As the cycle of sectarian violence in Baghdad rages on, despite a three-day curfew, many people in the war-torn capital are bracing themselves for what they fear is the worst phase of the war to come.
The attack on Sadr City with five car bombs last Thursday will most likely be another turning point, ushering in a rising level of violence in Iraq, just the same as the shrine incident in Samarra last February.
At Baladruz, in the Diyala governorate, northeast of Baghdad, Sunni gunmen massacred 21 Shi’ite men, including a 12-year-old boy, in front of their families. Sunni and Shi’ite militiamen took to the streets and exchanged fire in Ba’quba for hours before U.S. troops intervened. An office of the Sadr movement was blown up, and in response, a Sunni mosque was set to fire.
With the curfew entering its fourth day since the Sadr City bombings last Thursday, Iraqi families were confined to their homes in fear as the exchange of mortar shells between Sunni and Shi’ite districts continued. Sunni insurgents targeted the Shi’ite districts of Sadr City, Abu Dshir, Ma’alif, Hurriya, Shu’la and Kadhimiya with mortars and Katyusha rockets in retaliation for attacks against the Sunni districts of Adhamiya, Sulaikh, Ghazaliya, Jami’a and Dora.
A few mortar shells have falled in the vicinity of our home in Baghdad. One shell tore through the roof of our relatives’ house, a few blocks away from us, into their living room, but nobody was hurt. Another hit our neighbours.
There was a two-hour broadcast from Sadr City on the state-run Iraqiya TV, in which three Sadrist MPs and angry residents vowed revenge for the car bombings that killed over 200 people last Thursday. Reports from the area indicate that militiamen are preparing for further attacks against Sunni districts as soon as the curfew is lifted. Several residents claimed on Iraqi message boards that the Mahdi Army is distributing police uniforms to its members in different Shi’ite districts throughout the capital to allow greater freedom of movement.
Nighttime clashes went on in several neighbourhoods of western Baghdad, as militiamen dressed in police uniforms attempted to enter Sunni districts. The remaining Sunni families in several mixed areas have been ordered to leave.
To grasp how dire the situation in Baghdad has become over the last few days, here is a sampling of posts on Iraqi message boards where people ask for instructions on how to defend their neighbourhoods from marauding militiamen:
Ali – Khadhraa district:
Please inform us about the areas that are expected to be targeted, so we can be prepared. Also please inform us on the necessary steps we should take to protect our families and ourselves.
Ibn Al-Iraq – Jihad district:
Salam Aleikum. I live in the Jihad district. A group from the Mahdi Army tagged Sunni residences and collected their weapons today. God is witness to what I say.
Mustafa – Ghazaliya:
We have been under mortar fire for two days. It is 10:50 p.m. now and we can hear heavy gunfire and an attack against mosques in the area. May God save us all from the injustice of aggressors.
A Mujahid for Allah – Baghdad of Al-Rashid:
In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.
They want it a war, so be it. We are up to it, God willing.
My brothers, heed these recommendations:
1- Prepare weapons and ammunition.
2- To avoid their mortar fire, do not gather in large numbers at one place in your areas.
3- Spread out in small groups, and assign a commander to each.
4- Always take cover behind a barrier (anything that can protect you from enemy fire).
5- If there is an attack against your area, try not to waste your fire (make maximum benefit from the ammunition you have available).
6- Assign duties to your brothers.
7- Maintain communication with other groups in your area so you can respond to any breach of the area by the attackers.
8- Have courage and patience when you face them. They are cowards and will be defeated.
Remember that your brothers, the Mujahideen, will be with you in your fight against the murderous criminals. May God save us and save Iraq.
The son of Anbar – Baghdad:
Dear brothers, the Khadhraa and Jami’a districts are in need of ammunition. Please come to our aid.
Ali – Ghazaliya:
Groups from the evil Mahdi Army are preparing to enter Ghazaliya from the direction of the Centre Street and near the Muhajireen mosque, but residents are in control of most of the streets, despite assistance from the National Guard [for the Mahdi Army] and their cover for the mortar attacks from the Security Street. A woman was injured there from their damn mortars.
Abu Al-Hassan Al-Samarra’I – Baghdad:
To the Mujahideen brothers in all areas, attack them and let the initiative be yours so that you can relieve the pressure from other districts. Have no mercy for them. Be careful of their spies in your areas.
Anonymous - Jihad district:
Urgent. Please intervene to save the Jihad district from another massacre. Interior Ministry commandoes have been transporting fighters and mercenaries from the militias with their buses to their headquarters in the district. They are estimated to be around 500 mercenaries, fully armed with medium and light weapons. And now some of them are taking attack positions in preparation for a new massacre in the district. The buses have not stopped arriving, even though terrified residents have called the police and governmental officials.
Abu Mohammed – Baghdad:
I recommend to my brothers the following:
1- Trust in God, and defend your family, your possessions and your honour. Whoever is killed is a martyr for God.
