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Iraq: Iraqis Looking For Loved Ones Complain U.S. Officials Are Uncooperative

Iraqis complain that it is hard to get help or information from officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. They complain that the U.S. officials they need to see have isolated themselves inside a former presidential compound in Baghdad and think little about those on the other side of the walls. The situation is making many Iraqis discontented and angry, especially when they are looking for missing loved ones.

Baghdad, 5 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- It is a sunny day in Baghdad, and about 50 people are waiting at the entrance to the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC), which is based in a huge compound that used to belong to former President Saddam Hussein.

The crowd is getting angry. The majority of the people are trying to determine the fate of family members who have disappeared or who were taken for treatment to Ibn Sina hospital -- located inside the compound -- following various incidents. Ibn Sina used to be Hussein's private hospital, but today many accident victims, or those injured in shootings or bombings, are taken there by U.S. troops.

However, it is difficult for ordinary Iraqis to get any information out of the so-called "castle," which is guarded by U.S. troops, tanks, barbed wire, concrete blocks, and sophisticated surveillance equipment. The CMOC directs civil-military operations in Iraq in four major areas, including electricity, law enforcement, water and sanitation, and medical care.

Salah Raja Alwan came to the CMOC from Ramadi, a town some 80 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. Alwan said he is looking for his cousin, who disappeared two weeks ago. He said his cousin was driving a car and accidentally found himself in the midst of fighting between U.S. troops and the Iraqi resistance. Alwan said a U.S. tank smashed his cousin's car and injured or killed him.

He said he knows nothing about the fate of his cousin. Alwan said he has been coming to the compound every day but has not been able to find out anything about the condition of his relative. "They are not helping at all. Here are his pictures -- his family, his kids," Alwan said. "I've been coming here for seven days, and we know nothing about him. We just want to know if he's dead or alive. [The Americans] don't have compassion at all."

Alwan said officials have promised him information soon, but that nothing has been offered yet. Alwan said he has 10 other cousins who also are looking for the missing man. He said they are "knocking at every door of every official in all institutions, but everything remains a secret and no one can tell what has happened."

Rahda wants the CMOC's help in finding her brother, Ahmad. The two live in Sahraban, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad.

She said Ahmad used to go to Baghdad to buy kerosene. Witnesses told her that Ahmad was on his way to Baghdad last week and for some unknown reason stopped his car and got out as U.S. troops were passing by. "Maybe they took him for a resistance fighter," Rahda said. She said witnesses told her that U.S. troops smashed his car and that Ahmad was injured. "Now they say, 'Sorry,' but I still don't know if he is alive or dead."

"I've been coming here for three days, but they are not giving me any help. They said they brought him to Ibn Sina [hospital] by helicopter. They keep sending us back and forth, back and forth," Rahda said. Rahda has little hope but says she will continue to press for information about her brother from U.S. authorities.

Selam Anvar Da'ud is an old man with a white beard and a face lined with worry. He lives in Baquba, a town about 40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad. Several weeks ago, he said, three of his sons were involved in a car accident.

Da'ud pulls out a document signed by a U.S. official in Baquba but said it has not helped him to get inside the assistance center to find out about his sons. Da'ud calls the Americans "useless."

"[The Americans] don't help us. They don't allow me to go inside and look. I brought a letter from a municipality of Baquba, and the man who wrote it is an American. And still they don't let me go inside to see if my sons are dead or alive," Da'ud said.

Amer wants to know whether his father is dead or alive. Amer said his father earned his living driving a taxi in Baghdad. Two days ago, he said, a gang attacked his father, robbed him, and likely injured or killed him. Bystanders told Amer that, by coincidence, a U.S. patrol was passing by. They told Amer that the soldiers took his father away, perhaps to a hospital or the morgue.

Amer said he wants to see his father if he is recovering in a hospital, or take his body home if he is dead. "I just want to know if my father is alive or dead and where he is. I come here to speak with [U.S. officials]. I have been coming here from Sunday [2 November] until today. I come to speak with [the Americans], but they say they can do nothing for me," Amer said.

Amer said U.S. officials just send him from one place to another. He says he was sent to the Baghdad airport but was given no information there. He was told to visit the International Committee of the Red Cross, but he said the organization has been able to offer little help since it was attacked by a suicide bomber last week.

"We visited many morgues," Amer said. "They are full of corpses, but I did not find my father. I don't need to get inside the compound. What I want them to give me is information, and I get nothing."

Amer said there is nothing that can be done to make the Americans change their ways. He angrily says that if he had "something in his hands," he would teach them "how to behave."

Amer said the U.S. troops who invaded the country in March were different. "Those soldiers treated people much better," Amer lamented, "not like the ones who are based in the compound now and who are afraid of people."