الخميس، مارس 30، 2006

Husseiniya Bombed at Guray'at

I'm not sure if it's an ill-fated omen or something else, but random violence seems to follow me wherever I go in Baghdad. Just 2 hours ago, an ear shattering blast rocked the Guray'at area, north of Baghdad, most likely caused by a BMW vehicle rigged with explosives. The target was the Ali Bash husseiniya, right next door to the popular riverside Al-Ballaam restaurant.

We counted 5 ambulances racing away, sirens wailing, and full of casualties from the scene. Residents with AK-47s immediately poured on the narrow main street firing in the air while firefighters extinguished the flames.

Nearby husseiniyas and mosques were instructing people through loudspeakers to remain alert and to avoid crowding in case there was another car bomb. Indeed, someone spread a rumour that another one was in the area. The area is largely Shia, inhabited by Jubour Arabs, but surrounded by the Sunni Sulaikh and Adhamiya districts.

I was attending a friend's Hinna occasion (sort of like a bachelor party before one gets married) nearby. We abandoned our lamb and rice to see what was happening. There were 2 mortar thuds and a short fire exchange in nearby Adhamiya before that, but I have no idea if the incidents are linked.

The street is blocked by National Guard and police units now. We were not allowed to go close to the blast site. My friend knew people who worked at the restaurant and was trying to check on them.

I was at the restaurant with neighbours less than a month ago, and I described it in the Washington Post diary last week.

الأحد، مارس 26، 2006

Americans Clash with Mahdi Miltiamen

American forces clashed with Mahdi army militiamen at the Ur district (Hayy Ur), west of Sadr city in Baghdad. It seems an American force attempted to raid a husseiniya in the area and was resisted by militiamen inside.

Between 18 and 21 militiamen have been killed, and the Al-Mustafa Husseiniya was reported to be badly damaged in the ensuing firefight.

I was on the phone with a colleague who lived there and he described it as a battlefield. Apache helicopters and jet fighters are still circling the area.

Al-Iraqiya TV just aired some images from the husseiniya. 17 'guards' were killed. One of the corpses carried a Da'wa party (Iraq organisation) ID, and another carried an ID issued by the Islamic Conference of Iraqi Tribes.

Someone in the background was asking the cameraman to film grenades lying around the corpses, to which the cameraman responded: "I can't show our guys' grenades."

"No, these are American grenades," the man in the background explained.

"Oh, okay I'll film them."

Al-Iraqiya TV was very critical of the attack, and is describing those killed as martyrs.

الجمعة، مارس 24، 2006

Lynchings and Holy Wars

Black-clad Mahdi army militiamen drag the body of Sheikh Ghazi Al-Zoba’i, the Imam and preacher of the Al-Sabbar mosque around a street in Husseiniya, a mixed suburb north of Baghdad.

I reported this lynching incident during the sectarian attacks that followed the Samarra shrine bombing. This is an extremely disturbing cell phone video clip of the whole scene.

Lynching in Baghdad

Someone shouts: “drag the Wahhabi,” while another describes him as a “bastard.” They pause a moment to search for a wire, then they dump him on the side of the road. Another militiaman suggests they bury him. “What do you mean bury him?” the gang leader snaps back with indignation. “Leave him here to the dogs.” Then they joke about his underwear and cover the corpse with a cardboard.

Note that life looks absolutely normal in the surroundings. You can see children running about, stores open, religious holiday flags and even a traffic jam. Perhaps Ralph Peters will happen to drive by with an American army patrol and enjoy the scene of children cheering for the troops, while wondering where his civil war is, dude.

Meanwhile, the rising young Shi’ite cleric Yassir Al-Habib, like most of his Islamic counterparts, is just learning how to soar himself to stardom and popularity: by calling for more death and mayhem. Our friend laments the fact that the government has failed to protect the Askari shrine and the cellar of the Imam Al-Mahdi, which he believes is of higher standing with Allah than Jerusalem.

