Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The more the merrier...

Advancing a political track is indispensable for a stable future for Iraq for sure. Experts and observers differ in their suggestions for solutions; some think politics must be given the priority while others insist the solution is military, but in fact both tracks are essential and should go hand in hand without giving one track a priority over the other even though one or the other sometimes seem to pose the greater challenge.

This is the case in Iraq in particular and in the middle east in general due to historical considerations concerning the dominant ideologies and ways of thinking which, over centuries, produced factions that do not believe in dialog is a way to finding solutions, in other words, extremists and radicals.

And those I assert, you cannot reason with and are the kind of people with whom diplomacy and dialog is not valid method for negotiation. This is the case for one reason; the extremists believe that what they have and what they believe in is a heavenly divine path that cannot and must not be subject for compromise. This means dialog in their opinion would be only about making the other party submit to their ways whether willingly or at gunpoint.
This means for anyone to hold real dialog and rely on diplomacy as a way to find common ground the first and most essential step would be to identify a counterpart that is willing to hold real dialog, or else the effort would be a waste, just like trying to collect wind with a net, as we say here.

However, the good thing is that extremists are never a majority of the population even though there exist foci of extremism within governments which makes them more dangerous. Still in general, there is an emerging trend of rational thinking that is growing in the region after decades of relying solely on arms—some factions are absorbing the fact that using power alone, without dialog, had not taken us anywhere.

The Iraqi issue requires dedicated diplomatic efforts on the local and regional levels and here I'd like to talk more about the indigenous political effort in Iraq. Political division had often led to infighting that had almost consumed the entire country more than once. Given the impact of politics on life in Iraq, there must be a way to utilize politics in a way that moves the country forward instead of destroying it.

In Iraq, one of the biggest problems we had after we were freed from dictatorship was the division of the political scene along ethnic and sectarian lines which is a result of the negative legacy of the past which was full of oppression and abuse of rights of large components of the society. That's why gathering around the ethnic or sectarian identity became the defensive policy of choice, and the choice was made long before the fall of dictatorship.

Of course this wasn't what we aspired for but more like an evil we had to take. Thus the political scene after the first elections became dominated by three major blocs that represented the three major components of the people; Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The rise of these three formations was on the expense of the nationalist bloc which occupies only 10% of the parliament represented by the 'Iraqi Slate' that does not seek association with a particular sect or ethnic group.
Oddly, yet not unexpected, while so many voters were sympathetic to this political group, the violence and fear that accompanied the formation of the new state of Iraq pushed the voters to offer their votes to the other three blocs.

Now after two rounds of elections many of patriots endorse the thought that the political crisis we're going through and the deterioration this crisis led to will not be undone without the dissolution of the three major blocs.
This thought or call although a noble one in spirit that I wish to see it become true, is not practical at the moment because it takes a lot of time to reform the perception of the public. And this takes, along with time, a healthy environment free of pressure and intimidation that allows for an independent reevaluation of the situation by the public.

This does not mean stagnation will last long; it is possible within the limits of the current situation for a fourth bloc of comparable weight to emerge, to which again I think the 'Iraqi Slate' is going to provide the cornerstone.

But some might ask: what's good in having fourth bloc?

The point here is that so far any two blocs can align together and join forces against the third to sideline it, similar to what happened in 2005 when the structure of the government gave rise to the commonly used term of "Shia-Kurdish led government" and this continues to give the negative impression that a large component of the population is left away.
This happened because all of the three blocs are built around a sect or an ethnicity instead of a political platform.
If the underway efforts-which received a boost by Allawi's return to Baghdad-continue at the same pace then it won't be very difficult to form such a bloc that can create some sort of much needed balance in the political process.

The word about efforts to form a new bloc(s) is not a secret anymore and I think the time is good for trying because many people from all three components are not the least satisfied with the performance of the government.
As we hear now, the invitation is open to all political powers; whether parties or individuals, whether in or outside the parliament to unite under the umbrella of the new bloc.

The first reactions are quite interesting and we're hearing of independent lawmakers from the UIA considering the invitation. This coincides with news about independent lawmakers from the UIA and Accord Front forming two independent blocs.
I don't see these as 'breaking away' as much as an attempt to go back to a more "Iraqi" personality than the three mother-blocs.

