الاثنين، أبريل 26، 2004

Back in Basrah

I'm back to work after a whole month in Baghdad. Yes, I'm still alive and kicking. My boss had temporarily suspended me because of the unexplained absence, and the Basrah health director had decided to cut a week from my salary. My colleague dentist says he can't actually do that, but that he probably just pocketed the money. Personally, I would give him the whole salary if I were able to stay in Baghdad until the situation is clear.

There was a roadside bomb explosion against a British patrol close to the Basrah Court this morning, and mortar attacks against the CPA headquarters (Basrawis are learning fast). The most interesting things to observe were black signs mourning some former Ba'athists who were killed in Fallujah. Last year, following the war, a large number of high ranking Ba'athists from Basrah left to Fallujah, Ramadi, and other towns in the Anbar governorate for fear of revenge from the locals. Their dead bodies are now returning.

Security precautions have increased over here, and for the first time streets leading to IP stations and vital facilities are being blocked. Basrawis are still stunned by the latest wave of violence and suicide attacks that have plagued their once 'relatively' peaceful city. And some lovely posters of Muqty are plastered all over town.

الثلاثاء، أبريل 20، 2004

More Arab blogs

I discovered a whole bunch of them (Thanks to everyone who sent links). Methinks there are more Arab blogs than we might believe there are. First one is The Religious Policeman, a Saudi blog written by Al-Hamedi (and it seems we are distantly related!), where he describes the incredible escapades of the Muttawa (Saudi religious police) in the glorious kingdom of the house of Saud. Terrifying eye-opening stuff.

Then we have another Egyptian blog. Arab Street Files. Interesting but I noticed with much distaste that he refers to the trouble makers over here as the 'resistance', (pukes). If you want an example of the intelligent yet brain washed masses in the Arab world, this blog is the one for you.

Zaydoun blogs from Kuwait. I particulary enjoyed his theories regarding the Arab Star Academy show finals. I never thought of it that way and frankly I wasn't much a fan of the show, but I really disliked that Attiya fellow (he won). So you have another good blog from the Middle East.

Rehabilitation:From Faisal I to Paul Bremer

(translated article by Iraqi writer and columnist Abdul Mun'im Al-Assam)

We, Iraqis, are not qualified to administer ourselves. Let us admit it. The time for truth has dawned. The time for confession. The whole world deals with us as minors: When we debate with each other, we do it with knives and sticks. When we disagree we grit our teeth and shake fists. When we love someone we take off the fig leaves that cover us. When we hate someone we hate the adversary up to his seventh neighbour. If it were not so, why did we fill Imam Ali's heart with anguish, if we could truly hear its beats? Why did the Ottomans resort to ruling us with Janissaries, if we could distinguish rights from duties? And why did they have to fetch us the kind Prince Faisal I from Paris to be our monarch, if we did not require someone to rehabilitate and teach us all about politics and parliamentary sessions? Why did they bring us the nice polite Miss Bell if it were not to teach us how to eat with a knive and fork? Why did they push Mishel Aflaq on to us if not to give us lessons on coups? And why do we have to live now under the auspices of Mr. Paul Bremer, with the world's consent, if we didn't need someone to polish our language, teach us discipline, and to respect traffic lights?

And since we are not fit for anything and there is nothing new in that, this isn't self-condemnation, it's a mathematical truth the same as '1+1=2'. Let's take a look at our wars: we fought Iran for Shatt Al-Arab, and in the end we gave them Shatt Al-Arab, more than 100 airplanes, over four million dollars in reparations, and generously open borders. Then we fought Kuwait for oil and a few square miles of land, in the end we lost our oil, our land, and our sovereignty. We also payed for the losses of 40 countries, compensated a million victims, half of whom were frauds, and half of half the rest were not even victims. We left our oil resources as an insurance to these reparations for 75 years in the future. And lastly, we fought the US for one chair, after which both chair and ruler were overthrown, and along with them went the state and ease of mind.

Let us take a look at our practice of politics. We score points against each other with funds and promises from 'neighbours'. We raise our balances with privileges of 'strangers'. And take a look at us when we perform our religious rituals, where we rip our clothes with beating, tear our backs with chains, break our heads with blades, and pierce our bodies with dirbasha*. Then take a look at us now: We have dazed the whole world with our extraordinary battles, our Arabs killing Arabs, our Kurds slaughtering Kurds, Shia against Shia, and Sunna against Sunna. Iraqis against Iraqis and against the rest of the world. We have never fed up, to this day, of chanting the ridiculous hossa (tribal battle cry) of Razenchiya "iltob ahsan lo migwaari"**. We mutilate the bodies of foreigners on tv in triumph, then we bury 600 dead the next day in graves while posing for victory. We never tire of setting up comedic armies, some of which we call the Army of Al-Mahdi, some the Army of Islam, and others the Army of Liberation.

