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A Tale of Two Crypts

A Tale of Two Crypts

Jawad Amir Sayyid's story makes a powerful symbolic counterpoint to Saddam Hussein's capture.


The discovery of Saddam Hussein in a crypt-like hole, hidden by bricks and dirt, in a farmhouse in a small town near Tikrit brings to mind the story of another Iraqi who also hid from the authorities by literally going underground.

That Iraqi is Jawad Amir Sayyid, 45, of Karada, a town southeast of Baghdad. He dwelt for an astonishing 21 years in a cell below his family's kitchen, entering it on December 2, 1981, and not once emerging from it until April 10, 2003, a day after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Sayyid disappeared from the world because he had deserted from Saddam's army and supported dissident views. Fearing execution, he built a concrete one by one-and-a-half meter subterranean room.

The walls of his self-imposed prison cell were organized with a series of hooks holding such implements as a scythe, a bamboo fan, a mirror, a kettle, a stove, a toothbrush and a clock. A small hole at the top of the cell provided some sunlight. He drew water from a tiny well and had a miniature toilet.

His mother tended to him during all those years through a trap-door entrance; he kept up with world events by listening closely through headphones to the BBC's Arabic Service. His first hope of release came right after 9/11, when US President George W. Bush gave a speech declaring that terrorists of the world would be hunted down. "The next time my mother brought me food I told her of my conviction that [Saddam Hussein] would not last." Sayyid waited only one day after Saddam's fall to abandon his hiding place.

Sayyid's story makes a powerful symbolic counterpoint to Saddam Hussein's capture on Saturday night. A young man hides in a crypt for over two decades as Saddam Hussein rules the land as a brutal and absolute dictator. The American-led coalition liberates the country. The no-longer-young man comes out of his stifling cell and staggers into the sunlight just as the monstrous ruler abandons his gleaming palaces and himself begins haunting crypts to escape the authorities.

Since April 2003, innocent Iraqis move about freely above ground while Saddam and his henchmen slip from one rat hole to another.

The contrast in their spirits on leaving the crypts bears notice: Saddam was described by the US military as "a tired man, a man resigned to his fate." Sayyid said of himself to London's Daily Telegraph, which described his bent and birdlike frame as quivering with excitement, "I was a fit young man when I first took refuge. Now I am withered and old. But I feel I have the energy of a young boy once again and there is not a second of the day when I do not taste the fruits of freedom."

In miniature, this tale points to the profound morality of the American-led invasion, symbolized by the fact that, since April 2003, innocent Iraqis move about freely above ground while Saddam and his henchmen slip from one rat hole to another.

In the broader sweep of history, the Iraqi vignette serves as a reminder of the role Americans have for 60 years played around the world -- defeating totalitarian regimes and bringing a modicum of decency and freedom to desperate lands.

The list is a long one and would include virtually every country of Western Europe, saved once from the Nazis and a second time from the communists. It includes all the states and satellites of the former Soviet Union, which collapsed on failing to sustain a rivalry with the United States. The list also includes many East Asian countries saved from Japanese imperialism. And it includes Kuwait, saved from Iraqi aggression.

Conversely, the one place where the United States lost a war -- Vietnam -- totalitarian rule continues.

In short, however flawed the US government is -- and it certainly is flawed -- in the course of pursuing an enlightened self-interest since the 1940s, it has liberated peoples worldwide. Or, to quote Jawad Amir Sayyid back in the spring, soon after he left the crypt: "I believe that Allah worked through Mr. Bush to make this happen. If I met Mr. Bush, I would say 'thank you, thank you, you are a good human, you returned me from the dead.'"

The words may be hyperbolic, but this sentiment of gratitude toward America is one that hundreds of millions of people have at one time shared.

December 20, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Michael, December 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Another Disturbing Article

Removal of Saddam is hopefully considered good and not evil. But the good old USA has installed its fair share of despots too...does Panama ring a bell? or the Shah? not too mention several other historic blunders. I was born when the US got involved in Vietnam, and my dad was serving over there with 250,000 other US troops when Robert McNamara testified we had no troops in SE Asia....that is when my childhood innocence was robbed from me. How much more politically correct damage control must we tolerate? Even now as we speak, read and write, the USA is financing and funding, antiIsraeli objectives...and with technology militarily speaking too.

(4) betti miner, December 23, 2003 12:00 AM

great story!

It was a Hanukkah miracle for this brave Iraqi man who chose to leave the cruel regime of Saddam. I must make a correction however on your sentence about Vietnam. The US DID NOT lose that war, it was a draw. No one lost and no one won. Thank you Mr. Pipes.