2- Never surrender, because in that case they will kill us after maiming and torturing us. We should fight to the last breath.
3- Ensure surveillance for every area, especially main streets and entry points, and maintain communication to follow the movement of vehicles used by militias. Attack them wisely without wasting ammunition.
4 – Prepare ambushes for these militias on the streets they are expected to pass. Finish them off and take their weapons.
Remember that those militias are former looters, thieves and shoe shiners. Do not make such a big deal of them because, by God, they are lowly animals.
Salim Hussein – Raghiba Khatoun:
There is a large gathering of Mahdi Army militiamen at the Imam Ali bin Abi Talib husseiniya at Raghiba Khatoun, where they came from the Dilfiya area of the Qahira district. They intend to attack the residents of Adhamiya, Raghiba Khatoun and Sulaikh. Please be alert.
Ahmed Al-Janabi – Baghdad:
Salam Aleikum. I’m a resident of Yarmouk and I can hear gunfire from the Four Streets area as if in warning of an attack of sorts. God knows. Please come to our aid if the situation worsens.
Abdul Rahman Abdul Qadir – Karkh:
Salam Aleikum. Over 40 vehicles with Mahdi Army militiamen have gathered near the Dora police station. They started arriving at 7 p.m., and at 7:45 p.m. we could see about 40 vehicles preparing to attack Dora.
Abdul Rahman – Iraq:
Please keep these steps in mind:
1- Deploy snipers on the rooftops of buildings that lie close to the main entry points for each area.
2- Prepare positions for medium weapons at a distance from the entry point, and make pincers with sniper and PKC fire. When you choose a position, make sure you can retreat to alternate positions from it, in case the enemy overruns the area (do not choose a building that is not adjacent to another, or use ropes to quickly slide down the building).
3- RPG carriers should maintain their positions on side streets and take cover behind barriers. Do not fire just for the sake of it (attack the first and last vehicle).
4- Create heavy fire density to force the enemy to take cover, and then eliminate them by sniper fire.
5- Provide hand grenades and distribute them to the Mujahideen.
6- Fighters with light weapons should always change positions, fire from different angles and not stay at one place.
7- Prepare and plant roadside bombs on the entrance to every area.
8- Bomb the gathering locations for the army of filthy Muqtada.
9- Prepare a special group to deal with any breach, and it should be armed with RPGs, PKC machine guns and KIA vehicles.
10- Plan ambushes and lure the enemy by using bait vehicles that they chase to be dragged into the killing zone.
Iraqiya – Dora:
Urgent. Dora has been breached. There was an attack by the ragtag militias against residences, and we can now hear women screaming. They are raiding the Tu’ma district, which is inhabited by the Jubour tribes. There is also an attack against the Arqam mosque.
Ali – Dora:
Elements of the Interior Ministry commandos are attacking Dora (the Mechanic, Tu’ma, Sahha and Asia districts). But do not fear, for we are engaging them. Our battle cry is “They came for death, no one brought them.”
Ahmed – Jamila district:
Barbaric groups of the Antichrist [Mahdi] Army, and the Iranians that are with them, have killed dozens of Sunni youth at the Jamila district in the exact spot of the car bombing, in a mass execution orgy in front of people. This was broadcast on Sharqiya TV by an anonymous security source. The honourable Shi’ites from east of the [Army] Canal have told us that these groups are moving freely, and that they are preparing for a wide-scale assault on Sunni districts. Be prepared to confront the infidels.
Mohammed – Jami’a district:
Mahdi Army followers have been seen gathering at [MP] Sallama Al-Khafaji’s residence in Jami’a in preparation for an attack against the district.
Abdul Rahman – Iraq:
For the brothers who have not used weapons before, please take this advice:
1- Check your weapon if you have not used it before. You can ask your neighbour to teach you how to attach the magazine and to load and fire. Do not be ashamed that it would be said you don’t know how to use a weapon, as many people have not had a chance to.
2- Choose the appropriate spot on your roof that can provide you with cover and make it hard for the enemy to target you.
3- It is best if every two families gather in one house when the alarm of an attack is raised to keep spirits high.
4- When you shoot, try to make it intermittent so you do not waste your ammunition. Be patient until more fighters arrive and your neighbours start shooting too.
5- You may feel fear upon using a weapon for the first time or that something bad would happen to you, but think of your family and what awaits them if you are hesitant. Keep your honour and your children in front of your eye, and remember that they have burnt children with kerosene.
6- Make sure that you have an extra magazine because in the midst of action you may take away your weapon and forget your extra magazine. It is preferred that you tape two magazines together. Ask your neighbours how to do that. Practice with it several times.
7- Fear of using weapons will disappear with the first shot. Do not hesitate to pull the trigger and concentrate on hitting the enemy.