I'm trying to picture Iraq's political scene a few years from now; with four blocs each having 20-30 % of the seats the game will be different and it will have a fresh new start with new rules. First, no two blocs would then be able to monopolize power and it would require the agreement of at least 3 out of 4 blocs for decisions concerning vital issues to be made, and second, I think the presence of a major bloc with no sectarian or ethnic stamp would put pressure on the other three blocs to revise their programs to include more reason and less emotions.

I know that with more players involved in the process naturally we'd expect a greater chance for political paralysis because the more people involved, the more difficult it is to have them find consensus but after a second thought it might be possible that with four blocs-with no huge differences in size-the chance for political paralysis will be in fact less than if there were only three of them because no single bloc will have the capacity to block the decision-making process and when any three blocs can have enough representation to pass legislations and make decisions, I think all of the blocs will show more flexibility toward making concessions in order to avoid being left away.

This is not our ultimate ambition for political reform in Iraq but it just might be the practical and realistic step for now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Operation Baghdad: Week II

It's been less than two weeks since the Baghdad operation was officially launched. This period, though short, has been full of events; both good and bad ones.
Here we are not in a rush to judge the operation unlike some media or politicians who seek anything they can use to serve their agendas. We, Baghdadis, only want this operation to succeed and we still have some patience to show.

These days I make sure that I have daily tour in Baghdad, covering both Karkh and Resafa (west and east) and these tours aren't exactly boring because there are always new things to see.

The buildup of troops in the capital seems to be incremental and increasing by the day giving a steadily growing sense of the seriousness of the operation. Yesterday during my tour with some friends we were stopped to be searched seven times during about only two hours; five times in Karkh and two in Resafa. The search typically includes verifying the vehicle registration papers, looking for guns and munitions or suspicious objects, destination of the passenger/driver and often their identity cards. In general the security personnel are polite in their dealing with people they search and some of them even end the procedure with an apology for the inconvenience.

We are getting used to the procedures at checkpoints; keep your hands visible on the wheel, keep your papers close to you, prepare to open the trunk and if it's getting dark then turn the headlights off and turn the reading light on.

I hear a lot from people how they want to see checkpoint search each and every vehicle on the street even their own because we know that the more effective checkpoints are the more secure the city would be.

Yesterday I saw the national police units using new armored vehicles (I guess they are Reva's) that look much more professional and effective than ordinary SUV's or pickup trucks. Actually it would be great if all national police units get these unique vehicles because then both imposters and corrupt officers would have little chance to carry out attacks on civilians in the name of the corps.

I also noticed that some checkpoints are becoming better organized than before; first a soldier or a cop would allow cars to pass one lane at a time, then his colleagues would carry out the regular search and finally traffic cops would do their own part of the searching.

The government is meanwhile issuing a bunch of new orders to empower the plan; among those orders are:

-Offices of political parties are not allowed to possess heavy weapons for defense.
-Vehicles or buildings from which fire is opened on civilians or security forces will be confiscated and their inhabitants/drivers arrested.
-The selling of petroleum products in the black market is prohibited.

In fact, I could see American armored vehicles parked in front of a few offices of political parties yesterday but I don't know yet if that presence was in order to impose the new order or to provide security for these offices and compensate for the absence of heavy weapons.

Military wise the spokesman for the operation said the first week left 42 militants killed and over 250 militants and suspects captured and good amounts of weapons and munitions were found. The troops had also defused 13 car bombs and many IED's.

The best part of the results remains the return of displaced families to their homes; the latest count for this shows that more than 600 families have returned so far.
While the return went with little problems for most families some forty families are complaining about receiving new threats from terrorists immediately after they returned to al-Adl district.

More occupied mosques are also being returned to their original keepers and earlier today Sunni and Shia worshippers gathered to hold joint prayers in several places in Baghdad as we saw on TV.

Last week, Maliki made his first public appearance on the streets of Baghdad when he visited the area of Palestine Street in Resafa the day that followed the bombings in the New Baghdad district. The same day general Aboud Qanbar, the commander of the operation walked in Haifa Street.
These public appearances are apparently part of a PR campaign to show that senior officials are not afraid of leaving the green zone anymore, and frankly this has left a good impression among the public.

