Rumours that coalition troops "fighting for freedom and democracy in Iraq" sometimes dealt harshly with its inhabitants started spreading among the Iraqis almost from the first days of the occupation. Witnesses would come forward, testifying to the violence shown by the American military towards the locals.
But the coalition authorities and the provisional Iraqi leadership have until recently preferred to avoid accenting this fact, still explaining such excesses by the difficult security situation in the country and the need to carry out determined action in the fight against terrorism.
The publication in the western media of documentary evidence of tortures and insults against Iraqi prisoners seems to have shocked both the Iraqis and the coalition authorities. The latter, which a couple of months previously leaked reports about investigations of cases of brutal treatment of Iraqis kept in prison by "some of the American military", tried to improve their image of "dedicated and just friends" of local population.
A still more tickling situation, ahead of elections to new provisional bodies of authority, is facing members of Iraq's governing council, who have not until now given any plausible explanation for their position on this issue.
As regards ordinary Iraqis, "such a present from occupying troops," according to a taxi driver in Baghdad, "could hardly have been expected by the Iraqi resistance just a couple of days ago." Abdel-Jabbar al-Qubeisi, a leading member of the Committee of Sunni Ulemas (theologians), has stressed: "The American behaviour in Iraq provokes only hatred from locals. Even those who have until recently seen no reason for resisting the occupation are now coming round to avenging themselves on the invaders for their insulted country and people".
According to him, last year coalition forces were never able to establish normal relations with Iraqis. And how could this be done if "during the year American troops kept arresting, killing, bursting into homes, forcibly taking money and valuables from inhabitants, taunting Iraqi prisoners of war, thus creating an atmosphere of terror in the country", al-Qubeisi noted with indignation.
"We have spoken of the humiliation and tortures in Abu Ghreib prison from the very start of the occupation of Iraq," Hussein al-Kazimi, a spokesman for Ayatollah Jawad al-Halisi, one of the influential spiritual leaders among Iraqi Shiites, told the agency. "The Americans are taking care exclusively of their own interests in Iraq, for the sake of which they are prepared to kill absolutely innocent residents, violate God-given laws and moral principles in disregard of any international obligations." Bitter mutual dislike existing between occupying authorities and locals was also pointed up in an interview with RIA Novosti by Abdel Gadi al-Daraji, a spokesman for radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad.
According to him, photographs of tortures in Abu Ghreib are a graphic confirmation of the aggressive character of the American presence in Iraq.
In the view of al-Daraji, the latest proofs of crimes committed by coalition forces against Iraqis will cause an explosion of popular anger towards them in all the country's provinces, equally among Shiites and Sunnis.
"They have outraged the honour and pride of Iraqis. And this is not easily forgotten. Now even a child in Iraq will remember all his or her life what American freedom and democracy means in practice," said al-Daraji.