Believe me, we are not qualified. It is time for us to quit ruminating centuries old sayings about our forefathers, who guided humanity to writing, flying in space, algebra, geometry, medicine, and the laws of justice and human rights. Time to quit peering back to our glorious past which will never help qualify us or budge us from the margins of our disability.

We are not qualified for anything, believe me. We have succeeded in exhausting the zealous Amru Musa, in vexing the kind Kofi Anan, in confusing the Pope, in disturbing the sleep of the Ayatollah Khamenei, and in leaving a bitter taste for the noble Arab leaders (I am not excluding any of them).

So let us agree to the idea, and it is an advice which I have given much thought, of being ruled by the Algerian diplomat Lakthar Brahimi.. Let the man try his luck with us, after we have truly turned ourselves into an experimental field with excellence.


*dirbasha, are long skewers used by Sufi sects in their rituals.
**"Which is better? Your cannon or my migwaarr?", an Iraqi tribal battle cry first used at the Razenchiya battle during the 1920 uprising against the British occupation. A migwaarr is a wooden rod with a ball of asphalt tied at its end, a hand weapon used by Iraqi tribes back then.

الاثنين، أبريل 19، 2004

New Egyptian blog

Check out Ghaly's new blog. He is Egyptian and has much to talk about. I believe his is the first blog to emerge from the land of the Pharaohs (yet). Let's hope this will spawn many more Egyptian blogs. I have links to other interesting Arab bloggers on the sidebar. If you know about more please point them out. The Arab blogosphere is still so far behind.

***

Guest bloggers Abu Hadiand Mina both have updates.

السبت، أبريل 17، 2004

Apologies for not updating. I have been extraordinarily busy, plus I can't seem to be able to think or write clearly. I can't even keep up with the developments any more. Also buried up to my head in Iraqi history books and trying to find solace in the works of the late Ali Al-Wardi (an eminent Iraqi sociologist who dissected Iraq's history and rightly concluded that Iraqis suffer from a dual personality). I hope I can find enough time (and electricity!) to share some insights. In the mean time I leave you with Abu Hadi's latest update.

الثلاثاء، أبريل 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!

الأحد، أبريل 11، 2004

One year after Saddam

A whole year has passed now and I can't help but feel that we are back at the starting point again. The sense of an impending disaster, the ominous silence, the breakdown of most governmental facilities, the absence of any police or security forces, contradicting news reports, rumours everywhere, and a complete disruption in the flow of everyday life chores.
All signs indicate that it's all spiralling out of control, and any statements by CPA and US officials suggesting otherwise are blatantly absurd.

The chaos and unrest have rapidly spread to several other cities in Iraq such as Mosul, Ba'quba, and Kirkuk. The situation in Fallujah looks terrible and bleak enough from what Al-Jazeera is showing every hour. Ahmad Mansour reported that they keep changing their location for fear of being targetted by Americans. The town stadium has turned into one large graveyard, and the death toll is 500 Iraqis until now with over a thousand injured, a huge price to pay for 'pacification'. The insurgents in Fallujah who are using mosques and house roofs to wage their war against the Marines are equally to blame for the blood of the civilians who have been caught in the crossfire. A ceasefire has been announced by the Americans and is supposed to be in effect but Al-Jazeera reports that fighting continues. What kills me is the absence of any serious effort by Iraqi parties, organisations, tribal leaders, or clerics to intermediate or try to put an end to the cycle of violence. All we hear is denunciation and fiery speeches as if those were going to achieve anything on the ground.

An anonymous group announced that it held 30 foreign hostages today according to Al-Iraqiya tv. Two Germans were also kidnapped recently, as well as an Italian. There have been rumours on the Internet that the three Japanese hostages faked the video that was displayed two days ago with the help of Iraqis in an attempt to pressure the Japanese government in withdrawing their troops. All three of them are anti-war activists. Noriaki Imai was in Iraq researching the effect of Depleted Uranium on Iraqis. Nahoka Takato works with an NGO helping Iraqi children orphaned from the war, and Soichiru Koriyama is a freelance journalist who has been in the Palestinian occupied territories recently. I find it hard to believe they would go this far. The fear and horror in their eyes was very evident in the video, if it is a hoax then they certainly have a promising future in Hollywood. I also received an incredible number of emails and appeals from Japanese citizens and organizations asking me to spare the lives of the Japanese hostages (do they think I have something to do with the kidnapping??) and to tell the 'mujahideen' that the hostages were all against the war (as if that would make any difference to the kidnappers).

