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Revenge Complicates Healing Process in Time After Saddam

By Susan Sachs

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

Until justice is done and Saddam Hussein is dead, Sadri Adab Diwan will carry with him the handwritten accusation that condemned his little sister to death.

The sister, Hanaa Adeb, a student, “is conducting backward religious activity inside the school,” a security agent wrote in black ink in October 1980, a time of widespread persecution of Shiite Muslims. “Please open a secret investigation.”

Soon afterward, Hanaa, a devout girl of 17, was arrested. She never returned home.

It was only six months ago, after locating her yellowing case file in a government office, that her family finally learned why she had been taken. Hanaa, an informer reported, gave a Quran to a high school classmate.

“The case of this girl, this pure-hearted girl, has been living with me for 20 years,” said Diwan, who was the eldest of 10 children of whom Hanaa was the youngest. “If I catch Saddam I won’t kill him. That won’t be enough. I’ll suck his blood. And if he escapes I’ll follow him to the ends of the earth.”

Openly expressed rage of such intensity courses through Iraq, where the dead, the maimed and the missing consume the thoughts of the living.

Six months after President Bush declared that major combat was over, countless problems crowd in on Iraqis, not least the absence of security and unemployment. But nothing seems to preoccupy them quite as much as the urge to settle accounts with the old government.

Suspected mass graves continue to come to light, replenishing the stores of grief and anger. Aided by forensic specialists and satellite imagery, American legal experts in Baghdad now say they have found 262 sites that may contain multiple human remains.

Some people have already extracted their vengeance for the killing fields in blood. Most recently there has been a wave of apparent revenge killings in Basra.

While there is no official tally of vigilante actions, accounts from the police and monitoring groups suggest that perhaps several hundred former Baath Party officials have been murdered since the fall of Saddam’s government.