Still Iraq's civil servants go to work, and still they go on dying

By Robert Fisk

The Independent

03 March 2005

They die now so often that their names - even their jobs - escape us. Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud was shot dead on Tuesday along with his son - so often, the sons die with their fathers - a lawyer working on the special tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein and his henchmen for crimes against humanity.

Today a judge, last week a senior police officer in Mosul, police chiefs, government clerks, economists from the Ministry of Finance, junior civil servants - "collaborators" in the eyes of the ruthless men who are destroying so much of the infrastructure of "new" Iraq - fall almost every day to the insurrection.

What makes them do these jobs? They know, these men and women, that they are going to be called "collaborators" by their enemies. They know, too, that they can be betrayed by those who work with them. Repeatedly in Baghdad, I have visited the location of these ambushes, only to find that the cops and officials who were targeted were taking a new route to their offices, driving a different car, leaving from a different house. And almost always, they are killed.

One government official who survived a car bombing in northern Baghdad told me that the day his convoy was attacked, he had arranged two new routes to his office. The first was the route he took, the second an emergency road on which he would drive if he felt insecure. A suicide bomber blew himself up on the first road as the convoy approached, killing some of the official's bodyguards. His men later found a bomb hidden on the second road - just in case he changed his mind. There could be only one reason: he was betrayed by those he worked with. We do not yet know - and perhaps never will - how Judge Mahmoud's killers came to set up their ambush. Most of the lawyers and judges on the tribunal live in the doubtful security of the "Green Zone'', the vast campus of American and British diplomatic houses and offices belonging to the American-appointed Iraqi administration surrounded by concrete walls and US troops. Suicide bombers even breached this security, blowing themselves up in a "Green Zone" restaurant. Another inside job.

There are, of course, good men and true among the army of government workers, innocent as the two dozen humbler, nameless folk who are brought to the Baghdad mortuary each day.

I've travelled the streets of Baghdad with Iraq's vulnerable police patrols. One cop told me frankly why he did his job: for the money and because - having been a policeman under Saddam - he could for once perform his real role of protecting his own people rather than a regime. Iraqis came on to the streets to offer tea to the policemen. The cops liked being liked. But judges are more valuable targets for the insurgents and - by the nature of their work - must live with the knowledge of constantly impending death.

They want a "new" Iraq. Not perhaps the American version, but certainly an Iraq which is not ruled by Baathists or mullahs or religious perfectionists with guns.

You can see the tension they live under when you meet them at the airport. Government ministers love foreign travel - wouldn't you if every bullet had your name on it at home - but every official who reaches Baghdad airport alive has a look of relief on his or her face. They smoke 20, 30 cigarettes before their flight takes off - then, after spiralling up to 32,000 feet to avoid anti-aircraft missiles, they burst into conversation and laughter. Travelling back to Baghdad airport with them, there is false bonhomie on board and fear on arrival, a car with a gunman-driver to take them home. And still they work. And still they go on dying.