Baghdad sounded quieter than usual today, and the sounds of bombs retracted before the tide of official announcements that took the news headlines replacing the usual bloody scenes.
Traffic in the capital was rather usual for a Thursday, the last weekday in the week. I woke up this morning to the sound of a small explosion, probably a PRG that was followed by some shooting which is usually the response of security forces present in the area to such attacks. That was during the curfew hours in the early morning and when I went out later in the morning there was no evidence that the attack left casualties or material loss and we even didn't hear about it in the news.
For the second day checkpoints are more abundant than usual and are more serious in their work; this is visible from the number of vehicles that get picked for searching. On normal days we would see soldiers manning the checkpoints do nothing more than scanning the passing vehicles with their eyes, sometimes holding a paper with a list of wanted registration plates and in most cases only dark-colored BMWs, Opels and Daewoos would be stopped and searched but now every vehicle is susceptible for a search.
We heard nothing about what was accomplished yesterday but we sense a clear atmosphere of cautious calm.
Tomorrow a ban on vehicles will be imposed from 11 am to 3 pm, apparently aimed at the Friday prayer time and the few hours prior to and after it.
I guess this curfew will be there for more than one Friday and the point behind that is probably to limit worshippers in mosques to the immediate circle around the mosque. In most cases worshippers are from that circle and they need no vehicles to get there but the case is different with large mosques that usually serve as substitute offices for certain political parties and trends and such mosques are frequented by lots of worshippers from distant places and always pose a possible starting point for organized protests or even violent action taking advantage from the divinity of mosques and the Friday ceremony as well as the long reach of certain large mosques that goes far beyond the spot of the mosque.
Naturally who takes the time to travel miles to get to a certain mosque is viewed as an active element seeking something beyond prayer alone, so this limitation will prevent such potentially undesirable activities from happening.
Back to the important announcements I mentioned above…
The Iraqi media was especially interested in PM Maliki's expected plan for reconciliation, talking about such a plan includes two sides closely related to the ongoing security operation, the first is a message telling that restoring security is not essentially through the use of force and that reconciliation is an important factor in building security and replacing bullets with talks. The second aspect falls in the category of shaking the lines of militants taking advantage from the hesitation of some groups following the successful strikes of the last several days.
In general and as a result of the Sunni participation in the government, these hesitant elements will have a good chance to leave weapons behind and join the political train by accepting the reconciliation invitation that pretty much resembles a pardon preceding a military crack down to deny the use of lack of such gesture as a pretext to continue the violent course by some militant groups.
The other announcement that received equally high coverage was that of the government's security adviser Mowafak al-Rubaie. While Maliki adopted the language of pardon, Rubaie adopted the language of confident force in addressing the extremists who cannot be negotiated with.
I agree that the raid that killed Zarqawi led us to some significant findings and revealed a lot of information but it didn't reveal everything, so I agree with Mr. Rubaie that the end of Zarqawi marked the beginning of al-Qaeda's end in Iraq and I do believe the government has a golden opportunity to deal with al-Qeada and its allies as the death of Zarqawi left his organization and followers in a state of shock and huge suspicion that the network's lines have been infiltrated, and I feel that most of them are behaving clumsily out of fear from being already identified and located. Of course this will make their moves more noticeable and will eventually expose them, that's if they're not already exposed.
Moreover, the government is sending vague messages through the local media stating that some of the documents seized near Zarqawi included names of well known political figures and I think this kind of leaked information is choking the involved elements.
In fact some people here are suggesting a link between the arrest of the head of the city council in Kerbala and the information found in those documents building these speculations on the nature and timing of the arrest, some are expecting similar arrest to follow against even more important figures.
That's what we're going to find out soon but in general these announcement and leaks stand as part of a necessary psychological war that-if performed well-can further lower the morale of the terrorists and their allies.
One of the most significant things about this operation is that we did not see any serious rejection or opposition to it from any of the influential parties or clerics which indicates that there's a general desire to back this operation or at least let it pass without complications and accept it as a means to get out of the deteriorated security situation.
Maybe that's because this particular operation doesn't give an impression that it's directed against a certain segment or sect as the case would be if the operation was conducted in Najaf, Sadr city or Ramadi for example.
The current feeling in Baghdad is that the operation is in the benefit of everyone and this is a good advantage that should be used to achieve success.