Monday, June 13, 2005


Iraqi Forefingers

The purple-colored finger became a sign of participating in the new ‘democracy’ in Iraq. But there is another telltale forefinger that was a sign of something quite different in another violent episode of Iraq’s recent history.

There has been compulsory National Service (draft) in Iraq for more than 60 years. However, traditionally, there were some exceptions. No one who was the sole supporter of a family was conscripted. Not all brothers of a single family were simultaneously drafted.

As the Iraq-Iran war (1980 – 1988) dragged on, human fodder was badly needed. Consequently, most of those exceptions were ignored. Even physically or mentally handicapped people were subjected to considerable ordeals before specialist medical and military committees were convinced that they were actually handicapped. It was not unusual to find all brothers of a family serving in the army at the same time. And because of the duration of that war, there were even cases of both father and sons serving concurrently.

There was a time when the bodies of those killed in action were sent to the local police station to deliver them to their families. I still vividly remember the incident related to me by a girl who worked in the same government department with me who went to receive the body of her dead brother. She saw three coffins of three brothers, all killed in the same battle. The policemen there were having difficulty to find a volunteer among themselves who had sufficient impertinence to go and inform their mother!

Anyway, back to the business of forefingers!

To avoid combat deployment for a variety of reasons, some people amputated their own right-hand forefingers, the one that pulls the trigger. I have met at least 10 people over the past two decades with missing fingers, easily noticeable in handshakes.

One man I knew used a bench saw to severe his own finger in an almost authentic ‘accident’. But the most common method used was for the person to hold the barrel of a shot-gun with his right hand so that the index finger is placed on the barrel’s outlet. He fires the gun and… half the finger disappears! This was a lot more common in the countryside where it is ‘manly’ not to fear pain.


During the chaos and the lawlessness that followed the invasion, a truck driver who worked for a government establishment was stopped on a deserted road and his truck was hijacked by a group of masked, armed men. Before leaving, one of the villains shouted: “This is what traitors and collaborators get” to give the impression that they were resistance people. The poor driver was baffled; he was only a driver working for the Grain Board.

During the proceedings, the driver noticed the missing finger of one of the hijackers.

He and his kin were fast on the trail of the hijacked truck. It took them less than 24 hours to determine the small area associated with a locally known tribe where the trace of the truck disappeared.

Farmers in that area use what they call “nylon” - plastic tunnels to force growing summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and aubergines in cold weather. Something like greenhouses that use steel rods (a quarter of an inch in diameter and about 3m long) that are inserted into the soil on either side of an irrigation ditch and covered with plastic. Quite a practical and a cost-effective method! It requires a great deal of hard work, but can be quite rewarding. It is customary for farmers who, for some reason, do not wish to use their steel rods in a given season to hire them out.

So, our hero the poor truck driver had some of his relatives tour that area going from farm to farm on the pretext of seeking to hire steel rods for their plastic tunnels. Within a week one of them had a glimpse of a missing finger of one of the men in the area. Further inquiries confirmed that that particular man was not too distant from other unsavory undertakings!

That did not constitute conclusive proof. But the trail, the missing forefinger and the suspect’s reputation were very strong evidence for suspicion. The truck driver’s people came out into the open. He now had a sufficient case to ask the suspect’s clan to take up the issue to clear themselves.

Meanwhile, our truck driver used every possible trick to postpone his own trial for the missing truck. If the judge is not convinced that there was actually a hijacking, he may force the poor driver to pay back the value of the truck to that government department.

At the moment he seems to be well on the way of having his tribal case won! Based on the circumstantial evidence that he obtained, the other clan is under considerable social obligation to come up with a convincing denial or to admit wrong-doing by the suspect and pay compensation.

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