The terrorists counterattack is a dirty chemical one this time.
Nothing surprising about it though—their old master had along history of using chemical weapons against unarmed civilians and so we'd expect the minions to use the same evil ways to mass murder and terrorize our people.

The other counterattack came sadly from within the government and parliament and used the media as a weapon through spreading allegations of rape to undermine the security plan. This attack, though not as deadly as poisonous gas, could be much more harmful on the long run.
Those allegations (some are being retracted now) were used to call for stopping the security operation in parts of Baghdad, and this in my opinion is not a justified call even if the allegations were true. I mean we can't just simply generalize the accusation; thousands of patrols, raids and searches were conducted last week and one ill-doing must not justify for the halting of thousands of good peacekeeping missions.

In this regard it's worth mentioning that the judiciary is already trying to provide the required legal component to the operation, al-Mada reports:
The supreme judicial council assigned nine judges, nine representatives of the general prosecutor and fifteen magistrates the task of visiting designated detention facilities to interrogate suspects. The source added that the council demanded that the interior and defense ministries commit to show detainees before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest…when the magistrate orders keeping the detainee in custody no other authority has the right to release him, and when the magistrate orders releasing the detainee through paying a bail no other authority shall continue his detention, unless the detainee is wanted for other charges.

Calling for halting the operation isn't realistic and is of no good to us, I think asking for more judges and a bigger role for the judiciary in supervising the work of the military would've been a better demand; one that can really help the people.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bombs strike again but hope remains.

As we expected in the last post, the terrorists committed another crime against civilians by detonating two bombs in a market area.

Although soldiers and policemen are filling the streets, the terrorists are too coward to face the troops and choose to massacre unarmed civilians instead. What are they trying to prove with these cowardly acts? They can’t defeat the troops, so they attack civilians to discredit the security plan. But I don’t think such attacks can change the course of events on the long term; the Baghdad plan is a strategic effort that will go on for months, and time doesn’t seem to be on the terrorists’ side right now.

Today there was fighting in the neighborhoods around us and there were several attacks in other parts of Baghdad. It looks like some militants consider that sitting back and waiting is not an option and so they are trying to break the siege. The fighting was fierce and gunship helicopters circled at low altitude over the fighting zone and adjacent areas.

The sky of Baghdad is a story by itself—the city is being watched from above at several levels; from helicopters flying just above rooftops to various types of surveillance drones -which Baghdadis collectively refer to as “the fly” because of the buzzing sound- that remain in the air for hours, to another type of surveillance aircrafts that fly silently at higher altitudes and I suspect are also unmanned.
Above those flies an assortment of fighter jets, and sometimes heavy bombers.
All in all it’d be true to say that the sky is full of eyes and guns.

Although attacks happen here and there, the general feeling is still closer to hope and appreciation of the plan than pessimism. More families are returning to the homes they were once forced to leave, and we’re talking about some of the most dangerous districts such as Ghazaliya and Haifa Street.
Al-Sabah reports that yesterday alone 327 families returned home and that the scene of vans loaded with furniture of refugees leaving Baghdad is no more. There were times when the average was around 20 a day. The 327 figure brought the total to more than 500 families across Baghdad.

Al-Hurra TV aired a report on the story and interviewed some of the returning Baghdadis, one man said “those who returned earlier and saw the change in the situation called us and encouraged us to return, and I too will encourage the rest to come back”. The report showed those families asking the army to stay and not abandon their neighborhood, and showed the officer in charge giving his number to the locals so that they can contact him directly in case of emergency.

Looking at the relative increase in the number of attacks and their geographic extent one can expect the coming days to bring more escalation, but with the amount of power available for US and Iraqi troops I think the bad guys will not be able to achieve much.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Attacks in Baghdad down by 80%

Since the multiple bombings in Shroja market district on the 12th, Baghdad hasn’t seen any major attacks and there’s a tangible decrease in all kinds of attacks.

Not only official statements say so (Defense ministry officials said today that attacks are down by 80% in Baghdad). It’s a reality I live in nowadays, at least in my neighborhood and its surroundings. It is also what I hear from friends and relatives in other parts of the city.
We are hearing fewer explosions and less gunfire now than two weeks ago and that, in Baghdad, qualifies as quiet.