In Karbala, a Mahdi Army figure announced yesterday that they have suspended all operations in the holy city until the Shia Arba'ieniya ceremonies are over. Preparations for the event have not been interrupted by the situation in the country, and Shia pilgrims continue to pour into Karbala, which is totally under control of Al-Mahdi. The spokesman congratulated Zainab bint Ali (Imam Hussein's sister) for the 'liberation' of her brother's city in his speech. Any terrorist attacks against the visiting Shi'ites in the next 24 hours would most probably plunge the country into a disaster. And I can't see how Al-Mahdi are going to prevent attacks if any local or foreign powers decide to. A new popular hossa (tribal battle cry) amongst Mahdi militiamen is 'Fallujah wa Al-Kufa, hatha alwatan men'ufa' (Fallujah and Kufa, this country we will not abandon). Some Iraqis have been circulating another controversial hossa being used by Mahdi "Excuse us Imam Ali, but Muqtada is our weli". This slogan is considered very insulting and offensive to the majority of Shia, since in their doctrine only Imam Ali (Muhammed's cousin and son-in-law) is considered to be their weli or guardian. There has also been talk about Muqtada being referred to as Al-Mahdi (Shi'ite twelfth lost Imam and Messiah), but Shia regard that as an outrageous allegation.

As to Al-Sadr's relation with Iran, I would think it highly improbable that he is an Iranian puppet, although his ties to the Grand Ayatollah Kadhum Al-Ha'eri (Iraqi exiled cleric in Iran) are well known (Muqtada himself confessed once some time ago that he was Al-Ha'eri's agent in Iraq which was the main reason he gathered such a following as well as his father's reverence by Iraqi Shia). I admit that is highly possible that he has recieved financial support from Iran but not to the extent as to work in behalf of them in Iraq. There are rumours of existing training camps for Al-Mahdi volunteers in Iran along the Iraqi border, but I think it is very improbable that the Iranian regime would be so open in their support for the dissenting cleric. However, it is also hard to believe that a young and inexperienced cleric with no real popular support from the Hawza would succeed in recruiting, financing, and training an army of 10,000 Shi'ites, as well as setting up offices, newspapers, and a huge propaganda machine all by himself. All of his aides and supporters are young and impoverished, a large number of them are known to people as criminals, thieves, looters, and unemployed illiterate slum dwellers. They would never show such dedication to their cause unless they were being rewarded. And any one who suggests that they rebelled for nationalist reasons can never be more far from reality. This is NOT a Shia rebellion or Intifada. The only case where a Shia uprising would take place is if the Grand Ayatollah Ali Taqi Al-Sistani issues a fatwah to that effect, along with the support of the other three leading Shi'ite clerics (Ayatollah Mohammed Sa'eed Al-Hakim, Ayatollah Bashir Al-Najafi, and Ayatollah Mohammed Ishaq Al-Fayyadh) who constitute the Hawza alilmiyyah of Najaf. And Sistani might lose patience any moment and do so considering the deteriorating situation. An agent of Sistani was quoted once saying "We receive so many requests each day from Iraqis asking us to issue a fatwa for Jihad against the Americans. We say no, but this No will not be forever".

It is becoming increasingly evident from all the violence we have witnessed over the last year, that a proxy war is being waged against the US on Iraqi soil by several countries and powers with Iraqis as the fuel and the fire, just like Lebanon was during the late seventies and eighties. The majority of Arab regimes have a huge interest in this situation continuing, not to mention Iran, and Al-Qaeda. I am not trying, of course, to lift the blame from Iraqis, because if Iraqis were not so divided the way they are, these powers would have never succeeded. I never thought that Iraqis would be so self-destructive, I thought that they had enough of that. But with each new day I am more and more convinced that we need our own civil war to sort it all out. It might take another 5, 10, or even 20 years, and hundreds of thousands more dead Iraqis but I believe it would be inevitable. Yugoslavia, South Africa, Lebanon, Algiers, and Sudan did not achieve the relative peace and stability they now enjoy if it weren't for their long years of civil war. If the 'resistance' succeeded and 'liberated' Iraq, the country would immediately be torn into 3, 4, 5 or more parts with each faction, militia, or army struggling to control Baghdad, Kirkuk, Najaf, Karbala, and the oil fields. It will not be a sectarian war as many would imagine, it would be a war between militias. We already have up to 5 official militias, not to mention the various religious groups and armies.

It is the most foolish and selfish thing to say "pull the troops out", or "replace them with the UN or NATO". Someone has to see us through this mess to the end. Only a deluded utopian (or an idiot peace activist) would believe that Iraqis would all cosily sit down and settle down their endless disputes without AK-47's, RPG's, or mortars in the event of coalition troops abandoning Iraq. Please please don't get me wrong, I am not in the least saying that I enjoy being occupied by a foreign force, I am not a dreamer who believes that the USA is here for altruistic reasons, I am not saying that I am happy with what my bleeding country is going through, believe me when I say it tears my heart every day to witness all the bloodshed, it pains me immensely to see that we have no leaders whomsoever with the interest and well-being of Iraq as their primary goal, it kills me to see how blind and ignorant we have all become. Iraqis are dying inside every day, and we are committing suicide over and over and over. Some people call me a traitor or a collaborator for all the above and for speaking the truth as opposed to rhetorical, fiery speeches which have been our downfall.

