BAGHDAD A bad day is 1) when you get arrested 2) by the people who once worked for you and 3) they tell you exactly what they think of you. Muhammad Zimam Abdul-Razzaq, No. 41 on the Americans’ most wanted list here, former interior minister, enemy of Iraq’s Kurds and bygone potentate, was having a really bad day. There he was in his house in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Saidiya on Sunday, minding his own business, hiding out from the Americans. Then the Iraqi police, his former minions, of all people, showed up around lunchtime and nabbed him.
Where were the burly, locked-and-loaded American soldiers who hunted down the dangerous? Why did they send a bunch of Iraqi cops barely old enough to shave, who wore baseball caps that read SWAT in homemade letters? The indignities were just beginning for Zimam. Maybe not every crony of Saddam Hussein who has been captured has felt fate coming full circle, but what had gone around was clearly coming around for Zimam. The media were already waiting for Zimam at the office of Ahmed Ibrahim, the deputy interior minister.
Ibrahim likes the press. His walls are shiny with photos of him shaking hands with every Bush administration star whose world tour has included Baghdad. Sitting together on a black couch, Ibrahim did not want Zimam to feel scared, he said into the Al Jazeera camera. This was, after all, the new Iraq.
“Despite the fact that he did so many bad things to the Iraqi police,” Ibrahim said, “we should respect him. He’s our guest.”
Zimam wasn’t convinced.
“Ahmed, I swear to God, I haven’t seen Saddam since before the war,” Zimam muttered to his captor. “I don’t own any farms, I swear to God,” he said, trying to differentiate himself from other top Baathists who grew rich under Saddam. “You jailed one of these men,” Ibrahim went on. Lieutenant Munaaf Jabber was sitting on the carpet in front of the couch, recording the press conference with a dictaphone.
“You sent me to jail,” he said to Zimam. “These are the scars from the punishment,” he said, taking the watch off his left arm and pointing to a place just above his wrist.
Zimam put on his best fatherly smile: “No, no,” he said. “I don’t remember you.” The door opened, and another police officer came in. He had spent 400,000 Iraqi dinars to fix police cars years before, but Zimam failed to reimburse him for it.
“When am I going to get my 400,000 dinars back?” the officer demanded, standing over Zimam. “Ahmed,” Zimam said, nudging his host, “are you going to let these people talk to me this way?” He was. “You were responsible for the prisons behind the academy,” Jabber went on. “They punished me there. They kicked me for a crime I didn’t commit.”
Zimam could see it was going to be a long afternoon. He jutted his chin out. He looked imperiously bored. “The first minute I was minister,” Zimam argued, “I got rid of those prisons.” Others came in.
“I was punished for making phone calls,” said Captain Alaa Hamed. “I was sent down to Amara for three months, to a prison where they lash you.” “If you have any proof that I did this,” Zimam said, “then I deserve the punishment.” Jabber spoke up again: “The Kurds will know you better than us, because you were slaughtering their people.”
Zimam rolled his eyes and looked away.
“Have some tea,” Ibrahim told his prisoner. “Have some coffee.”
Two middle-aged American men who said they were with the coalition authorities hung back, their Beretta submachine guns resting against the black couch, looking at the back-and-forth like house guests pinched by a family fight. “They do things here that we wouldn’t normally do,” one of the men said. After awhile, no more people were around to denunciate Zimam. The press had to leave. The Americans had to talk to Zimam, one of many conversations he will surely have with them in the coming weeks and months. The Iraqis loosened their grip on their old boss, but with a flourish. One officer stepped into the hallway outside Ibrahim’s office and with a big smile on his face, threw fistfuls of candy to the other grinning police officers waiting there.