disturbing glimps

Saddam City


The descriptions of prison life and the treatment of prisoners in Iraq in Mahmoud Saeed’s Saddam City offer a disturbing glimpse at the realities of living under the force of a corrupt political regime.  Yet despite the many gruesome images and disheartening experiences as told by Mustafa Ali Norman, a great sense of humanity glimmered from beneath his seemingly hopeless imprisonment.  Throughout his time in the many Iraqi prisons, Mustafa encountered true brotherhood, shared hope, and sympathetic mercy which resulted from the common experiences of those, both captive and commanding, destined to thrive in the confusing and vicious world that was their Iraq. One of the initial forms of humanity shown in Mustafa’s prison experience is the instances of compassion and mercy that the prison guards show the prisoner.  Despite the fact that some guards carry out the brutal torture of some prisoners and berate their religious beliefs, others allow Mustafa to remain standing during interrogation to avoid a dysentery attack.  The potential humiliation and physical pain brought on by such an attack may have satisfied some of the guards; but to the relief and amazement of the reader, these particular guards were sympathetic.  Later on in the story, Mustafa’s chronic dysentery and general physical decline lead him to beseech a guard for use of the facilities.  Expecting a degrading response, the officer instead replied, “Can you run?  Come on then; run” (43).  This willingness to offer relief to Mustafa incites the narrator to question “Was it possible he was simply a good man who had somehow ended up in the wrong line of work?” (44).  In this way, Mustafa–who is also an innocent man who, due to coincidental circumstances, became wrongly imprisoned–is able to forge a feeling of mutual understanding with the officer.  Both are victims of a cruel regime. The mercy that guards bestow upon Mustafa is also evident in the prisoners’ treatment of one another.  One might assume that the prisoners, after suffering months or years in the harsh conditions of the Iraqi prisons, would become inhumane and lose their sense of brotherhood and hope.  Mustafa quickly realizes, however, that their humanity and brotherhood remain intact.  The narrator notes, “despite the exhaustion, restrains and reduction of my humanity to the banality of a mere number, I found myself in a space suffused with human warmth” (45).  These prisoners, with little resources by which to nourish and comfort themselves, quickly offer their meager food and blankets to Mustafa.  Before Mustafa was transported to this prison, he found himself draining his efforts to maintain his humanity when, despite his extreme hunger and exhaustion, he attempted to comfort a young boy whose fate appeared to be death at the hands of the officers.  He even notes that he longed “to carry his coffin, attend his wake and say a prayer at his graveside” (42). This sense of brotherhood that develops throughout Mustafa’s prison experiences is evident not only in how the prisoners care and provide for one another’s physical needs, but also in how they emotionally support one another.  A footnote mentions that the use of the term “brother” in the story refers to “the friendly manner in which Arabs of different national and ethnic origins greet each other” (96).  The unique use of this term appears throughout the story and is truly representative of the fondness that develops between the many prisoners of diverse backgrounds.  Mustafa notes many times that upon departing fellow inmates, he is reduced to tears.  These unlikely companions banded together to alleviate the harsh realities of their imprisonment and uncertain fates.  Mahmoud Saeed’s depiction of an Iraqi prison experience, though violent and at times tinged with despair, offers an underlying indication of hope in brotherhood under a corrupt regime.


About mahmoudsaeediraq

I am an Iraqi writer. I came to the USA in 1999, and I got politic asylum. Since that time I am living in Chicago, Illinois. I have written more than 20 novels and short story collections and hundreds of articles. Some of my novels were destroyed by Iraqi regimes. I have won awards in Iraq, Egypt and the United States. I also have won awards for short stories, one in Iraq and the second in UAE. I worked in Iraq as a high school teacher teaching Arabic literature. I was imprisoned six times between 1959 and 1980. I was dismissed from my job for three years, so I went to Morocco and I worked there as a high school teacher. I wrote about last time in prison as novel titled, "I am the one who saw." This novel was translated to English by Dr. Sadri (a professor of Lake Frost University) and published in Al Saqi house publishing company in London by the name of "Saddam City." The New York Public Libraries listed my novel as one of the best novels of the last century. Amnesty international chose 37 writers from all over the world, including me, to celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wrote short stories, and the collection was published in London, USA, Canada, Spain, and Turkey. It was translated in more than 20 languages. MAHMOUD SAEED, Chicago, Illinois
This entry was posted in مقالات نقدية بالإنكليزية عن أعمال محمود سعيد - Reviews in English About Mahmoud's Works. Bookmark the permalink.

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