Omar Al-Rawi – Baghdad:
Salam Aleikum. Mosques in the Adhamiya and Khadhraa areas have started chanting “Allahu Akbar” and reciting Quran through their loudspeakers to encourage residents to confront the Safavid militias.
Ibn Al-Mansour – Mansour:
Residents of Mansour, large groups of armed militiamen have been seen heading from the Washash and Iskan districts to attack Mansour. Prepare to defend yourselves and your neighbours, Sunni and Shia, from the attack of the treacherous Mahdi Army militias.
Al-Anbari – Baghdad:
Several mortar shells have hit the Jami’a and Khadhraa districts after the evening prayers. And there is news that militias are now gathering to prepare for the attack against these districts. Additionally, there are groups of the Antichrist [Mahdi] Army in the Safarat district preparing to attack the Qudhat district.
Some readers have asked me about Omar and Mohammed from Iraq the Model. I've been trying to get in touch with them but without luck. I also heard that a friend of theirs was kidnapped and that they have left the area where they were staying for now.
I've been trying to convince my parents not to send my brother Nabil to school. Young men of his age are the prime target for abductions and reprisal attacks. There hasn't been much progress in getting him out of the country yet, but if you want to help me with it, please go to his blog and hit the Paypal button.
UPDATE: More pleas for assistance on the Iraqi Rabita's message boards. Note that these are all from largely Sunni and mixed districts west of Baghdad, which seem to have taken the brunt of retaliatory attacks by militias.
Ghazaliya – Baghdad:
Urgent. The residents of Ghazaliya are in urgent need for medical supplies. The situation in Ghazaliya is dreadful, and the need for first aid supplies is pressing. The nearest hospital to the district is the Al-Noor Hospital in the Shu’la district, and no Sunni who enters there returns alive. Please contact any organisation that can provide Ghazaliya’s residents with necessary supplies. Residents have opened a makeshift health centre but we are in need for supplies.
Khattab Al-Iraqi - Al-Amil district – Baghdad:
The filthy [Mahdi] army is preparing to attack the Amil district. Young men in the Dhubat area are deployed to the streets, while the antichrist [Mahdi] army is lobbing mortars against us. But the brothers are determined to achieve either victory or martyrdom.
Many mortar shells have been falling on the Ghazaliya and Kafa’at districts non-stop. People are appealing for help. Will anyone come to our rescue? There are three blindfolded, handcuffed bodies lying on the street of the Dar Al-Hikma School, near the Mansour grove. No one can go near them and people say not even the police can come because they are allied with the rats. Only the Americans can enter.
Dear brothers, Please inform us on how the Shia pray because this will save many from being killed during interrogation after they are abducted.
Response to the brother who asked how the Shia pray. With the usual Iqama and Edhan add the phrase “I am witness that Ali is the guardian of Allah,” but not as part of the Edhan used by the Prophet. This is the opinion of the majority of Shia clerics, including the Sadrists. The Shia also regard the Basmalla a part of any Sura … I personally prefer the Fatiha instead of the Tasbihat, but the majority of Shia read Tasbihat.
Ahmed Baghdadi – Baghdad Al-Jedida:
Dear brothers, Please use this forum as our means to post information. Verify the information before you post it, and please do not waste time on other websites. Every district and neighbourhood should cooperate 24 hours. Young computer users, this is your mission. Be an early surveillance centre for your neighbourhoods and circulate the information with others. When using cell phones, keep your information coded and as simple as possible. Now is the time for us to stand together. God be with you in defending our country.
We heard that there is a bus in Qadisiya, Yarmouk and Jami’a districts with the occupants abducting people according to their I.D., taking them to unknown destinations. Please inform us about the model, number plates, colour, or any other identifiable signs on the bus.
Baghdad – Sulaikh district:
Salam Aleikum. A group of crows from the Interior Ministry Commandoes attempted to enter Sulaikh but the Iraqi army force, stationed in the districts for months, repelled them. They later told us that the Interior Ministry gunmen were not from their sector but that they came from another area. They reassured residents that they would not allow any attacks on the district. The lions of Sulaikh are also ready to stand with those honourable soldiers to defend the district from the evil of the Mahdi Army and Interior Ministry crows.
We, the residents of the Khadhraa district, are prepared to confront the army of black crows. I remind our brothers to inform us of their gathering locations so we can be prepared. The headquarters of Public Order forces is in our district, and that worries us because we cannot carry our arms on the street. But we are stationed on rooftops and prepared.
Here is a visual aid for the attacks reported in the posts:
Mohammed, from Iraq the Model, is back and he posts an account of what his last few days have been like. Disturbing stuff. Other Iraqi bloggers, on the other hand, have been ominously silent about the recent developments in Baghdad.
The curfew has been lifted and people have went out to buy necessary supplies, but it appears that attendance has been scarce at schools and governmental departments. No one thinks they can just normally go about to work and school any more.
Newsweek magazine has a profile on Muqtada Al-Sadr.