I agree with what some experts say about this lull in violence being the result of militants keeping their heads down for a while. It is also possibly the result of the flight of the commanders of militant groups. Grunts left without planners, money or leaders wouldn’t want to do much on their own.

During my tour in Baghdad today I had to pull over to be searched at several checkpoints — something that has rarely happened to me before. When you are searched soldiers or policemen check the identity cards of passengers, and the registration papers of the vehicle along with a thorough physical search. Checkpoints deal even more strictly with large vans and cargo trucks.

The interesting thing about new checkpoints is the constant shifting of their location. One hour the checkpoint would be here and two hours later it would relocate to another position within the area. I think this helps security forces avoid becoming targets instead of hunters.
In addition to soldiers and policemen, most checkpoints have one or more traffic policemen reportedly being equipped with laptops that enable them to flag suspected vehicles by offering instant access to vehicle-registration databases.

Side by side with new security efforts is a campaign to clean and redecorate many streets, circles and parks in Baghdad. New trees are planted and damaged street medians and sidewalks are being refurbished. This offers a small yet much needed breeze of hope and normalcy to the traumatized city.

The most significant and encouraging development is certainly this report from al-Sabah:
Brigadier Qasim Ata, an authorized Baghdad Operation spokesman, told al-Sabah that for the 3rd day in a row dozens of displaced families are returning to their homes. 35 families returned in Madain, 7 in hay al-I’ilam and small numbers of families in various districts of Baghdad.
Later reports in the local media indicate that the total number of families that returned home is as high as 130 families across the city, including several families in the, until recently, hopelessly violent district of Hay al-Adl.

The report adds that Maliki ordered that the Bab al-Muadam and al-Shuhada bridges on the Tigris be reopened to traffic next week. This decision came in response to the “notable increase in traffic activity which in turn is a result of the growing feeling of safety”.
Confirming what we said earlier about the recovery of civilian activity, the spokesman said “most stores in the Alawi al-Hilla districts have reopened after times when this area was a scene for repeated terrorist attacks”.

As the effort continues in Baghdad, four other provinces are launching simultaneous plans to support operation ‘Imposing the Law’. Officials in the provinces of Diwaniya, Salahaddin, Wasit and Babil announced that the security forces are implementing a security plan to support and empower the ongoing operation in Baghdad, and to deal with the threat of possible infiltration by terrorists coming from Baghdad.

The progress made so far invites hope and optimism, but it’s still too early to celebrate. Terrorists will keep trying to carry out attacks similar to those in Sadriya or Shorja. They want sow as much death and destruction as they can in order to shake the people’s confidence in the security plan. Such criminals attacks are still quite possible in Baghdad, but even if happen we must not let that stop us from pursuing the objectives of our efforts to stop the death and deterioration, to turn the tide and make progress.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Operation Baghdad Update.

After being technically in progress for about over a week, Operation Imposing the Law officially started yesterday.

Al-Maliki who's been on a tour in the mid-southern region announced the beginning of the operation from Kerbala. This choice I think delivers two messages; first it looks that Maliki was trying to show that the plan is solid enough and could go on without his immediate supervision and presence in Baghdad and that the military commanders are operating without interference from politicians. And second I think he wanted to say that even though the focus has been in Baghdad for months, the situation elsewhere was not ignored; and this part could be seen in the tough-worded warnings he made to local officials and militants alike.

First he gave militants in Kerbala 48 hours to disarm or face the consequences and then turned to the local officials and told them if they couldn't do their job right they'd better step down and let someone better take their place.

The Kerbala provincial administration's reputation isn't quite impressive when it comes to corruption and involvement in violence and Maliki didn't forget to give a stern warning against corruption calling corruption a crime just as serious as terrorism.

Back in Baghdad the most significant raid conducted yesterday was the one on Buratha mosque, one of the most important Shia mosques in Baghdad which is also considered a SCIRI territory.
The raid ended without blood but the preacher of the mosque, a lawmaker from the SCIRI, expressed his dismay about the raid "because it was American soldiers who searched the mosque" and this seems to be one of the changes in rules of engagement. I recall that there was some kind of a rule that said only Iraqi soldiers or police were allowed to walk into places of worship while American troops would have to stay outside.
This raid too is of political significance as it can be used to prove to that the operation is impartial and not directed against one sect without the other.

