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The Other Iraqi Legacy : The New Yorker


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As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of America’s invasion of Iraq, I find myself turning away from the usual signposts—the dead, the money, the ruins—and calling up instead a memory from the afternoon I spent in a place called Al Hakemiya.

It was April 20, 2003, eleven days after Saddam Hussein and his confederates had scurried from Baghdad. Anarchy was in full gallop—thievery and depravity were unfolding across the capital. The new paradigm, the liberation-as-catastrophe, had already started its nine-year run.

Surveying the chaos from an Iraqi car, I wondered whether evidence of the old regime’s misdeeds would be gobbled up by the fire. I turned to my driver, an Iraqi I’d met only a couple of days before. “Do you know a place where people were tortured?” He shrugged and turned the wheel of his battered car.

We drove to a neighborhood called Karrada, one of the loveliest in the city. At the end of a leafy street sat a squat three-story building, bigger than the surrounding houses but otherwise nondescript. This is it, my driver said—Al Hakemiya, a place run by the Mukhabarat, which in Arabic means “secret police.”

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