Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Street Battles in Adhamiya

The Adhamiya battle in a nutshell: Iraqi security forces from the Interior ministry (some believe to be accompanied by militiamen) attempted to enter Adhamiya from the Raghiba Khatoun area around 1 am, Monday. Adhamiya residents and its dozens of watch teams responded with heavy fire and thwarted the perceived attack.

The same, or another, force later attempted to enter from the other side through Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street. The attack was repelled and several vehicles were burnt. 7 to 12 residents were killed in the clash.

Electric power returned at 3 am and the area calmed down for a few minutes. American helicopters were circling the area, and National Guards backed by an American force soon arrived at the scene and engaged with what it thought to be an insurgent force attacking the Adhamiya police station. The residents continued to return fire and the random exchange lasted until 12 pm. By then, both sides had realised their mistake. Adhamiya elders and local clerics rushed to clear the misunderstanding with the National Guard. National Guards set up checkpoints and helped restore security. The district was cordoned, residents stayed indoors and stores remained closed, even at Raghiba Khatoun, which is usely oblivous to whatever happens in other parts of Adhamiya.

There had been a previous understanding for a few months between the 2 parties that, as long as Interior ministry forces do not enter Adhamiya, National Guards were free to patrol and maintain checkpoints in the area. National Guards in return, turned a blind eye to the many neighbourhood watch teams and even the 'Mujahideen' as long as they don't target them. National Guards were considered allies and during the Samarra events they stepped back in the shadows and watched as vigilant units took over and patrolled Adhamiya at nighttime. There was at least one incident, a couple of weeks ago, when a National Guard commander warned the 'Mujahideen' that Interior ministry forces had entered the area, and turned over his weapons to residents so they could defend themselves.

Tuesday, 6:45 am: a speeding vehicle drove by and fired a few shots at a lethargic National Guard unit near the corner of Omar bin Abdul Aziz and Siham Al-Mitwali streets. The unit responded with a rabid barrage of Douchka and PKC fire, damaging several stores and hitting the nearby Al-Anbia' mosque. The mosque guards snuck to Dhubat Street from back alleys, took positions on a 3-floor building and started taking potshots at the National Guards at the intersection of Omar and Dhubat streets. Other watch teams thought it was another attack, and by 8 am the whole district erupted into an inferno of machine gun fire. Amidst the chaotic firefight, we could make out the familiar buzz of an American unmanned surveillance plane in the air.

"Please refrain from firing at the mosque. Does a house of Allah have no sanctity to you?" a haughty voice was broadcasting from the Al-Anbia' mosque loudspeakers to the National Guards. "You are supposed to restore order. Cease fire immediately or face the consequences. He who has warned is henceforth excused."

The message only served to provoke heavier fire from both sides.

American Humvees entered Adhamiya and returned fire at everything that moved. The fire was random now and at 1 pm the situation had calmed down again.

People were seen on the streets at 5 pm and bakeries and supermarkets opened for a couple of hours. We went out for supplies; bread, petrol, cigarettes and Pepsi. There was no electric power since Monday morning. We heard from friends and relatives that life was going on 'normally' in other parts of the capital; the obligatory car bomb or roadside bomb, politicians still bickering, corpses still turning up at random locations, people still being kidnapped and assassinated, you know, the usual everyday stuff.

Tuesday night was calm. And except for another short clash near the Adhamiya police station, nothing much has happened on Wednesday, yet. National Guards were manning checkpoints all over Adhamiya and residents were cooperative. The district is getting extremely difficult to navigate. As you can see from the photos below, there are barricades blocking every street and back alley. The area is now one huge fortress, armed to the teeth and expecting an attack any moment now.

This is the Washington Post's account of the battles.

Some interesting, and often conflicting, rumours and tidbits from Adhamiya residents, just so you get an impression on what people are saying:

"About 40 4wd and pickup vehicles from the Interior ministry tried to enter the area Monday. They had black-clad Badr (or Mahdi) militiamen with them. Some were dressed in police uniform"

"They were all Iranians."

"The resistance captured 13 (or 14) Iranians Monday at Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street."

"They took the Iranians to a hidden location because they will return to look for them."

"What's this bullshit about Iranians?" an old lady of Iranian descent on our street.

"The attack Monday was punishment for Adhamiya because they opposed Ja'fari's nomination as PM."

"The electricity outage is punishment for the district because it fought back."

"While National Guards were shooting at stores and local generators, they were shouting: 'Let the Accord front compensate you.'"

"They were shouting: 'Let Adnan Al-Dulaimi compensate you.'"

"The National Guards are such treacherous bastards. They turned against Adhamiya."

"They want to turn Adhamiya into another Fallujah or Tala'far. This attack has been planned for months."

"There were fliers distributed a week ago warning Adhamiya residents that they will all be dragged in the streets soon."

"They came from Sadr city."

"They came from Iran."

"The firefight was started by a few troublemakers from Fallujah."

"The Americans did nothing to settle the firefight."