(3) Anonymous, December 22, 2003 12:00 AM

The U,S.. AND THE U.SSR..LIBERATED THE Nazi death camps...

the U.S HAS FOUGHT VALIANTLY in W.W.2 TO SAVE MANY NATIONS INCLUDING Australia where and whn it built roads and communications in hot spots...saving us from Japanese and Nazi invasion... thank you U.S. DEFENCE FORCES...AUSTRALIA WOULD HAVE BEEN ONE BIG DEATH CAMP IN PROBABILITY IF NOT FOR YOU...

(2) Bob Honeyman, December 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Flawed Policy

Mr. Pipes draws a poignant picture. Thank G-d we were able to help the people of Iraq. But why Iraq? Why not Syria? Why not Saudi Arabia? Why not The Sudan? There are a dozen other places in the world that offer equally compelling arguments for unilateral U.S. invasion, all of which present a threat to U.S. and world security that is no less than the threat posed by the pre-invasion Iraq.

But we live in a world where even the U.S. chas v'shalom has finite resources. Indications exist that U.S. actions in Iraq may have been the result of disingenuity on the part of the Bush administration. There is strong evidence that intelligence disproving the existence of WMD was ignored and willfully suppressed by senior members of this administration. Meanwhile, Afghanistan returns to the 12th century. $87 billion dollars are being poured into Iraq, a country not directly involved with 9/11, while funding to help secure a liberal future for Afghanistan isn't even discussed let alone allocated.

A signigicant portion of Afghanistan is back under the control of the Taliban. Is this not a major concern for our world? Better for Mr. Pipes to tell us of the successes in such locations that directly threaten U.S. and world security. But that's not possible since this administration seems to have chosen to use Iraq as a red herring to divert attention from the more direct threats to the American people.

Since the U.S. took down Saddam, there's no question that the U.S. has the moral responsibility to rebuild Iraq. However, in the war on terrorism, the front lines remain in Afghanistan, not Iraq. It's easy to display pictures of the pathetic former dictator. But whatever minor threat he posed to the world while in office ceased upon his being toppled. Would that the same were true of bin Laden and his minions.

(1) Jose Pineda, December 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Some self-criticism would be healthier than this

"Conversely, the one place where the United States lost a war -- Vietnam -- totalitarian rule continues."

Not too much Americans remember that, while U.S. troops were fighting (and getting killed) in Vietnam, a largely impopular, cruel dictator was in charge. It sent thousands of his countrymen to dead thru police and army, oppressed the Buddhists, run the country with terror with the aid of a very corrupt government... The first American antointed dictator was killed and replaced by a military junta of people not too different from him... and that was the kind of guys who were helping the U.S. "save" their country from communism... (just peer at you Encarta Encyclopedias to verify, from an American encyclopedia, what I'm holding as true)

So, were the Americans fighting the communists to liberate Vietnamites from a possible totalitarian rule to have them accept another totalitarian rule stablished by themselves? L.O.L.

Unfortunately, not too many Americans remember the Allende/Pinochet affair in Chile, and from those who do know, only a minnority is embarrassed by the fact their government conspired to throw out a democratically ellected leader to put in his place a bloody general who sent thousands of his people to dead... whom the U.S.A. was fast to recognise as the "legitimate government"... Was he ever catalogued as belonging to an evil-axis"?

It's the same U.S.A who first armed Saddam and then urged him to fight the Iranian ayatollahs, who armed (with very high-tech weapons, remember) and funded Bin Laden and his fellow talibans to fight the soviets at Afghanistan... who is now trying to discipline his rebel children once they've gotten out of control and are no longer necessary...

1) That killing your own people is OK if it's to "save" it from an undesired ideology.
2) That the end justifies the way.

How is this site I love so much doing this? Well, indirectly, by publishing this kind of self-glorification pamphlets giving hoorays to American intervensions in other countries...

Publishing this, it's as though Aish had said: "We Americans placed some brutal regimes in Vietnam and some other places, but it was for their own sake, they were to be freed of communism!!! Had we won Vietnam's war, they would be now very well, no matter how much they suffered in their !!"

(Which, by the way, I believe not: not every place where Americans placed strongmen did achieve the economic success of Chile - I could remember here a very large list of American backed brutal regimes: Somoza and Noriega in Central America, Duvalier
in Haiti, the regimes of Liberia, etc. Now, question is, should I?)

So, the Americans did a favor to the Iraqis overthrowning a dictator? Yes, they did, and a very big one... However, they could've done an even bigger if Saddam hadn't been allowed to get power in the first place, or if they had got him out earlier... And they could've done mankind an enormous favour by not supporting the kind of governments mentioned above...

Please, stop publishing this kind of patriotic pamphlets. If it's really your desire to improve the American people's
morality and spirituality, self-criticism is far better than self-glorification - far worse when the actions glorified (armed intervensions abroad) have not always resulted in benefit for that country or mankind. Even worse, when they have resulted in
governments doing exactly what is opposed to God's law.

Thank you.

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