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.

الجمعة، أبريل 09، 2004

Sistani issues the long-awaited fatwa to keep calm

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani issued a fatwa late Wednesday to "resolve the latest developments in Iraq in a peaceful manner" in order to prevent anarchy and bloodshed. "We condemn the behaviour of occupation forces in dealing with the current events, and we also condemn any trespass against public and private property, or any other conduct that may disrupt security and obstruct Iraqis from their jobs in serving the people". Sistani also called upon political parties to work together in an effective manner to put an end to the "tragedy".

Why did he wait so long before issuing this fatwa? Was it to gauge coalition and public reaction? Was it to prove that only he has the last word in clearing up the mess?

The fatwa comes after 5 days of violence and unrest in several Shi'ite cities in southern Iraq, and while it is true that traditionally a fatwa from a living Grand Ayatollah is binding to his followers, that does not however apply to Al-Sadr's supporters who point out the more radical Grand Ayatollah Kadhim Al-Ha'eri (Iraqi exile Shia cleric operating from Meshed, Iran) as their spiritual leader, despite Al-Sadr's clumsy announcement two days ago that he will follow whatever Sistani and the Hawza in Najaf chooses for him, which I think is more probably a cry for help from the elders in Najaf.

Meanwhile, Sadr's supporters are still controlling Kut since yesterday's withdrawal of Ukrainian forces. Mahdi militiamen have taken over and looted CPA headquarters in the city as well as British Hard Group company division which was working on power station maintenance in Kut, killing it's manager who was a South African. Clashes are still reported from Sadr city, Nassiriyah, Mahhawil, and Karbala. Al-Mahdi militiamen have also resorted to kidnapping westerners, a British contractor has been kidnapped in Nassiriya, as well as several South Koreans, some of whom were released later. One of Sadr's aides stated that they had several foreign hostages to be exchanged with Mustafa Al-Ya'qubi who has been detained by coalition forces. Also two Israeli Arabs (??) (what the hell are Americans thinking?) were held hostage by a group Ansar Al-Din, they were shown on the Iranian Al-Alam tv, and were described as Mossad agents. Al-Jazeera displayed a short tape showing three blindfolded and handcuffed Japanese journalists (a woman and two men) being held by a group calling itself Sarraya Al-Mujahideen which threatened to burn them alive unless Japan pulls out its troups from Iraq in a letter addressed to 'our friends the Japanese people'. The Japanese base in Sammawa was also targetted by mortars. I found it particularly interesting that while Al-Jazeera displayed most of the tape, it did not display the part where the masked men held knives to the neck of the wailing Japanese woman while screaming "Allahu Akbar!". What? too hard for Arab feelings?

The situation in Ammara, Basrah, and Diwaniya seems to have settled down partially. The British have regained control over there, according to AYS who is blogging from Basrah (I hope he doesn't get stuck there). Spanish commanders met with tribal and religious dignitaries in Diwaniya who promised to disarm the people and maintain order in the city.

Preparations for the Shi'ite Arba'ieniya religious holiday are ongoing despite the unstable situation. Arba'ien means forty, and Shia commemorate the death of Imam Al-Hussein (Muhammed's grandson and Shia saint) again on this day which comes forty days after 10th of Muharram (the day Hussein was killed). I don't know where this Iraqi practice of remembering the dead after forty days of their death comes from. Anyway, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites have already started marching to Karbala on foot. Under the present circumstances and with the absence of IP and security forces in the city, I fail to see how a major terrorist attack is going to be prevented this time, another large scale attack against the Shi'ite pilgrims will probably inflame the already deteriorating situation even further.

a friend of mine told me today that he had been in contact with some clients who were members of Al-Mahdi Army, he said that they all received salaries from Sadr's offices throughout Iraq in US dollars. I asked him where he thought the money came from, he gave me a wry smile and said what do you think? "Iran?" I offered, and he nodded back in silence.