***

Mapping the violence:

Adhamiya district

Clashes on Monday and Tuesday

The situation in Adhamiya, Wednesday

The fortified Al-Anbia' mosque off Omar bin Abdul Aziz street, where the heaviest fighting took place Tuesday:

Al-Anbia' mosque

The deserted intersection of Omar bin Abdul Aziz and Dhubat streets, Tuesday:

Omar bin Abdul Aziz and Dhubat streets

The Jalal mosque at Raghiba Khatoun was hit by a mortar shell early Tuesday:



Roadblocks in different parts of Adhamiya:









Stocking up black market fuel for the home generator:

Stocking up black market petrol

Uncollected garbage at the busy commercial Raghiba Khatoun street:

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stuck in Adhamiya; Area Sealed Off Since Monday Morning

I've been stuck at my aunt's house in Adhamiya since Sunday night. If you had followed the news, you would have learned by now that Adhamiya, which is the largest Sunni district in Baghdad, is witnessing fierce clashes since Sunday night, mostly between armed groups in police uniform, who had attempted to enter the area, and Adhamiya residents.

The district has been sealed off and no one can leave or enter the area. Electric power has been cut off for the last 48 hours, and the fighting severely damaged our street generator this morning.

I'm on dial up now so I have to sign off. I probably won't be able to post again until tomorrow night. Hopefully the situation would have calmed down by then; it's extremely tense at the moment.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I put up a Paypal button for people who wish to donate online through Paypal accounts or credit cards. There will be other methods arranged soon to help you donate to my fund through the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Any contributions through the university will be tax-deductible, I have been told.

It goes without saying that I appreciate all the help I can get from my readers.

UPDATE: You can now send your tax-deductible contributions directly to CUNY. Make cheques payable to:

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
535 E. 80th St.
New York, NY 10021

Add a notation that this is for the 'Zeyad Scholarship Fund.'

Thank you for your help. I will definitely need it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Coming to New York

Jeff Jarvis and this Wall Street Journal article by Yochi Dreazen featuring my blog have outed my secret. I have been admitted to the new graduate school of journalism at the City University of New York. Jeff, my blogdad and mentor, convinced me a couple of months ago to join the school, where he will be teaching interactive journalism. This is not your traditional journalism program. In fact, Jeff believes that this new batch of graduates (from diverse international backgrounds) will help save and change the face of journalism as we know it today.

I have been reluctant to change careers, but quite frankly there is nothing that I can add to dentistry in Iraq, whereas the field of Iraqi online and print journalism is lacking in many aspects, and I hope to contribute to filling that gap. Also, living and studying in New York city is a more like a dream to me that is closer to coming true.

Of course this is not final yet. I need to provide evidence that I have the required funds to pay for tuition and living expenses in order to be granted F-1 immigration status to enter the US. And I am not a wealthy man, as many of you know.

Unfortunately, I have no means yet to solicit donations, so I would appreciate connections to possible foundations or organisations willing to fund this endeavor.

I will keep you all updated on any progress, but for now I just thought you should be the first to know.

More Mundane Scenes from Baghdad

No, the Tigris has not flooded Baghdad, and it's not an Iraqi Katrina. This is one of many neighbourhoods in Baghdad that overflow with sewage after just a little rain.



This area, however, doesn't have it that bad. People living in underdeveloped districts of Baghdad such as Sadr city, Hurriya and Za'faraniya have created artificial bridges on their streets using bricks and logs in order to get into their homes.



This is a rudimentary roadblock made of tree branches in Adhamiya, a largely Sunni district of Baghdad.



A few neighbourhoods of Baghdad have electric power transducers built inside boxes such as this and welded with iron bars to keep looters away. The graffiti reads "Enough sabotage with.. (illegible text). Preserve the people's property the same as you preserve your mother and sister. You have no zeal or honour. Your fate is death."



This is the base of what was once a monument for the Iraqi army at Allawi Al-Hilla square in Baghdad. The Baghdad municipality recently started a campaign to remove murals and monuments supposedly glorifying the Ba'ath party or the former regime. Some Baghdadis have accused the municipality of selectively removing monuments related to the Iraq-Iran war. This is all that is left from this one.



This was once the statue of Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour, who built the city of Baghdad during the 8th century. It is situated exactly at the center of the historical round city of baghdad in the present day Mansour district, named after the abovementioned caliph. The statue was blown off with explosives months ago by an unknown group for unknown reasons. The Baghdad municipality has promised to rejuvenate the statue but no work has been done yet. Again, some Baghdadis have accused Iran or the Badr brigade of demolishing the statue because of some perceived 12 centuries-old grudge against Al-Mansour, probably for killing the Persian leader Abu Muslim Al-Kharassani, or for his aggressive stance against descendants of Imam Ali. As you can see, these interpretations have sectarian undertones to them, like everything these days.



And the mundanest photo of all; this is a half moon as seen during an electric power outage in Baghdad at night.