Baghdad looked tense today as the city witnessed the launch of the new massive security operation "Forward Together".
The feeling here ranges from anxiety to hope which I saw clear in the voice and looks of the people I met; in addition to the understandable anxiety that accompanies every new military operation I saw a lot about hope that this new operation may be able to stop or even reverse the deterioration of security in the capital.
Well maybe this is our best chance to achieve some progress security-wise and there's a growing feeling (I won't say dominant but it's here and it's visible) that the new government has the real and serious desire to end this tragic chapter of Baghdad's history.
It seems that President Bush's visit to Baghdad has given more credibility for the operation; that at least was what I heard from people around me or read in Baghdad's papers today; the visit definitely left a positive impression that America is dead serious this time about finding solutions for Iraq especially when it comes to security and critical parts of reconstruction like electricity.
No one can predict how much time this new operation will take but time in this case is of little importance compared to accomplishing the objectives of the operation.
The streets weren't so much different this morning except for increased security presence in the form of checkpoints and traffic jams that were associated with a few incidents and this is what I experienced this morning on my way to work, most likely that was because I live in one of the hot spots that was among those listed as targets for the operation.
I heard a number of explosions that weren't so far away with sporadic light and medium gunfire but news reports indicate that only one incident left casualties.
Some Baghdadis have shopped for extra amounts of water, food and fuel expecting the operation and curfews to take more than a few days and there's a minor internal immigration within Baghdad from the more dangerous districts to the relatively safer ones. This isn't happening in large numbers and I knew about it only from some families that I know that have temporarily left their homes in some districts.
In Baghdad you can't find the same feeling you would find in Ramadi, that is the fear that the operation will include collective punishment and this is because Baghdadis are used to living standards of a big city (in Middle Eastern standards though) but in the past few years they have suffered enough from militants of all types and want their city life back, they want to see militias and insurgents defanged and they want schools and markets and services to function properly again.
In order to encourage the residents of Baghdad to report abuse by the ISF or send tips to the authorities, the government announced phone numbers and email addresses to facilitate contact. The government knows that large segments of the people (mostly Sunni) do not trust these lines and think they could be used to track them back through corrupt elements within the security forces, so the government is trying to deal with this mistrust and they announced numbers that people can use to directly contact the office of deputy PM Dr. Salam al-Zouba'i (who's originally from the Accord Front) apparently to persuade the Sunni residents of Baghdad to feel safe about contacting the authorities.
I don't want to bet on the citizens' cooperation in this regard but at the same time I can say that they won't give the militants a hand. The militants are getting more and more isolated by the day and this isolation is directly related to the increasing suffering and contempt of the citizens from this useless armed opposition especially that most of the once were opposition parties have joined the political process and became an integral part of the government and they smothered their tone and making their demands through political routes.
The militants know the strategic value of Baghdad so they will probably try hard to keep a low profile during the operation in order to stay in Baghdad and I don't expect them to risk an open confrontation with the authority and they will not be dragged to such confrontation; they depend almost entirely on hit and run attacks using the advantage of looking like civilians until the moment they strike.
So for this operation to work out, we will need to focus on disarmament and collecting every piece of weapons that can be collected because each weapon represents a chance for more violence.
In fact I believe this will be the main objective of this operation; to maintain strong security presence, make it harder for the militants to move around and do as much disarmament as possible.
The media here is reporting that the plans include collecting all unnecessary weapons from homes; that's if a family possesses two weapons fro example they will be allowed to keep only one small weapon with a limited amount of ammunition even if both weapons were licensed.
There are also rumors that the campaign will include questioning those who have recently moved from other provinces and settled in Baghdad or those who relocated themselves within Baghdad to verify the reasons behind that movement.
We'll try to keep you updated on this once we have more to say, but that's all for now.