His solution? Lets send an army of the faithful to liberate Samarra and cleanse it from the rotten Nawasib (a derogatory term used by fundamental Shia to describe Sunnis, very much like the Rafidha or ‘rejectionist’ stigma used by some Sunnis when they refer to Shia. Nawasib literally means “those who set themselves against the household of the prophet.”) On second thought, lets cleanse all of Iraq from those infidel scum. He goes on to say that we should destroy all their filthy mosques. We are able to if we are just given the chance. Let's just have another holy war.

Islamic clerics (of all denominations) never fail to disgust me. Thanks to their efforts, we are becoming quite fluent in 7th century medieval vocabulary. How many Iraqis will listen to such sermons then go out on a rampage to slaughter their Nawasib neighbours, or their Rafidha friends?

Today it was all out war in Baghdad.

Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighbourhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or café. I see all that and more.

Don’t you dare chastise me for writing about what I see in my country.

الثلاثاء، مارس 21، 2006

One Week in Baghdad

I wrote a piece for the Washington Post last week. It appeared on Sunday's Outlook section two days ago on the third anniversary of the Iraqi war, along with Kanaan Makkiya's piece. If you missed it then you can find the whole thing here on their website.

الجمعة، مارس 17، 2006

Sistani: "Gays Should Be Killed in Worst Way Possible."

His Eminence, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the supreme religious authority for Shi'ite Msulims in Iraq and worldwide, decrees that gays and lesbians should be killed in the worst manner possible, according to this news article from a London-based gay rights group.

A quick search through Sistani's official website turns up this page, translated as:

Q: What is the judgement on sodomy and lesbianism?

A: "Forbidden. Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible."



Thus says the Iranian cleric who was nominated by Iraqis for the 2005 Nobel Peace prize.

Looking forward to the hate mail.

الأربعاء، مارس 15، 2006

Common Scenes in Baghdad

Kids setting up a barricade using palm tree trunks, barbed wire and bricks before dawn at a back alley of Palestine street (a mixed district south of Sadr city) to help defend it against militia attacks:



Another barricade:



An old mural of former president Saddam Hussein replaced with a new one of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim at Mustansiriya square, Baghdad:



Faces of dead and living Ayatollahs everywhere you go in Baghdad. This billboard at Palestine street carries images of the three Sadrs, replacing the three stars of the Iraqi flag:



A Mahdi army flag on top of the Mustansiriya University's clock tower:

الأحد، مارس 05، 2006

Blowing Up History

Governmental sources are reporting that militants have blown up the Abbasid palace north of Samarra. The source blamed the same groups that bombed the Al-Askari shrine over a week ago.

The Abbasid palace in Samarra was built by Abbasid caliph Al-Mu'tasim in 836, when he moved his capital from Baghdad to Samarra. It is one of the largest Abbasid era palaces to have survived to this day, in addition to the Abbasid palace in central Baghdad. It is regarded, together with the Grand mosque of Sammara (famous for its spiral minaret) and the Al-Askariyyain shrine (the golden mosque), as one of the most prominent historical landmarks of the city.



No further details on the incident were provided, but still, it boggles the mind that such an operation could be carried out twice at the same area in just over a week. Given the historical and cultural value of these palaces and mosques in such a tense area, where a similar attack took place last week, one would think that they would be closely guarded. But why protect buildings in a country where human life has no value anyway?

You won't see sectarian riots over this one. It's only an archaeological site, and too much of those have been destroyed or looted over the last three years for people to care anymore. Not even bricks have been spared our misery.

الخميس، مارس 02، 2006

Atwar Bahjat, Our Hero

Atwar Bahjat. Photo, courtesy of Kitabat.com
Egytpian journalist, Mona Eltahawy recently had a column in Asharq Al-Awsat dedicated to the late Iraqi journalist and tv reporter, Atwar Bahjat. She suggests the following:

Atwar Bahjat was a hero who challenged many powers. Her country needs many more like her if it is to stand up to the murderers who claimed her life. To encourage such heroes, Atwar’s achievements must be celebrated.