On the streets, checkpoints and roadblocks are becoming increasingly serious and strict in doing their job; soldiers and policemen are sparing no vehicles or convoys from searching and I personally saw a case yesterday where an ambulance driver tried to rush his vehicle through a checkpoint but the soldiers ordered him to stop and let him pass only after they checked the inside of the vehicle finding only a civilian medical emergency.
Strict checkpoints always mean slow traffic and inconvenient delays for Baghdadis but this downside is welcome when these security measures make the streets safer.

Despite the traffic jams and though this is the largest deployment for troops in the capital, daily life and civilian activity-contrary to what was expected-still continues at a rather normal level, unlike previous crackdowns where life came to near paralysis.

Meanwhile a new bird appeared in the sky; not exactly new but one that's been absent for a long time; since the end of major operations in 2003.
In fact this is the first time ever that I see the B-1 flying over Baghdad. Since Tuesday, the long-range huge bomber appeared several times over the city spending as long as 75 minutes in some cases. Unfortunately with only 3x zoom this is the closest I could get.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Terrorists resume their attacks on Baghdad's markets.

The president called for a war to annihilate terrorists and I couldn't agree more. Those terrorists must be annihilated; blowing up civilians in markets is genocide. It's a crime against humanity... The victims had nothing to protect themselves from bullets and bombs, they were not soldiers and they were not politicians...

The latest attack in a series of terror attacks against marketplaces in Baghdad, as I saw it from the roof of my home.

A Sunday Night in Baghdad.

Last night was a sleepless one for me. It rolled on until around 4 in the morning and though exhausted I couldn’t sleep. I’ve come to actually like these times because at this hour 99% of Baghdad’s private generators are shut down and the city becomes, for a brief period, enjoyably silent.

It was dark in my room except for a pale ray of moonlight coming through the window. Suddenly the floor began to tremble and a loud roaring sound broke the silence "What the…!" I thought. Then something really creepy happened. That pale ray of moonlight vanished leaving me in total darkness.

"First an earthquake and now the moon has vanished. Is this the end of the universe?”

Not a pleasant thought for a very secular person like myself.

I finally found the courage to get up and look out through my window. Two meters from me was a line of Stryker Armored Combat Vehicles that for some reason had pulled over in our street.

"Phew! Not the end of the universe yet!"

After some time, the convoy moved off, their engines fading slowly as the streets swallowed them up. I stood for a moment thinking about the men in those vehicles who stay up at night patrolling the dangerous streets of Baghdad to protect the few insomniacs like myself, and the millions of other sleeping Baghdadis. I said a prayer (in my own way) for their safety and went back to toss and turn in my bed.

* * * *

Baghdad is still enjoying some days of relative calm interrupted only with minor sporadic incidents. In general there's a feeling that these days are better than almost any other time in months. This is more evident in the eastern side of Baghdad than the western part, because the former part has received more US and Iraqi military reinforcements than the latter.

Checkpoints in Baghdad are becoming more abundant, with more attention paid to the exits and entrances of the city. I’m also hearing that those checkpoints have been reinforced with more soldiers and equipment.

Politically, today president Talbani visited Maliki in his office "to express support for Maliki's security plan". Maliki said after the meeting that operations would quickly gain momentum in the coming days, and that the troops will make efforts help displaced citizens return to their homes.

Signs of such efforts can already be seen on the streets, through political work instead of military. Yesterday the "popular support" committee headed by Ahmed Chalabi succeeded in reopening a Sunni mosque in Sadr city, returning control of the mosque to the Sunni endowment department after it was occupied by Sadr's office personnel last year. The mosque was reopened with a celebration where Sunnis and Shia prayed together behind a Sunni cleric. Before the ceremony Shia volunteers cleaned up the area around the mosque from garbage and fixed the sign that carried the name of the mosque.

Still, I don't expect much from politicians who are behind this. They are only trying to repair their damaged reputations. I do trust the cheering crowd; the average people who are weary of the violence. They clearly expressed their desire to see sectarian portioning reversed because they have seen what forced displacement has wrought upon civilians. Those people were not thinking of the motivations of politicians or clerics. They were speaking from their hearts.

Today I heard unconfirmed news about plans to return the remaining 9 Sunni mosques to the Sunni endowment department. I hope this gesture be met with a similar move on the Sunni end in areas where Shia are minority.

