a father's choice: kill son or watch family die

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    A father's choice: kill son or watch family die
    August 11, 2003 - 12:18PM

    Dhuluaiyah, Iraq:

    The tale is recounted only in whispers, but its horror still rings loud through the orchards of apples, dates and figs surrounding this small town.

    Last month, townspeople say, tribal leaders gave a farmer named Salim Khaldoun a sobering choice: Kill your son, or watch your entire family be killed.

    His son Sabah, 29, had committed a terrible crime. Eager for money, he had tipped off the Americans to a house where he said Saddam Hussein had stayed.

    US soldiers raided the house, finding no trace of Saddam but killing a 12-year-old boy. Sabah, neighbours say, accompanied the soldiers on the raid. His face was covered with a sack, but they recognised him easily.

    "Sabah also gave information about former intelligence and military officers," neighbour Ahmed Ibrahim confided. "He did it for money."

    Dhuluaiyah is a one-street town 85 kilometres northwest of Baghdad in the "Sunni Triangle" where US forces have met the fiercest resistance. Surrounded by orchards, the town appears deserted during the day because the men are in the fields.

    Townspeople are still deeply resentful of the Americans because of an Army sweep two months ago in which dozens of people were detained at a nearby military base and, they claim, left in the hot sun for days before they were released.

    Many also support Saddam, as intelligence officers and other regime cadres were recruited from the heavily Sunni Muslim area.

    A month after Sabah Salim's death, few people are willing to discuss how he died.

    "I don't know how he was killed, but he deserved it because he was a traitor," Ibrahim said.

    The head of the town's tribal council, Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh, refused to discuss the details and described the incident as "mere family business."

    Police Maj. Mehdi Saleh said nobody had asked for an investigation or even a death certificate. He said no probe was being conducted because it "could be sensitive in the community."

    Pinched by a colleague, he became even more vague.

    "I only heard about the incident," he said. "Nobody from Sabah's family has come to us to demand an investigation, so we can't take any measures."

    But outside the station, a police captain jumped inside a reporter's car to give a fuller story.

    The tribal council, he said, went to Salim Khaldoun with a message: "Kill your son, or the whole family will be wiped out."

    The next day, Sabah was found dead in his family's farm, the officer said. The father hasn't been seen since.

    Standing at the gate of Sabah's house, a teenage relative confirmed that Salim Khaldoun had killed his son.

    He said US soldiers came looking for Khaldoun last week but didn't find him.

    The family itself offered a cold reception in the house. Khaldoun's brother said he didn't want to discuss the "the Sabah incident" because it had already brought enough trouble to the family.

    He said he preferred to discuss the difficulties of post-war life in rural Iraq, especially the electricity cutoffs that leave farmers unable to pump water from the nearby Tigris River into their orchards.

    "Our dying trees," he said, "are more important than the dead Sabah."

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