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Iraqi Town Angered by U.S. Occupation

November 24, 2003

SAMARA, Iraq (AP) _ The Great Mosque, the Caliph’s Residence, the Spiral Minaret and other monuments stand as silent testimony to this city’s glorious past. The rutted streets and dilapidated shops tell of recent neglect under Saddam Hussein.

As a result, most people in this Sunni Muslim city of 180,000 are not fans of Saddam, unlike others of their religious group in the staunchly anti-American ``Sunni Triangle.″

``The media keep saying that the Sunnis benefited from Saddam,″ said Abdul-Hamid Hamoudi, a college professor. ``Saddam repressed both Shiites and Sunnis.″

But that doesn’t mean Samarans are happier with the Americans either. Many here believe U.S. troops have overstayed their welcome.

``We’re grateful that they got rid of Saddam, but they must leave. Even if things get worse for a while, it’s better than if they stayed,″ said Ayad Saleh, a history professor. ``We don’t want to trade one humiliation for another.″

Antipathy toward Saddam stems from a widespread belief that the ousted dictator neglected Samara and favored Tikrit, his own hometown some 40 miles to the north. Saddam executed 11 of Samara’s top Baath Party officials, including a couple of the party’s founders _ whom he considered a threat to his rule.

By contrast, Tikrit, once a dusty backwater, got all the government money and development aid it needed _ and more. Politicians from Tikrit, many of them Saddam’s relatives, rose quickly up the ranks of the former regime.

Meanwhile, Samara, founded in 836 A.D. by the Abbasid caliphs, fell into decay, a sharp contrast to its artistic, literary and scientific splendors of the 9th century. Then, the city was considered so delightful that it was named after the Arabic phrase surra man ra’ahar, literally ``happy is he who sees it.″

That phrase was in time compressed into Samara.

The Great Mosque, which was once the largest in the Islamic world, was built by Al-Mutawakkil in 852 A.D. from bricks and clay. The courtyard was surrounded by an arcade. The mosque’s minaret rises to a height of 170 feet.

Sheik Riyadh Kalidar, a top cleric and tribal chief here, said Saddam was ``afraid of Samara.″ He said three of the assassination attempts against Saddam were carried out by Samarans. Saddam, he said, wouldn’t even let the city publish its own newspaper.

After years of perceived discrimination, Samarans are quick to take offense at any sign of favoritism by the Americans too.

Their suspicion was reinforced when they learned that the Americans had allocated $7 million for the reconstruction of the province of Salahuddin, and that most of that money would go to the province’s capital, Tikrit.

Only $150,000 of that has been earmarked for Samara. And of that, only $30,000 has been spent, said Madlool Hassan, a college professor.

``Most of that money goes to Tikrit because they claim it is the capital of the governornate even though it is three times smaller in population,″ Hassan said.

Lt. Col. Ryan Gonsalves, the senior U.S. military officer in Samara, disputed that claim, saying the Americans were trying to make Samara ``a great city.″

``Samara is the most underdeveloped, neglected city in the Sunni Triangle,″ said Gonsalves, 40, from Ford Hood, Texas.

He said the Army had helped set up a city council, established a police force and a civil defense corps _ standard measures in all towns and cities under U.S. control.

``They are taking charge of the city,″ he said of the Iraqis.

There’s no university in Samara, only extension courses in biology, Arabic and history from Tikrit University. Samara’s students must journey to Tikrit for other courses, and quotes for their admission are lower than for students from Tikrit.

The only hospital in Samara that was built in 1965. Even Saddam’s birthplace Uja has a teaching hospital with modern equipment.

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