What troubles me is that the whole situation has so many parallels with the uprising against the British in 1920 (Thawrat Al-Ishrin). History repeating itself, it troubles me because that would mean that Iraqis have not matured as a people for the last hundred years. That one was sparked by the arrest of a prominent tribal sheikh by the British and then all hell broke loose. Shi'ite Ayatollahs and Sunni Imams called for Jihad and several cities in the south were 'liberated'. It lasted for a few months and resulted in 2000 British killed and thousands more Iraqis dead. After the revolt was crushed, and King Faisal installed as monarch of Iraq, there were supposed to be elections for a National Assembly (sounds familiar?) to write a constitution. Of course, the Hawza issued fatwas for Iraqis to boycott the polls. Abdul Mohsen Al-Sa'dun, prime minister at the time, responded by arresting all the Ayatollahs and exiling them to Iran on the grounds that they were Iranian citizens and had no right to interfere with Iraqi matters (Iraqis were tough back then). Public outrage followed this in most Iraqi cities but the government stood firm against it, so in the end Iraqis went about their business. After a few months, the exiled Ayatollahs pleaded the Iraqi government to return to Iraq (because they were not up to the competition with the other Ayatollahs in Iran) and that they would keep out of politics from now on, the Iraqi government welcomed them back, and that was that. The Hawza kept out of politics, until the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Al-Khomeini came to Najaf in the sixties and started poisoning the minds of the Iraqi Shia clergy. But that is a long story which I may write about in another blog since it is relevant to the current events in Iraq.

The situation in Baghdad

In Baghdad the fighting still continues in several areas, mostly in Sadr city and Adhamiya. Baghdadis don't venture much out of their neighbourhoods any more, you never know where you might get stuck. There has been talk that the night curfew might be implemented again. My neighbourhood has been surrounded by American troops for three days now, helicopters have been circling over our heads non-stop. Fedayeen are now visible on the street and they have become bolder than ever. Yesterday there were tens of them putting road blocks on our street and setting up mortars, they only come out in the open when Americans leave the area, then they start firing mortars indiscriminately and shooting their AK-47's in the air. They are setting the road blocks at the exact same positions they were during the war last year, which indicates they are the same people. And there is nothing we can do about it really, people who are suggesting that we go out and fight them are living in dream land. Even the IP and ICDC have abandoned the neighbourhood, and those are trained and armed, so don't expect scared civilians to do anything except to hide inside and pray a helicopter or a tank doesn't bomb them, and also how are American soldiers going to distinguish the brave and valiant civilians from the Fedayeen?

Everyone is apprehensive, there is some talk that April 9th and 10th are going to be bloody days. Most people haven't gone to work the last few days, although it seems that the rest of Baghdad is 'normal' (if you can define what normal is). There are rumours about preparations by slum dwellers for another looting spree against banks, governmental and public property similar to the one that took place last April, and I have already overheard youngsters in my neighbourhood joking about it and saying things like "This time we will be the first to loot, we didn't get anything the last time".

Mosques are calling for donating blood, food, and medicine for Fallujah, and several convoys have already headed out for Fallujah, most of them returned later though. What irritates me is this sudden false 'solidarity' between Sunni and Shi'ite clerics, we all know that they would be glad to get at each others throats when they have the chance, and Shia clerics were describing Fallujan insurgents as 'Ba'athists', 'Saddamites', 'Wahhabis', and 'terrorists' just a few days ago. So what happened? I guess it's just the old new Arab 'Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against my enemy', or 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' thing going on again.

Speaking of Fallujah, we have only Al-Jazeera to rely on for our news from there. They have sent over their top reporter Ahmed Mansour to the town, and he is spouting all kinds of propaganda hourly reminding me of Al-Sahhaf. "They are targetting ambulances", "American snipers are shooting children and pregnant women", and "They are using cluster bombs against civilians" is all you get to hear from him. He did once make an unforgivable error when he mentioned that Fallujan militants were shooting at the Marines from the roofs of mosques and houses in Hay Al-Golan, but of course that is okay for Al-Jazeera. Someone who called himself Abu Hafs from the Ibn Al-Khattab Brigades (another new group) was on Al-Jazeera describing the enormous casualties among the Marines and he sweared that American soldiers were mutilating the bodies of dead insurgents. Over 300 Iraqis are reported dead and 500 wounded in Fallujah alone. Al-Iraqiyah tv said that ICDC were controlling Ramadi.

Azzaman newspaper mentioned an announcement signed by Abdul Aziz bin Muqrin, an Al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia on an Islamic website 'the voice of Jihad', in which he stated that "although mutilating dead bodies is not originally permitted in Islam, but in this case it is allowed if Muslims use it against infidels to deter them from committing criminal actions". He added that "America does not understand anything except the language of force and retaliation, they were kicked out of Somalia in humiliation after that soldier was dragged in Mogadishu for the whole world to see", and that "the day will come when the dead bodies of Americans and Jews would be dragged, defiled, and stepped on in the Arabian peninsula together with their agents and supporters".


The impotent GC

And of course, I guess it is now painfully clear that the GC has no real power or control over the torn country. If sovereignty is going to be handed over to them on the 30th of June, then I expect a disaster coming. GC member, Samir Al-Sumaidai confessed today that they had no real power and that they cannot do anything at the moment. Sallama Al-Khafaji stated to Arabiya tv today that what is taking place in Iraq is a popular Intifada and she strongly condemned occupation forces. Sallama replaced Akila Al-Hashimi after her assasination. She was one of my professors back at Dental School, and everyone knew her as a Ba'athist back then, now she claims she was operating from inside the Ba'ath on behalf of SCIRI. I just think she is a hypocrite.

