid the army, they were taken away from their families in handcuffs -– often never to return. At checkpoints, Iraqi security forces harassed Bedouins and confiscated their vehicles. “I’ve lived my whole life in the desert so they wouldn’t persecute me and force me to join the army,” said Bedouin Wahid Soud.

Other Bedouins were not fortunate enough to escape Saddam Hussein’s grip. Four of Qesma Ateya’s relatives were forcibly recruited into the army. Later, they were accused of smuggling weapons --and disappeared. For two years, the family did not know their whereabouts. After the U.S.-led coalition liberated Iraq, the family heard that people were digging up victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime at state-run graveyards. Ms. Ateya learned that one of her relatives had located the graveyard where her four family members were buried and dug them up. “Our problems are finished,” said Ms. Ateya.

The people of Iraq are beginning to reclaim their country, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said:

“Liberation in Iraq is a great victory for freedom. It has freed the region and it has freed the world from the threat posed by the potentially catastrophic combination of a rogue regime with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. But above all, it has freed the Iraqi people from a vicious oppressor.”

With Saddam Hussein’s regime gone, Iraq’s Bedouins are roaming freely again.