Prominent Iraqi Sheik Turns in Weapons
May. 12, 2003
TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) _ The leader of a prominent clan from near Saddam Hussein's birthplace turned over scores of weapons and explosives as a show of solidarity with American forces, the first head of an area tribe to voluntarily disarm his people at the request of the U.S. Army.
Sheik Al-Bo Aiesa Muzahin Ali Kareem said he turned in more than 80 AK-47 assault rifles, three mortars, three rocket propelled grenades and three cases of explosives Sunday because he now felt secure with the presence of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division in the area _ and because it is time to move forward.
``We need peace now, Iraqi people need help, they need food,'' Kareem said. ``Weapons they must give up. Why they need weapons?''
Lt. Col. Don Jackson, the division civil affairs officer who received the weapons, said all Iraqis have been told to disarm and he hoped that seeing someone of Kareem's stature _ especially from the region of Uja, Saddam's town of birth _ would inspire others to follow suit.
``This is pretty substantial,'' said the 44-year-old Shreveport, La. native.
Appearing with his son and other members of his family at the division's civil affairs office, which has been open in downtown Tikrit for about a week, Kareem also turned in a half-dozen vehicles that had been given to leaders of Saddam's Baath Party in his area.
Two days ago, he brought in 23 AK-47s that were voluntarily turned in to him, but said the rest came only after he gave his people the choice of turning in their weapons or having them forcibly taken from them.
``All my people, I told them now we are in peace, we are in the USA order, and you must obey,'' he said.
American forces have found massive caches of weapons and ammunition in the Tikrit area and all over Iraq, but have been aggressively keeping looters away from them. Particularly significant about the weapons turned over Sunday was that they were all already in the hands of people, Jackson said.
Kareem is one of about 15 tribal leaders who have been in talks with American forces over the future of the region. He said he thought most of his peers are happy Saddam is gone.
``It is best the USA removed this criminal man,'' he said.
In the past week the American forces have installed a governor and started joint patrols with Iraqi police, and life is beginning to get back to normal with the opening of gas stations, stores, and schools.
But bringing free and fair elections to a country used to decades of dictatorship is still a massive challenge.
Even among Kareem's family, which supports the American presence, the feeling is that the country would be better with a restoration of a strong monarchy rather than a constitutional democracy.
``We need a king, not a president,'' said the sheik's son, Hussein Muzahin Ali Kareem. ``We want to live like Jordan, like Saudi, like England. We want to see medicine, food, streets. ... Every president who we have is a thief _ he do like Saddam.''