Friday, January 12, 2007

Baghdad, between Maliki's plan and Bush's strategy...

In Baghdad, Iraqi and US forces are still targeting what seem to be pre-selected spots.
According to local TV, Iraqi troops made an airborne assault in al-Iskandariya area south of Baghdad in a quality operation where 6 al-Qaeda local commanders were arrested. In addition to that large weapons caches were discovered near Taji north of Baghdad and containers full of aircraft parts and an entire helicopter were unearthed in Mada'in southeast of Baghdad.

Last morning we woke up to rocking explosions that were perhaps caused by air strikes. The explosions echoed across Baghdad and they were many that I couldn't count them all; the state TV says these were American raids against insurgents strongholds in Dora but a friend of mine said there were also raids on Zafaraniya and specifically on Arab Jubour village which is also known for harboring insurgents.

I heard rumors that in Amiriya in western Baghdad militants put up posters calling the neighborhood "The Islamic Emirate of Amiriya", and I heard the same about Adhamiya and Raghiba Khatoun in the east. These are some of the most dangerous areas in Baghdad now that extremists dominate and almost totally isolated them from the rest of the city.
Walking into these areas has become scary even to Sunnis. In fact I see that the isolation is more geographic than sectarian; the insurgents suspect any stranger, for example most Sunnis from outside Adhamiya fear going into it or Amiriya and the same applies to Shia Baghdadis when it comes Sadr city or Hurriya…it's hard to convince militiamen or insurgents of your background when you're a stranger to the neighborhood.

The problem is that it’s the peaceful and terrified majority in such neighborhoods who suffer the most from this siege, for example the price of a kilo of any vegetable in the inner markets of those areas is twice as much as in the rest of the city. Let alone that cleaning workers and fuel distributors fear going into those areas.

Yesterday one of our relatives who decided to leave Haifa street permanently visited us. We had a long talk and she described to me what happened there, and said it all started when militiamen dressed as soldiers made an attack.
She couldn't explain how the locals could tell that the assailants were fake soldiers but I wasn't surprised because Sunni clerics have been warning that Shia militias had intended to attack Sunni neighborhoods and I think that's what made residents in Haifa street interpret any operation as an attack by militias.

She went on and described how the attackers set two homes on fire and how armed locals in the districts of Meshahda, Fahhama and Sheik Ali managed to repel the attacks later and captured some of the attackers.
She told me that the news about executions and hangings on electricity poles were true but that no one could tell the toll. When I asked whether the bodies had military uniforms on them she said "no, they were all in civilian clothes but were all young men"
I asked her if she thought that harboring insurgents and outlaws was the problem in the first place and she agreed "yes, but what are we supposed to do! We don't trust the government's forces either. The police and army say they are here to protect us from terrorists and the militants say they are here to protect us from militias; we're stuck between two fires here!"

When I asked my relative about the backgrounds of the insurgents in her neighborhood she said that most of them are originally bandits, thieves and notorious thugs but the interesting thing is that she told me that some of the worst one were killed in the latest clashes "Noori al-Aqra' [Noori the Bald] for example was the 6th in his family to be killed in clashes with government forces. The whole neighborhood knows he was the one who murdered the Kurdish reporter that worked for al-Iraqiya TV and robbed her jewelry and cell phone…"

The other news was that the area of Haifa street had seen an influx of militants from Amiriya sent by the infamous terrorist "Ibn Quoza" who's a former bandit and a wanted criminal.
The curfew in the area has been lifted but only through one passage at al-Talayi' Square and only women and children are allowed on the street so they can shop for food and other needs. She explained that men wouldn't go out because they are afraid the troops might get suspicious and arrest them…"most of the militants are now hiding in basements or in the nearby cemetery…there are many Afghan-Arabs, they are like ghosts; they come from nowhere and disappear just like that. Like I said before, those do not care to distinguish between Sunni and Shia and they'd kill anyone they suspect"

While Baghdad is preparing for the main plan to begin we're getting rumors that the government is considering terminating the curfew since it didn't help in limiting the violence, and occasionally restricts the movement of students, workers and ordinary people. However Baghdad's streets look less crowded than usual and many people avoid going out except for urgent matters, and although the curfew begins at 9 pm, most people return home before 7 after which you can hardly find cars on the streets.

The awaited security operation still occupies the headlines and the conversations of people as well as the statements of politicians. Yesterday PM Maliki's office confirmed that Baghdad now has a new commander and two assistants, neither was named.
On the other hand extremist parties like the Sadrists and the Muslim scholars are attacking the plan and telling the people that it would cause too much collateral damage and casualties to innocent people.

Perhaps the most important headline in the papers yesterday was of the statement Sistani made after meeting with the national security adviser al-Rubai'i where he said that weapons must be only in the hands of the official security forces. I think the government should make use of this statement to the maximum limit because it leaves no excuse for anyone who claims militias exist to protect the innocent or to compensate for the weakness of the government. This statement gave Maliki a green light to disarm Sadr's militias and he should use this chance.
Sistani had another meeting a few days earlier than that. It was with Sadr this time and it was the first in a year actually. Little was revealed about what was discussed during this meeting but al-Sabah paper said Sadr was trying to convince the Ayatollah that the plans to form a new political bloc were not in the interest of the UIA or Iraq and were motivated by personal ambitions of some politicians. Sistani's response to this was not revealed but his position from disbanding militias looks clear now.

Despite being concerned about security developments, the people were very interested in learning about the new strategy of president Bush but since the speech was aired at 5 am in Baghdad, the morning has seen a rush to radio and TV to find out what the president had said.

A few hours later a flood of comments from Iraqi politicians filled the media here and maybe the earliest and most interesting argument was the one that took place between Abdul Kareem Al-Inizi of the UIA (from a branch of the Dawa party that split from the original Dawa of Jafari and Maliki) and Mithal al-Alusi during yesterday's session of the parliament.

Al-Inizi said "Iraq is not an American state and Bush must consult with us before making such decisions about sending troops…" to which al-Alusi responded by saying "We have an elected prime minister and he was consulted…you and others like yourself wouldn't be sitting here had America not helped us. They are trying to protect this democracy and they possess what they can offer to help us with the security situation, but what do you have?? Cut the nonsense, ok? Do you think the parliament wants to vote about this? Fine, let's ask everybody if they want such voting…"

There was only silence in the hall after this and no one said another word about voting.

Another lawmaker from the UIA told the press that Bush was successful in identifying the problems and the ways to fix them.
The Accord Front on the other hand had their reservations and said they were concerned the new strategy might cause more harm than good.
The Kurdish bloc is totally satisfied with the plan to send in more troops.
Ayad al-Samerra'i, a senior Islamic party lawmaker said he supports the presence of American troops and said that terrorists and militias "are the two sides of the same coin" obviously reflects his hope that the new strategy would deal strictly with militias.

The association of Muslim scholars as expected said it was against the new strategy of Bush and warned that new security plans would cost Iraqis and Americans a heavy price.

From the above and from more that we heard we could see that there are different opinions even among members of a single bloc but I also see that a majority supports the new strategy while opposition is coming from extremists who realize that they will be the next target for the government and allied forces.

This was how Baghdad looked to me….

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