I asked him why he thought the policemen had asked him such a question and he said "I was on my way to Aadhamiya for some business when the men stopped me and surprised me with their question, when I told them I had nothing to fear or worry about, they said I should. They told me that gunmen were checking people's ID cards".
My friend backed before the seriousness of the warning, lumped the situation and headed back to where he came from.
A similar story I heard yesterday from another friend who was spending a few days with his wife at her parents'. One morning he went out for bread when a group of armed men stopped him and inquired about who he was and what brought him to that neighborhood.
My friend was astonished because those guys identified him as a stranger in no time. Anyway, he took out his ID that (indirectly) indicates to which sect he belongs and he introduced himself. He was then asked about which mosque he frequents for prayers and he answered with a valid mosque name along with the name of the preacher.
The response from the armed men came even stranger than their question "don't do this again and do not wander around unless in the company of a local because you might meet one of our men who would not ask before pulling the trigger"!!
This kind of happenings is not entirely new for the residents of Baghdad but became more and more visible recently especially after the two bloody massacres in Sadr city last week and in Jihad district yesterday.
Even people in the provinces have the feeling that Baghdad is under extreme pressure right now as if they feel that violence lessened in their provinces only to increase in Baghdad. I had relatives and friends calling me to check on us, express sympathy and sometimes offer me and my family a place to stay at for a couple weeks in this or that province.
Some time ago we pointed out the poor intelligence capabilities of the government compared to that of the militants and it looks like the current security operation did not deal seriously with this defect, on the contrary the gap seems to be even growing giving advantage to the militias and insurgents.
Again I feel I must point out that security operation of the government is still not doing much to deal with the escalating violence.
Personally I was for a plan based on securing one piece of territory at a time instead of attempting to secure the entire capital at once (see our earlier post) and that's because I believe the government does not possess enough tools to cover Baghdad in its entirety.
The concept of power concentration seems a reliable way that can be applied in limited areas effectively and once a given area is secure that power could move to secure adjacent areas. I still think that clearing Baghdad should start from the center-out, not the other way around.
As a reaction to the escalating situation in Baghdad president Talabani addressed the people urging calm and warning them from being dragged into sectarian violence. I really don't know why would Talabani ask the people to remain calm and this message doesn't make sense because the ordinary people in their vast majority look for peace, they don't carry arms neither they take part in the violence.
In fact most people stayed at home out of fear from being caught in the crossfire that the streets of Baghdad are almost empty in many districts. Instead, Talabani should have sent his message to the members of his government who are openly directing their gangs to commit crimes against civilians.
The people need no advice from the government, they only seek protection.
Anyway, I do not consider the recent wave of violence as sectarian violence even though it assumed a sectarian shape…both terrorists/insurgents and outlaw militias are concerned about their existence more than about defeating their sectarian counterparts, therefore each party uses the existence of the other as pretext for its own activity. Our friend Shalash the Iraqi put it eloquently in one of his posts just a week ago:
There will be no excuse for the Mehdi army to exist if terror groups ceased to exist and there will be no excuse for the terrorists to exist when the Sadr gangs and rats of Badr drop their weapons. one depends on the other...
Whenever the government tries to disarm the militias, the terrorists would come to attack at the strongholds of the militias to give them reason to exist and whenever the government tries to attack terrorist strongholds the militias would take to the streets to distract the government and drag its forces into side battles…
Baghdad is the key to Iraq, and Iraq is the key to the Middle East, and from this fact this battle draws its significance.