Other GC members refrained from speaking against Muqtada Al-Sadr, heh. Allawi blamed it all on 'foreign terrorists' without explicitly defining who he was referring to. Al-Rubai'i explained that this "is not a political issue, this is an issue pertaining to the Iraqi judiciary". Ghazi Al-Yawar said that Mustafa Al-Ya'qubi was only being questioned and that he is not a suspect. That's the pussy council for you. Only the Kurdish members are vocal enough to call him an 'outlaw', and Barzani stressed that no one "is above the law anymore".

الأربعاء، أبريل 07، 2004

More on Sadr's insurgency

Sadr's aide and head of his office in Najaf, Qays Al-Khaz'ali, has declared the latest looting and killing spree going on in several Iraqi southern cities as an Intifada against the occupation. Speaking on behalf of Muqtada, he stated that they will certainly not calm down any soon because the Quran orders them not to; "Fight those who fight against you". And he has also made it clear that they stand united with their 'Sunni brothers' in Ramadi, Fallujah, and Adhamiya in the resistance.

Muqtada himself though doesn't seem as if he has made up his mind yet. I believe the fool senses that he has blundered seriously. Earlier yesterday he issued an announcement to his followers to cease the 'demonstrations', and that he had left the Kufa mosque and took refuge at Imam Ali's shrine in Najaf, typically hiding among civilians and holy sites like the coward he is. Later, however, he issued another written statement in which he reiterated his pledge to Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah leader, adding to it that he will be the 'striking hand' for Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. One of his aides claimed that a delegation from Sistani met with Sadr informing him that the leading Shi'ite cleric supports Sadr and his followers and that their cause is legitimate. This contradicts Shitstani's statements yesterday, indicating that the old wizard is either suffering from senility or is playing his own dirty tricks. None of Sistani's agents have either denied or confirmed this claim, but they say that he will personally meet with Sadr tomorrow.

Meanwhile, violent clashes continue in Nassiriya and Ammara between Al-Mahdi militiamen and coalition troops. There were reports that the militia had kidnapped two South Korean construction workers in Nassiriya. At Kut it was reported that IP and Ukrainian forces regained control of the local tv and radio station after it had been overrun by Sadr's henchmen, but that fighting resumed later in the evening. Also, reports of fighting at Diwaniyah, which had been the only major city in the south unaffected by the recent developments up until yesterday.

Of course, Sadr has set up offices in almost every city, town, and village in the south. And I have mentioned earlier that they had assumed full control over my small village where I work in the Basrah governorate weeks ago, terrorizing IP officers, civil servants, and doctors but nobody was listening. I don't think I will be heading back there any soon now. What surprises me is the almost professional coordination of the uprisings in all of these areas. I'm assuming, of course, that the money and equipment supplied by our dear Mullahs in Iran is being put to use good enough, not to mention the hundreds of Pasderan and Iranian intelligence officers.. sorry I mean Iranian Shia pilgrims that have been pouring into Iraq for months now.

The situation in Baghdad looks the same as it was in the couple of days before the war last year. Streets are almost empty by seven in the evening, a whole lot of Baghdadis have remained home yesterday for fear of getting cut off from their neighbourhoods in event of Americans blocking off streets or something. There was an ongoing military operation very close to our neighbourhood almost all of Monday night till midday. At one point I imagined that the Apaches were landing on our roof (that was after I published the previous post), and explosions kept rocking our house which brought back uncanny memories of last April 10th when there was a fierce confrontation between Fedayeen and advancing Americans just outside our doorsteps.

I was standing outside with neighbours yesterday afternoon gossiping when a car drove by, threw a couple of fliers at us, shouting "read them, may Allah increase your reward". The fliers were signed by a group which called itself Saif Allah Albattar (Allah's striking sword) at Ramadi, Fallujah, Adhamiya, and Diyala, which advised Iraqis to remain home on April 9th (the anniversary of the occupation), stating that they would not be responsible if anyone failed to do so. Someone else talked about another group called the Iraqi Islamic Army (groups like these seem to pop up every other day) which claimed its responsibility for the killings of the 4 Americans in Fallujah last week, decribing them as 'Jews'.

Anyway, it seems that fighting is ongoing in Sadr city, northeast of Baghdad. A total of 110 Iraqis and 19 coalition soldiers killed in the last 12 hours according to Al-Jazeera, which I have never witnessed being any more hateful and provocative until this day. They keep displaying headlines like 'Occupation forces target more women and children in Sadr city' or 'Resistance in Fallujah forces occupation forces to withdraw from locations'.