In other encouraging news, I saw on the local Baghdad news that US and Iraqi soldiers have discovered about 60 weapon caches since the beginning of this month, and detained more than 140 suspects during the same period.

Other incidents that indicate a positive change in Maliki's policy are the arrest of deputy minister of health Hakim al-Zamili, and the deployment of IA soldiers to provide security for hospitals in Baghdad instead of the FPS.

The FPS, or the “Facility Protection Service,” is widely accused of being affiliated with death squads. Members of the FPS were recruited directly by ministries through contracts not overseen by the interior or defense ministries. The loyalty of FPS personnel is believed to be toward the political faction controlling any given ministry instead of the country as a whole.

The arrest of al-Zamili indicates that the new plan will not hesitate to target leaders of militant groups no matter what their position in the government was. The Sadr movement responded to the arrest only by saying that it was an insult to all Iraqis. One of their spokesmen said, in a clear sign of helplessness, "If one from our movement is to be arrested, then others from other factions should be arrested as well".

I don't know whether this current attitude of submission is going to last when more senior members are arrested. Still, I like the idea of arresting senior bad guys from both sects. This both satisfies public opinion, and gives credibility to the announced plans of the government to deal equally with all regardless of sect or background.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Operation Baghdad, Day 2.

Last night continued to be quiet for the most part and nothing indicated that the operation in Azamiyah faced resistance.

I woke up late this morning and again it was very quiet. I asked Mohammed if there was anything going on and the answer was negative.
An hour later two of our friends came by and asked if we'd like to go out for lunch, and off we went.
We drove for about half an hour across eastern Baghdad and there was nothing unusual; just the same checkpoints we've been seeing for the past week or so and traffic was more than normal more or less.

I got a bit curious and turned on the radio in the car to see if I was missing something but there was absolutely no news about any significant incidents or operations.
The interesting thing I heard-not on the radio- was what one of my friends told me about is what he saw earlier this morning; he had some work to do in Kazimiya across the river and since many of the bridges were closed to traffic he couldn't reach his destination first but then he heard that the bridge between Adhamiya and Kazimiyah was open and he headed that way, he said "The streets were open. There are some checkpoints but it didn't look like a big operation like the one we heard of last night was going on over there!"

This doesn't make sense, I thought….

We found the restaurant full of people; mostly students from the nearby college having lunch after classes. We had our lunch and drove back.

When I returned home I went directly to my computer to see if the web had more news than what radio and TV offered but again I couldn't find anything.

However later I got to hear conflicting reports about the status of Baghdad's security plan; as you can see from yesterday's post it seemed that the operation was officially launched but this afternoon I heard that a US general in Iraq said that the time for launching the plan would be an Iraqi decision.

It's not clear yet which account is more accurate but I think the issue is more about formalities than about technical military issues; PM Maliki and his cabinet have been long talking about the plan being entirely Iraqi in both planning and implementation and that the role of the US military would be limited to offering advice and support. So it seems he felt that someone was stealing his thunder so to speak, and he didn't like that. If my guess is true, then it's somewhat childish of him.

So I guess it’s only that Maliki wants to be the one who blows the attack horn and I think this will be very soon, but technically the operation has started, yet in a way that's quiet different from previous operations.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Operation Baghdad Has Started!

Minutes after nighttime curfew began in Baghdad at 9 pm we saw breaking news on al-Hurra and al-Jazeera saying that Baghdad's security operation has just started.

The news says the first operation is currently underway in Azamiyah in the northeastern part of the city.
However, it looks quiet here at the moment, except for a sudden increase in activity in the skies with US jet fighters patrolling over the northern parts of Baghdad.

We're now only a few kilometers far from Azamiyah, so if there's going to be some action, we'll certainly hear-or see-it, and we'll keep you updated.


From Radio Sawa:

A joint US and Iraqi force stormed al-Azamiyah neighborhood in Baghdad in what an American military official described as the start for the awaited security operation in Baghdad.

Major Robbie Park said 2,000 US soldiers are working side by side with soldiers from the 1st and 9th divisions of the Iraqi army…The troops searched dozens of homes in and around Azamiyah and confiscated large amounts of weapons.

