I see little for the Observer correspondent, Farzad Bazoft, sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. President Saddam Hussein, whose regin has been longer than that of most military dictators, is the only person who can commute the sentence. And he does not seem to be the type.
I have had two frightening experiences of Iraq. I will deal with the second one. The invitation had come from Saddam Hussein's government, two weeks in Baghdad to celebrate the first anniversary of the war with Iran. At that time it was felt that Iraq had already won the war and there was much celebration in the city.
There were other journalists invited. No programme was given to us, we were never told where we would be taken. Every day we would be put in a bus and driven off. One day we were taken to a cinema to see the Arabs conquering the Old Persian Empire. Another day to an old palace of the pashas to watch a display of fireworks on the Tigris. One of the barges carrying the fireworkds caught fire. One morning to see the restoration of the city of Babylon (that was interesting) and another afternoon to climb the Tower of Babel. Tow days we spent listening to the deliberations of an Afro-Asian of Third World conference. Mr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, a delegate from India, was one of the persons who wrote and moved the final resolution.
The programme was interesting, but about everything they were so secretive. They would put the curtains down in buses when we passed a site they did not want us to see. Even if we were going to a concert, the guides would refuse to tell us so. And, at least my passport was taken away because I had tried to return home before the scheduled date.
President Saddan Hussein's pictures were all over the country. This is one sure way of recognishing a dictatorship, Big Brother looking at you. Even in India, at certain times in our history, some of our prime ministers have looked at us from posters at every advantage point, photographs on walls of government and semi-government offices, and from the TV screen.
Saddam Hussein appeared on TV all the time, pinning medals on the heroes of the war. On the anniversary day, he addressed the nation from a TV screen for 149 unblinking minutes.
Finally, two days, before our departure, we were bundled into the buses, driven through a series of security screens (somewhere along the way, driver was replaced by a man in a paratooper's uniform), taken to a small fort guarded by machine-gunned men, one by one passed through metal detector, our identities closely checked, then ushered into an auditorium.
The rumour was that Saddan Hussein was to address us, but it was not confirmed till ne entered the auditorium four hours after we had. It was a press conference. An official read out the questions from a sheet of paper, Saddam Hussein read out the answer from another sheet of paper. I have reason to dread the fate of the Observer correspondent.