A couple of GC members have shyly spoken against the violence. Ayad Allawi (INA) first described the uprisings as being directed by 'evil and dark forces who wish no prosperity for Iraqis', then he started beseeching his 'brother' Muqtada Al-Sadr to stay calm (Even he is scared from Sadr's thugs?). SCIRI leader, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim condemned the behaviour of occupation forces in killing civilians in Najaf and called for their punishment. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice stated that they had absolutely nothing to do with the arrest warrant for Muqtada Al-Sadr. And you want us to keep hope?

No one knows where it is all heading. If this uprising is not crushed immediately and those
militia not captured then there is no hope at all. If you even consider negotiations or appeasement, then we are all doomed.

الاثنين، أبريل 05، 2004

A coup d'etat is taking place in Iraq a the moment. Al-Shu'la, Al-Hurria, Thawra (Sadr city), and Kadhimiya (all Shi'ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad) have been declared liberated from occupation. Looting has already started at some places downtown, a friend of mine just returned from Sadun street and he says Al-Mahdi militiamen are breaking stores and clinics open and also at Tahrir square just across the river from the Green Zone. News from other cities in the south indicate that Sadr followers (tens of thousands of them) have taken over IP stations and governorate buildings in Kufa, Nassiriya, Ammara, Kut, and Basrah. Al-Jazeera says that policemen in these cities have sided with the Shia insurgents, which doesn't come as a surprise to me since a large portion of the police forces in these areas were recruited from Shi'ite militias and we have talked about that ages ago. And it looks like this move has been planned a long time ago.

No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Al-Mahdi are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47's are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically. Baghdadis are horrified and everyone seems to have made up their mind to stay home tomorrow until the situation is clear.

Where is Shitstani? And why is he keeping silent about this?

I have to admit that until now I have never longed for the days of Saddam, but now I'm not so sure. If we need a person like Saddam to keep those rabid dogs at bay then be it. Put Saddam back in power and after he fills a couple hundred more mass graves with those criminals they can start wailing and crying again for liberation. What a laugh we will have then. Then they can shove their filthy Hawza and marji'iya up somewhere else. I am so dissapointed in Iraqis and I hate myself for thinking this way. We are not worth your trouble, take back your billions of dollars and give us Saddam again. We truly 'deserve' leaders like Saddam.

UPDATE: Sorry for the depressing note. It seems like everything is back under control, at least from what I can see in my neighbourhood. There is an eerie silence outside, only dogs barking. Until about an hour ago, it sounded like a battlefield, and we had flashbacks of last April. I don't know what happened, but there were large plumes of smoke from the direction of Adhamiya and Kadhimiya. I wanted to take some pictures but my father and uncle both said they would shoot me on the spot if I tried, they were afraid the Apaches would mistake us for troublemakers and fire at us. I'm dreading tomorrow.

Al-Sadr calls upon followers to 'terrorize' the enemy

Muqty is playing on his old dirty tricks again, only this time he has gone too far. Following last Friday's prayer sermon, when he announced that he would be a 'striking hand' in Iraq for Hizbollah and Hamas whenever they need, and issued a veiled warning to Kurds to stop assisting the occupiers, his followers in Kufa ran amok killing an Iraqi IP colonel and after that attacked Salvadorian and Spanish troops. Spanish forces retorted by arresting Sayyid Mustafa Al-Ya'qubi, an aide of Muqtada and head of Sadr's office in Najaf.
Meanwhile, in a display of power and defiance, Al-Sadr organised a military parade on the streets of Al-Thawra district (Sadr city), a Shi'ite stronghold, in Baghdad on Saturday where thousands of Jaish Al-Mahdi (Al-Mahdi army) militiamen in black marched along with mullahs to the horror of Iraqis who watched on tv, bringing back nightmares of Fedayeen parades under Saddam. American and Israeli flags were burnt at the parade, and large posters of Muqtada and his father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr (assasinated by Mukhabarat in 1999) were carried by the demonstrators. One of the mullahs at the parade stated that "this is to show our power to the world. This army is a striking force and a time bomb that can go off any moment at the time and place our leader deems necessary". Later that day, Sadr followers cut off roads leading to the entrance of the Convention center near the Green Zone, set fire in tires, and prevented vehicles from crossing over Jumhuriya bridge. While they were at it, they attacked Video CD stores and gaming shops in Bab Al-Sharji accusing them of selling porn movies.

Since Al-Sadr's weekly newspaper Al-Hawza was closed about a week ago for inciting violence against the coalition, there have been daily demonstrations near the Green Zone by Sadr supporters demanding re-opening the paper and against the national reconciliation conferences initiated by Kurdish leader Mas'ud Barzani, current head of the GC. I passed through one such demonstration last Wednesday with Omar and AYS at Tahrir square and it looked dangerous, they were armed with pistols and AK-47's.