Al-Arabiya, entrepreneurs in the Arab world and journalism schools in the region should be encouraged to set up a scholarship programme in her honour that would fund the education of female journalists in Iraq as well as in the Arab world.

Atwar left behind a devastated family of only a mother and a younger sister. She had not yet received her first salary from Al-Arabiya TV when her life was taken away by murderous criminals. She never had the chance to buy a gift to plant a smile on her younger sister's face, but her sincere reporting over the last three years had planted hope in the hearts of millions of Iraqis. Whoever killed Atwar, had in fact killed Iraq and killed that tiny glimmer of hope.

I believe the above suggestion is the least we can do to preserve the beautiful memory of Atwar Bahjat. It would be the best consolation we can ever offer to her bereaved family. It's time we stop glorifying murderers and terrorists. It's time we stop spreading death and mayhem over silly cartoons and stupid denominations. It's time we learn the value of human life, something which we seem to be lacking in our corner of the world.

Atwar is a hero and a true martyr.

Let us know if you can help with this noble endeavor.

الأربعاء، مارس 01، 2006

May Allah preserve his Glory

Iraqi police (or men in black during duty) display their true allegiance:



Men in black 'guarding' Sunni mosque near Sadr city:



I stubbornly refused to go to work today, although it was a semi-peaceful night before, with only the random AK-47 rattle nearby, or the distant mortar shell disturbing our well-deserved sleep.

I went out for a stroll in the neighbourhood, meeting friends and neighbours, exchanging gossip and stories of the continuing carnage. Three Iraqi army armoured vehicles and a pickup truck flying a ragged Iraqi flag were slowly patrolling the main street, followed by a huddled trail of civilian vehicles. Storeowners and pedestrians briefly paused with whatever they were doing and gazed warily at the soldiers aboard. I stood at the door for a moment, peering into their eyes, trying to determine whether I would trust those young men with my family and neighbours' lives. Some looked edgy and alert, and some of them appeared to be simply bored. One dark, skinny soldier returned my inquisitive look with a wan smile on his face. His AK-47 was pointing in my direction.

We heard that a mosque in Hurriya was destroyed in an explosion early this morning, right after a National Guard unit had cleared the area according to residents, and the Dhat Al-Nitaqain mosque in Baghdad Al-Jedida was attacked last night at prayer time, killing 4 civilians and injuring over twenty. Some one blew up a mausoleum in Tikrit, where Saddam's father, Hussein Al-Majeed is buried. Other news of tit-for-tat mosque explosions and attacks. It's the latest fashion these days, and I wonder when they will start blowing up each other's houses.

Graffiti left inside Sunni mosque by Shi'ite militias, reads "Wahhabis are the enemies of Iraq.":



But Sadr's army is also searching for other, less conspicous targets now. A sign hanging on the fence of the British cemetery near Waziriya, Baghdad, reads something to the effect of "How long will we keep the graves of our enemies and occupiers on our soil?" Even the dead will not be spared, it seems.

There are several such cemeteries in Iraq. British cemeteries in Baghdad, Kut, Amara and Basrah. A cemetery for Indian colonial soldiers in Basrah, and another for Ottoman Turkish soldiers in Baghdad. Some famous figures of the British colonial era are buried there, such as Miss Gertrude Bell and General Stanley Maude.

The Forensic Institute (main morgue) in Baghdad is now reporting over 1300 Iraqis killed in the violence since last Wednesday.

Saddam's insignificant trial went on today. I didn't hear anyone mentioning it on the street. Why do they bother keeping up that charade? I would have cared if some other people today were standing trial. There was an arrest warrant issued for a certain young cleric, which the official Al-Iraqiya TV is now calling 'His Eminence, Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr, may Allah preserve his glory,' during newscasts.

I guess I am just sick and disgusted of it all.