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Iraq: In Town Loyal To Hussein, Residents Unscathed But Feeling Effects Of War

Al-Tarmiya, a provincial Iraqi town some 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, is largely free of the postwar chaos that has rocked much of the country. The streets in this largely Sunni town are quiet, with none of the looting or violence that has plagued the capital just a short drive away. But residents here are still worried about their future, and say they are concerned that with no proper authorities, it is only a matter of time until the town sinks into lawlessness.

Al-Tarmiya, Iraq; 22 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- At first glance, the Iraqi capital Baghdad and the sleepy town of Al-Tarmiya could not be more different.

While Baghdad continues to reel from postwar violence and power struggles, Al-Tarmiya is quiet. People gather on the streets to sell food, carpets, and cigarettes. The buildings are unscathed, no Western troops patrol the neighborhoods. Residents say they still feel safe, even at night.

Al-Tarmiya saw no military action, although a nearby military plant was targeted by U.S. bombs. But war has touched this town of 10,000 just the same.

People in Al-Tarmiya are worried about the future. They wonder if they will be able to find work, and if there will be shortages of gasoline.

They also wonder if Saddam Hussein will return to rule Iraq. Al-Tarmiya, like the larger city of Tikrit, was a power base of the former leader. Most residents, like Hussein, are Sunni Muslim, and most were loyal to the deposed regime.

One resident, Sami al-Khoja, said although nearly everyone in Iraq feared Saddam Hussein, very few people in Al-Tarmiya suffered under his rule and some are even hopeful he may return to power. "Because they [are] Sunni, they were loyal to Saddam Hussein. Most of the [regime's] intelligence service people came from this place; military officers came from this place. It was a secure place for Saddam. They were very, very loyal; no betrayal from here," he told RFE/RL.

People on the streets of Al-Tarmiya are evasive when asked how their lives have changed since the end of the regime. Most, like Jaseem -- a former worker at a military plant who is now unemployed -- say that despite the war, the regime's fall, and current doubts about the future, life is much the same as it was before. "Nothing has changed. No, nothing has changed really; nothing has changed," Jaseem said.

Another resident, Waeel, said he is grateful Al-Tarmiya has so far escaped the postwar chaos and looting rocking much of Iraq. "After Saddam, life is normal, there is nothing wrong with it. This is my hometown, and I feel safe. But when I go to Baghdad, there is no security there," he said.

Hamid, a middle-aged man, has two children and is unemployed. He said he does not want any more children, because he has no money to raise them properly. Like the others, he said he sees no difference in his life now that Al-Tarmiya's main benefactor has been deposed. "Life in Al-Tarmiya after Saddam is normal, it didn't get better or worse. What we look for is security and we hope for the best," he said.

The town has seen several incidents of violence since the end of the war. A local shopkeeper said someone armed with a Kalashnikov shot at his car in the middle of town in broad daylight. But with no police or local officials left in the town, the responsibility for maintaining law and order has fallen to Al-Tarmiya's religious leaders.

Shaykh Muhammad Abdel al-Ahmad receives many residents at his home seeking help or advice. He said the situation in Al-Tarmiya is not as good as it may appear. He said that in addition to power and water shortages, telephone lines are down and public transportation is not working. Many residents are unemployed, he said, and in desperation have turned to theft. "Don't listen to people who say there is security and order," he said. "They are lying. If somebody comes and attacks me, to whom I would appeal?"

Al-Ahmad said many people in Al-Tarmiya are still reeling from the shock of losing their comfortable salaries as soldiers, policemen, and security officials. Despite his calls for peace and stability, he said the situation is growing worse daily and the time may soon come when he is unable to prevent looting or murder from spreading through the town.

Despite this, al-Ahmad says he has no regrets about the end of the Hussein era. "Saddam did bad things not only to Iraqis but to the whole Arab world and to the entire world," he said. "And now Iraq faces problems because of Saddam's policy."