Anyway, last thing we heard was that Muqtada Al-Sadr's residence in Najaf was surrounded by coalition troops and that his followers clashed with Spanish troops in Kufa, 21 of them killed and 120 wounded. IP stations in Kufa were attacked, and there was news of fighting in Sadun street and Al-Thawra in Baghdad. Last word from Muqty was that he asked his followers to stop demonstrating and to resort to 'other methods' since demonstrations aren't working. Al-Jazeera is having difficulties concealing their excitement and they have already coined this as the 'start of the Shia resistance in Iraq'.

Iraqis know very well who those 'pious' people are. They are gangsters, rapists, murderers, thieves, kidnappers, looters, and criminals. They are only using religion as cover. I can't even dream of what would happen if those people were left to make trouble on our streets that way without punishment. I believe that it's now time for Al-Sadr to experience a very bad accident soon. We will be sorry for him I assure you, "Oh poor fellow, what a terrible misfortune, what a great loss" we would say to each other knowingly. It's scenes like these that make me sometimes wonder to myself if Saddam wasn't justified in assassinating all those clerics. Get that new Mukhabarat working.

الجمعة، أبريل 02، 2004

Fallujah, a God forsaken town

I decided that I would not comment about the Fallujah incident on Wednesday right away, but that I would give it some thought and write on it when the anger had subsided and everyone can see things clearly. People utter ugly remarks when they are confused and angry, myself included, and there are things we say that we may come to regret later. Check the comments section for the previous post and see for yourselves. I understand the reaction completely but I wish that a few commentors (they know who they are) would try to compose themselves or I should ask them to take their hateful drivel elsewhere.

You have to understand first that Islam had nothing to do with the disgusting behaviour we all witnessed from our screens. I'm not saying this in defense of Islam, of course, since some of you may know that I have abandoned Islam (and all other religions) ages ago. Theoretically, Islam is against that practice of dead body mutilation. Bukhari quotes a Hadith in which Mohammed (the founder of Islam) scolded and objected against a few of his followers who were engaged in mutilating the bodies of elder Quraish kuffar at the battle of Badr. Since then it was supposed to be haram to maim a dead body whether it was that of man or animals.

However, I believe that this is an exclusive Iraqi trait, and we have examples from our own recent history to prove it. For Iraqis who deny that, go here and here (warning: gruesome images), I got these historical pictures from my late grandfather. In the 1958 coup which overthrew the monarchy, the bodies of members of the royal Hashemite family together along with Noori Al-Saeed, prime minister under King Faisal II, were mutilated, dragged around the streets of Baghdad, and then hung to rot for days. Communists committed similar atrocities in Mosul and Kirkuk in 1959, ironically against Pan-Arabs, Ba'athists, and their supporters. Some Ba'athists did the same to Communists during their short lived coup in 1963. And again the Ba'athists after 1968, when they assumed power in Iraq for good, with a long list of atrocities against political adversaries, 'enemies of the people', 'traitors', 'Zionist spies', etc. Now they have resurfaced again it seems.

All the images of a long history of violence above have become deeply ingrained in Iraqi society, and I'm afraid we have become desensitized to such scenes a long time ago. As disgusting and horrible the Fallujah images were, you could see bystanders children there watching casually, if not cheering, without blinking an eye. I would not call those children evil, because sadly they do not realise what they have become. The people that defiled the dead bodies were not technically terrorists, Ba'athists, or insurgents, they were common folk which makes it even more depressing. All respect for humanity has long been lost in a large section of Iraqis. I admit this concept is difficult, if not impossible, to explain to a western audience.

I believe we would first need clerics and political parties to organise a rally to condemn this type of behaviour. I haven't heard any clerics, be they Sunni or Shia, speak against the incident yet. I've heard Iraqi figures denounce the act and I noticed that even the most anti-american people I know were against it, but no action followed. It even seemed that the Arab media was somewhat embarrassed by the behaviour of their 'resistance'.

Second, the CPA should gather all the prominent tribal leaders of Fallujah, Ramadi, Khaldiyah (since those towns are largely tribal ones) and give them two options; either to hand out all weaponry and ammunitions, plus any insurgents and foreign terrorists they have amongst them, or to face the consequences which could be pulling out of the area completely, halting all reconstruction and humanitarian efforts, and leaving it behind the rest of Iraq, if that's what they want.

Any other approach wouldn't work. Bombing innocents would create more outrage and anti-american sentiment from people who are still against others making trouble. The culprits that were shown on tv can be found easily via informants in the area, and they should be punished severely.

I have nothing else I can think of at the moment.

***

Meanwhile, Abu Hadi's page has been updated and he describes his visit to the Old Baghdad and other adventures. Mina has also updated and she talks about her hopes in Iraqis.