Thursday, August 12, 2004

It’s still tense here in Baghdad and everyone is talking about the expected major operations in Najaf. There are different opinions on who’s responsible of what happened but the majority clearly confirm the responsibility of the militias, and even those who hold the Americans responsible for the latest violence believe so because they think that the Americans together with the Iraqi government gave those gangs the freedom to act like this when they should’ve dealt with them firmly from the beginning.

I was talking about this with some of my friends and I was trying hard to explain that the government was patient to show that force is not the only nor the 1st choice to confront problems but it will be the last choice and after exhausting all other possible solutions. All this to show that Iraq’s policy will be entirely different from that of the dictatorships that ruled in the past. A policy that seeks what’s best for the people rather than the government’s will or desire, to avoid any possible losses among people.

However the truth has to be said and as one of my friends said, “what you say is true but the militias in question were the ones who raised arms and that was 1st choice, and here responding with force will be a self defense rather than a choice made in haste”.

One of our friends came by and said that he was in Kadhimyea when Muqtada’s followers tried to enter and occupy the Imam Kadhim’s mosque, the most holy mosque in Baghdad and that the civilians and the IP prevented them from doing so, locked the doors of the mosque and drove them away from the whole neighborhood.

As we were talking we were hear the explosions and gunfire coming from Sadr city as they never ceased in the past few days. One of our friends was more affected than the rest of us. He was from Najaf originally. He lives in Baghdad but owns a hotel in Najaf just in front of Imam Ali shrine. He couldn’t go back to Najaf lately because of all the violence there. He was telling us about the huge loss the people of Najaf have been suffering during the past 4 months, as the whole economy of the city and the vast majority of jobs depend mainly on the Muslim tourists who come to visit the holy mosque all over the year from Islamic and other countries with Sheát citizens and mainly Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, India and some Gulf states . This tourism has virtually stopped since that time as a result of the deteriorated security conditions since Sadr and his followers came to the city.

My friend was very nervous today as he heard today that the Mahdi militia have occupied his hotel and are using it as a base for operations. He tried to call some of his relatives many times as we were sitting and finally he managed to talk to his uncle. We all were silent trying to find out what was happening there. Our friend told us later after he hang up that the Mahdi army members have occupied all the high buildings around the shrine that are composed of 3 floors or more. His uncle was trying to prevent the thugs from using the bedrooms and begging them to leave the hotel if possible, but my friend who was afraid about his family’s fate urged his uncle not to be harsh with those criminals and to leave them alone. His uncle told him that almost all the civilians living near the shrine have deserted their homes and that it’s crowded with Muqtada’s men who are taking shelter in an area that my friend estimated to be about 3 square kilometers, while people in the rest of the city are practicing their daily life in nearly a normal state. However he confirmed the presence of concrete blocks that were used lately in the main crossroads of the city that lead to the area where the fight is taking place. he also mentioned that there’s a considerable increase in the number of tanks, as yesterday he could see only 2 or 3 at a time but now there are many of them and that some tanks were about 200m away from the shrine.

It seems that everyone in Najaf is sure that a decisive attack will be launched soon and that the joint Iraqi and American forces are about to kill or arrest Muqtada and his deputies. People are also sure that the militia’s end in Najaf will mean their end everywhere, as it’s true that Iraqis are still incapable of acting or organizing themselves without a leader and a leader with some “legitimacy” too.

Update: Ali went to the hospital today and told me that the bridge near the ministry of health was blocked by American Humvees and armored vehicles and that there were many American soldiers, IP and ING members there. Cars are prevented from crossing the bridge on either side but people are crossing the bridge on foot and the soldiers are searching those who pass. He knew from his colleagues who live in different areas of Baghdad that all bridges except the Al Sinak bridge and Al Jumhooryiah bridge are blocked. Some people think it’s because some fights that took place in Haifa street yesterday, but my guess is that this has nothing to do with it, as there were many fights in Haifa street but the bridges leading to the area were never blocked. Besides some of those bridges are far away from Haifa street. I think that blocking the bridges come along with the preparations to launch the final attack in Najaf to avoid any unpleasant reactions that may come from his followers in Baghdad or any other party that may try to take advantage of this critical situation to inflame it furthermore.

Everyone here is waiting for the final attack and the end of this crisis. Most people I met are waiting for the moment when they can see Muqtada and his deputies in handcuffs, those criminals have been given a chance they didn't deserve in the 1st place.

-By Mohammed.

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