But an assistant to PM Maliki denied that this was the start of the new security operation, saying that this is a limited operation (the government ordered) after receiving information that insurgents are hiding in the neighborhood.

Whether this is the start of Operation Baghdad or not, the operation is taking place without making any noise; in fact tonight is even quieter than the average Baghdad night!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More violence in Baghdad as the city braces for the security plan.

I was with a friend on our way home yesterday when we were shocked by the sound of a powerful explosion. We looked in all directions trying to figure out where it was but there was nothing to indicate where the bomb, or whatever it was, went off.

My friend's phone rang; it was his sister checking on him, she told him the explosion looked close to their place. Seconds later Omar was calling to make sure I was ok and he too thought the explosion was close to our home.
Strange thing is despite the distance between my friend's home, my home and our location at that point everyone thought the explosion was too close and this suggests it was a massive one.

Soon a plume of thick smoke was rising from the ground and it wasn't close to any of the places above. Minutes later I saw the first reports on TV talking about a huge explosion in al-Sadriya market and casualty tolls were increasing every other minute—25, then 40, then 75…an hour later news was talking bout more than a hundred killed in what the media like to call a "predominantly Shia neighborhood".

Al-Sadriya doesn't belong to a certain sect; it's a commercial area where shoppers and shopkeepers are simply Baghdadis but sadly the media is keen on adding sectarian descriptions of the attacked targets in their reports. These descriptions draw the path for blind retaliators who in this case shortly responded by showering what the media calls "predominantly Sunni neighborhoods" with mortars to kill and wound dozens.

I can swear none of the victims in these attacks had any connection to the fighting among the rivals; like Amir Taheri said the other day, this is not a sectarian war but a war of the sectarians; fanatics and extremists start the fight but innocents who never thought of carrying arms to kill people of other faiths are paying the heavier price.

First they attacked universities and schools, and now marketplaces and I don't know what's going to be next on their list. You can't predict what power maniacs and insane terrorists are planning for.

The security plan isn't at work yet and Baghdad is receiving heavy blows. This is not unexpected because the enemies recognize what Baghdad means to the outcome of this war. Life and stability in this city will mean defeat for terrorists of all backgrounds and they feel they must fight hard to stop this from happening.

There was notable deployment of Iraqi army units and armored vehicles on the streets yesterday. I saw one of those armored units establish battle positions at one of the important intersections in Baghdad; soldiers were erecting tents and the vehicles were set in defensive formations. Maybe that intersection will become the border of one of the nine sectors.

Al-Mada had a report yesterday that spoke of similar activities across Baghdad:

Although the government didn't announce a date for launching the security plan, preparations can be easily seen through the deployment of security forces and the reestablishment of many checkpoints. Eyewitnesses told al-Mada that they saw army units deploying to the suburbs of Baghdad. Army vehicles drove through main streets asking people to remove the barricades they built earlier as a defensive measure against attacks from death squads.

The same report also talks about a meeting that was held on Friday, apparently to make the final touches on the plan:

Al-Maliki headed a meeting Friday night to discuss the final preparations for the plan as well as the tasks of the five involved committees.
The two deputies of the PM, the national security adviser, the defense minister, the American ambassador, general Casey, spokesman of the government and Dr. Ahmed al-Chalabi attended the meeting.
The government had previously formed several committees to supervise the execution of the different elements of the plan…after appointing general Aboud Qanbar as the military commander of the Baghdad force the government named deputy PM Salam al-Zobaay as head of the services committee, deputy PM Barham Salih as head of the economy committee and Dr. Ahmed al-Chalabi as head of the popular support committee.

The report also quoted one of Maliki's advisors say "It won't take long until the plan is launched because, as far as I know, most of the requirements and preparations have been fulfilled"

On the other hand al-Sabah paper which reflects the opinion of the government wrote what indicates that operations are imminent:

While the Baghdad security plan is still surrounded by secrecy, unofficial information says the plan is likely to be launched on Monday or Tuesday.
In other news the deployment of an Iraqi brigade from Kurdistan to Baghdad is now complete and two other brigades are reportedly on their way in the coming days.

The streets remain full of all sorts of expected and unexpected violence and I hope the government is serious this time about enforcing the law; appeasement, half solutions and bias would be fatal mistakes that we can't afford to make.