Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Latest from Baghdad

A menacing silence has descended on the capital for the last two days and nights, well not exactly silence because you can still hear faint and distant explosions, but not much as frequently as last week. We can now notice more people on the street going about their daily business, and stores are gradually opening but traffic in the streets is still not as 'normal' as the last few weeks, and governmental and educational institutions are still empty. Baghdadis are trying their best to survive and go on with their lives.

Clashes have ceased in Sadr city and Adhamiya for the time being but that is chiefly due to the absence of any American forces there. My neighbourhood has also been quiet since I last posted, which is a bit relieving. Some youngsters in the area were distributing printed handbills (in awfully spelled Arabic) addressed to "Our brother Mujahideen in the Iraqi Police", praising them for their "efforts and services for the people and the nation", and calling on them to "stay far from the infidel occupation forces, and to overlook the Mujahideen during day or night". "This is an ultimatum. Allahu Akbar. Long live Islamic unity, long live Iraq, and long live the Mujahideen". The handbills were signed by (yet another new group) the Freedom Martyrs Brigades.

Arab satellite channels reported today that Al-Mustansiriyah university was under siege by US troops. We have a neighbour who is a professor there, so as expected we raced to his house when we had heard about it. We congratulated him for his safety, but he looked significantly surprised and asked us what was up? We told him about the siege. He chuckled at us and said "Oh, you mean that". It turned out there was no siege at all, there was an American patrol in the vicinity of the university, and they had witnessed someone climbing on the clock tower trying to paste a large poster of Muqtada Al-Sadr. The patrol called for backup, entered the campus and hollered for the fellow to come down. They teared the poster and removed a few others close to the university's main entry gates. According to our friend, the whole process didn't take any more than 20 minutes. Just to show how the Arab media conveniently distort events.

Meanwhile regarding the hostages crisis, 11 Russian engineers working for a Russian electricity company that maintains several power stations south of Baghdad were reported kidnapped just a few hours ago after an assault on their headquarters in the Zayuna district. 2 Iraqi security guards were killed during the assault. But why Russians? Perhaps the kidnappers were pissed because of power outages? (We're getting less than 12 hours of power a day). Anyway, a Jordanian taxi company in Baghdad also reported 2 missing Czechs who were supposed to travel to Jordan. The CPA also stated lately that several American contractors working for Haliburton were missing along with a couple of Iraqi translators. Al-Jazeera displayed an exclusive video yesterday of several kidnapped trailer drivers, some of them Turks and one of them from Phillipines. A masked fellow reading from a paper he was holding said that they have decided to release the hostages as a response to the fatwa issued by the Sunni Haiy'at Al-Ulemma yesterday against holding foreigners as hostages, but on the condition that they promise to stop assisting American forces. The Chinese News Agency reported that 7 Chinese hostages were released earlier yesterday. A British hostage in Nassiriya was also released. The group that held the Japanese hostages announced that they have 'postponed' killing the three Japanese according to an intermediary, but someone denied it later on Al-Jazeera.

In Najaf and Kufa, Iraqi police and ICDC have returned to the streets following an agreement with Al-Mahdi army after a whole week's absence. There is talk of negotiations between the Hawza and Muqtada Al-Sadr, with Mohammed Ridha Al-Sistani (the Grand Ayatollah's eldest son) and a son of Ayatollah Mohammed Ishaq Al-Fayadh together with other representatives of Shi'ite clerics as intermediaries. A spokesman for the delegation said that they would later name a renowned Iraqi figure (from outside the GC) to act as an intermediary between them and the CPA. He also announced that an important statement is to be issued tomorrow by Sistani on behalf of the Hawza alilmiyyah that would be to the effect of a warning to coalition forces if they ever tried to attack Najaf or arrest Al-Sadr. This in response to Gen. Sanchez' remarks that Al-Sadr would be arrested or killed and that American troops are moving to Najaf. If that is true, it would mean a full scale Jihad against Americans by Shia followers of Sistani in the event of any movement against Sadr. A telling sign that Sistani and his colleagues are losing patience.

In Fallujah, the situation is still precarious. A unilateral ceasefire is still in effect but there are reports of continued fighting. Negotiations are still going on with tribal elders and clerics of Fallujah on one hand, the Islamic party and Haiy'at Al-Ulemma on the other hand. Fallujans have made it clear that they will not accept any negotiations with anyone from the GC. Several GC members have mentioned earlier that they were negotiating for an agreeable settlement, but it looks like Fallujans want to distance themselves from the GC as far as possible, so that the GC would not be credited for resolving the crisis. When asked who would control the city after reaching a settlement, the negotiators on part of Fallujah expressed that they would only trust and agree to Iraqi Police and ICDC who were from Fallujah itself.

The body count in Fallujah till now is 518 Iraqis dead (160 of them women, and about 50 children) and 1250 badly injured. Doctors from Fallujah mentioned that a large number of the dead women and children were shot in the head and that they were saving the extracted bullets to prove that they were being targetted by Marines snipers in the city.


Abu Hadi has updated and it looks like he is stuck in Baghdad. Poor Abu Hadi, but the good part is that he at least gets to enjoy the privilege of experiencing war. He has missed all the fun during the last 30 or so years. Enjoy!