Sense of Brotherhood
In Mahmoud Saeed’s novel Saddam City, Mustafa Ali Noman is arrested suddenly without being given specific charges. Over the next few months, he is sent to six different prisons all over Iraq, where he meets hundreds of fellow prisoners. Although these men come from many nationalities, ethnicities, and geographical regions of Iraq, they always retain a strong sense of unity and brotherhood with each other, even though they know they will probably never see each other again once their time at that prison has expired.
At the first prison in Basra, Mustafa is handcuffed to another man who had been severely tortured and has a badly injured wrist. Any movement by Mustafa causes extreme pain for his partner, and even though he does not know this man, Mustafa starts “to move my hand according to his wishes” (34). In retrospect he also offers an apology “to my friend, whom I knew not, nor ever saw” (34). Even though he has no idea who his partner is and he has not been subjected to similar torture yet, Mustafa feels great compassion and sympathy for him. He has also only been imprisoned for a few days without personal contact, so this brotherhood he experiences can only be natural, not simply a part of a learned prison culture.
While at the prison in Baghdad, Mustafa is reunited with Waheed, with whom he was transported from Basra. Even though they only knew each other from the truck ride between prisons and Mustafa only then “saw his eyes for the first time” (53), they “embraced and kissed like long-lost friends” (53). These men had only met once and had not shared a face-to-face conversation, yet they could not contain their joy at seeing each other.
To Mustafa and Waheed, it does not matter where they are from, what their charges are, or even if they are guilty or innocent. Mustafa has similar experiences in every prison he goes to, as strangers offer him their rations, beds, and anything else they can give. Before going to Mosul, one man gives Mustafa “his threadbare woolen spread and thin straw mat” (72) and asks, “Your wish is my command. Is there anything I can do for you?” (72) Immediately upon arriving in Mosul, “dozens crowded around me, giving advice” (82). This scene plays out in every prison for every new detainee, not just Mustafa, as no one is excluded from the brotherhood.
Even some of the guards experience a sense of unity, although not all of them do. When Mustafa is brought to Mosul, he is met by the warden and interrogated again as to why he was arrested in the first place. Mustafa again explains that he doesn’t know, and the warden shows great interest in helping him, saying, “I wish to help you. Say what you want to say. Don’t hold back.” (81) They only meet one time, but Mustafa admits that he feels like he has “known him a long time” (81).
Mustafa is sent to six different prisons across Iraq, from Basra to Sulaymaniyah, surrounded by strangers at every turn, but he almost never feels isolated. In each place there is a strong sense of community and brotherhood among the prisoners and even some of the guards, and strong relationships are forged between people no matter how brief their encounters. The prisoners’ unity is inherent to their situations and all-inclusive, regardless of religion, ethnicity, charges, or guilt. Mustafa remembers all of his newfound brothers, even though he never sees them again.