Sunday, April 11, 2004

Baghdad today

You can now clearly see what we call 'looting scouts' in every neighbourhood. They are easily recognised because they are strangers, often unkempt and ragged, and they look right and left in excitement, spreading all kinds of eerie rumours, and at some times camp out close to their targets which could be banks or other governmental buildings. Stores are closed and most merchants have already started evacuating their stores from merchandise. Baghdadis aren't stacking up provisions yet, but many of our neighbours and friends are asking whether or not it is prudent to do so. Schools and colleges have been almost empty for days.

I don't know about the situation in other areas of Baghdad, some bloggers are reporting that things are 'normal', however I'm afraid that the word 'normal' has lost any meaning it has in Iraq today. Street fightings continued today at Adhamiya, Sadr city, and Kadhimiya. Residents of Adhamiya call it 'Little Fallujah', and today marks the first anniversary of the bloody battle that was fought on their streets by the Fedayeen and Arab volunteers against the advancing US troops. Today, they celebrated this anniversary in their own special way, and Al-Jazeera showed videos of burnt American vehicles in the area. The IP station got completely surrounded and came under attacks by mortars and RPG's, some people said that American helicopters helped evacuate the outnumbered policemen, others deny this saying that it was unlikely that an American helicopter would fly at low altitudes in such a hostile environment because it would definitely be brought down by the Fedayeen.

A neighbour of mine returned from Jamilah (close to Sadr city) this afternoon and he told me that fierce fighting was still going on over there. American soldiers were involved in a campaign of removing monuments and posters of Muqtada Al-Sadr and his late father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr when they came under attack from Mahdi militiamen and their supporters. A taxi driver from Sadr city told him that the Americans and IP have abandoned all six police stations in the district as well as the Municipality building, which were all taken over by Sadr supporters. The taxi driver also said that burnt and abandoned tanks were prized by the slum dwellers because their parts can be sold at high prices at the many junkyards in the district, adding that looters often solve their disputes over the 'booty' by AK-47's. My friend said that the driver was enthusiastically lecturing him about the various mechanical parts (of the tanks or APC's) and their respective prices, describing its engine as being similar to that of a Caprice, and with one specific part being sold as high as $200.

There were many tales about M1A2 tanks having some sort of electromagnetic field (or something to that effect) surrounding it which protects it from RPG attacks. Someone said that the Fedayeen have overcome this problem by smearing the rockets with mud, after previous attempts in the past of wrapping them with cloths or nylon failed.

After two days of calm at my neighbourhood, clashes resumed this morning from around 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. My brother witnessed masked Fedayeen using RPG's against US troops just two blocks from our house. We panicked when three American tanks and two Humvee's parked in front of our house after that. My grandmother was trying to cross the garden to our house in hysterics. The American soldier on top of one of the Humvee's alarmingly swivelled his machine gun at us while we were trying to help her through. Everyone was praying that they wouldn't come under attack at this moment because it would definitely mean shooting back in all directions, thankfully they didn't.

There was a solemn looking fellow in a red unmarked Opel driving back and forth on our street during the battle barking into a mobile phone, frequently pulling by near groups of people and talking to them, someone pointed him out as the local Fedayeen commander and that he was evaluating the situation as well as taking notice of US forces positions. There was another bearded guy on a motorcycle who looked suspicious. Every now and then we would hear a rocking KABOOM followed by loud cheers and frantic shooting. Helicopters were circling the area continously. The neighbourhood is a complete wreck, traffic signs and telephone posts have been run over by tanks, pavements damaged, parked cars flatly crushed by vehicles, and shattered glass from destroyed stores all over the place.