Thursday, July 01, 2004


I was on the road back to Baghdad on the 28th when the transfer of authority to the Iraqi interim government was announced. Since I was exhausted and starving from the long road, I was therefore more interested in gobbling up my lunch of tishreeb and rice than the ceremonies on tv at the bustling restaurant near Kut. I thought it was a wise decision to announce the event two days before it was planned so I wasn't much surprised, though some people argue that it spoiled the whole thing. Actually, it took the unguarded Arab media by complete surprise, and I swear I could notice their confusion since it was very obvious that they hadn't yet prepared anything to downplay the significance of the event.

We were stopped several times on the road at IP and National Guard checkpoints, and our luggage meticulously searched much to the impatience of our grumbling driver. The last time I was on this road our taxi was tailed by armed Mi'dan bandits in a shiny Nissan pickup truck. Taxi drivers have nicknamed the truck 'aljamra alkhabitha' (the malignant carbuncle or Anthrax) because it can catch up with any vehicle. We were close to Qal'at Salih south of Ammara and the speed gauge of our 92 Caprice read 200 km/h, yet the pickup persistently followed us for a few minutes until we noticed an ICDC patrol. The bandits slowed down gradually while we drived along with the ICDC patrol, they eventually turned around probably to search for an easier target.

In Basrah, people were much more welcoming and optimistic regarding the sovereignty handover. In Baghdad, however, people seem dubious especially since American patrols continue to roam the streets. Yesterday morning there were clashes in Adhamiyah between Americans and insurgents, though some say it was an armed gang. In another incident later on the same day, some people armed with RPG's and AK-47's (apparently looters) surrounded the Adhamiya bank which was guarded by an IP and FPS force. The looters shouted to the police that they were here to attack the Americans so it was better for them to leave the area because they did not intend to harm them, nice trick. The IP responded by shooting at the looters, killing two of them and arresting six others. The disturbing bit was that the police dragged the dead looters and violently beat the others.

Other than this incident I haven't heard of any other attempts to loot government property. In fact the performance of the IP until now is encouraging, a number of gangs were surrounded and arrested at Al-Battawiyeen by an Iraqi SWAT force, and people claim that the police used satellite images to locate the gangs, such rumours do have a benefit though. Another widespread and preposterous rumour is that Ayad Allawi has been showing up at IP stations and executing criminals himself, and I have heard this one from a very large number of people.

Baghdad looked 'normal' today even though the 30th was announced a holiday. Traffic was the same as everyday and no curfew took place contrary to what many predicted, except in Najaf where a truck full of explosives was intercepted by IP and three purported Qaeda members were arrested, one of them a Libyan who had just entered Iraq from Syria and the other two were Iraqis. Overall, I can say that Baghdadis are cautiously optimistic about the new developments, they have postponed their judgement on the government until they sense some real changes on the ground. Security remains the primary concern, and if the present measures continue I can say that it would improve drastically. I really hope we would see less and less American troops on the streets in the next few days.

Longlive Iraq