Monday, August 07, 2006

The battle for Baghdad; the view from my alley.

The neighborhood where I live in Baghdad isn't exactly a safe one, actually the sector where it lies was classified by the authorities a few months ago as one of the hot red zones of Baghdad as it's been the place where a lot of violence occurred in the past few months.

When I try to play back the tape of incidents I recall at least one suicide bombing, several assassinations and kidnappings and many many attacks with mortars and roadside bombs and a few raids by the MNF or Iraqi army.
Overall almost no week passes without a few incidents in this more or less one square kilometer area.

The latest of these incidents was the sad assassination of a shopkeeper not far away from where I live and this made other shopkeepers in the neighborhood reconsider their job especially that all kinds of shops have been receiving threats or attacks in various parts of the capital.
One store owner didn't spend time to think and immediately moved his goods home and locked his shop, he told me to come to his home in case I needed anything "that's only for neighbors and friends, so don't tell anyone I'll still be working, ok?"

I wondered then what are all those road blocks and watch teams for? Those road blocks filled our streets and made getting home much like a walk through a maze that always surprises us with new blocks that didn't exist the day before.

Anyway, what made me extremely worried was the news that spread like lightning in the neighborhood, the news (or the rumor) says that leaflets were found in the neighborhood carrying threats to Sunni families and telling all Sunni residents to leave.
What the….!!

Do I and my family have to leave our home now? Impossible!

That was the first thing I thought of…No, I'm not running away, I'm not leaving the home I was raised in and I'm not abandoning my country…what do these people want from us?!

I sat for a while trying to recover from the shock and put my thoughts in order then I turned to the neighbor who brought the news "but wait a minute, aren't Sunni a majority in this area? It doesn't make any sense to receive such a threat…there must be something wrong"
I asked if he actually saw one of those leaflets and he said no, and I asked others who were talking about the threat but again no one had actually received a leaflet or read one with his own eyes.
However the hysteria mounted in the neighborhood and especially in the "central command" which is the mosque and its regulars who take care of organizing the watch teams and plan where road blocks are constructed.

With the assassination of the shopkeeper (who was by the way a Shia) the hysteria reached higher levels. I can't tell whether the assassination was a quick reaction to the threat or an implementation of the threat that hit the wrong target, I don't know but the two incidents seem somehow connected.
But what I really need to find out is whether that threat was for real and whether it's part of the wicked plan to partition Baghdad into a Shia east and Sunni west…I'm not sure but I do smell the escalation coming from local religious entities and I mean the mosque and the Husseiniya.

Regardless of that, ordinary people will panic and will find no choice but to listen to what the voices from the dark ages say because these are the only voices that possess some form of organization and because the police and army would rarely intervene in problems is a small neighborhood leaving the helpless citizen to feel that he's got nobody but his sect to give him the sense that he's not alone in the face of this threat.

The story goes on fast and the news caused new ideas for "security measures" to come from the "central command" of the neighborhood; a young fellow knocked on the door to tell us about the new measures and convince us to support it, he said the new measures will include gates at the entrance to each alley (the other end is already blocked) and the new gates will be manned by teams of two who will let in only the residents of a particular alley or someone the residents say to know and guarantee.
The young man asked us to contribute 10k ($7) in return for they service they are going to provide. The amount is technically nothing but I know such plans won't work just like the previous ones so I tried to argue but my father made the signal to pay the 10k and spare everyone the headache of an argument.

"We don't want to look like the ones obstructing their plans in a time of serious threats, their road blocks didn't work in the past and neither will these gates, so just let them see that for themselves with time. These rocks and palm trunks cannot bring security but identifying the bad guys can and son, we will enjoy security when we find the guts to do that" my father explained later.

So I paid the money, unconvinced that old retired officers and a bunch of teenagers can be trusted with our security. I think they are just glad they finally found something to fill their empty days with, but when you try to question the possible effectiveness of their plans or make suggestions they simply end the conversation and refer you to someone else higher in their "chain of command" and this confirms my doubts that former organizations still exist in addition to the emerging militias that represent a variety of parties and movements.

The whole scene reminds me of the "popular committees" that some Shia leaders were and are urging the Shia districts to form and I think adopting this policy by both parties will eventually lead to a large scale conflict.

I sat in the evening daydreaming about how I'm going to defend my home and family against intruders and I was a hero in those daydreams! I shot dozens of masked gunmen and saved myself and family from harm. It was a very strange feeling because I never shot at anything bigger than a pigeon and that was probably 15 years ago.
I don't know if I can really shoot to kill when the time comes but the feeling from the dream that I was determined to fight back and defend my home made me feel safe and gave me some relief, only then I was able go to bed and sleep.

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