Yesterday Jordanians were again shocked to hear that four MPs from Jordanís House of Representatives were detained by the public prosecutor.
In Islam, its expected that you offer condolences to families that lose sons, particularly when the son is considered to be martyred while engaged in Jihad. It is also particularly important when the family member comes from a very large tribe.
Abu Musabís tribe is considered to be one of the largest in Jordan. After the detention of these MPs as well as his brother-in-law, and the refusal to allow his burial in his home country, its anyoneís guess what might happen next in Jordan.
The MPs were from Jordanís branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front. Other branches include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and the Iraqi Islamic Party, in Iraq.
Read more about the detenion of these ministers here:
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
The Bush Administrationís final verdict is that the United States attacked Iraq to help spread democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people. Throughout the length of the conflict and the slow process to select a government, the idea of democracy has been increasingly questioned. Muhanad Subhi, an unemployed Iraqi, said that, while the Iraqis have the freedom of speech now, there is not a democracy, which is an important element to liberating speech.
“Nobody listen to us, for example, many times Iraqi politicians hear Iraqi people asking them to make a new government and they did not do it, because they didnít care for Iraqi situation-most of them are not Iraqi, they came with the occupation’s tanks.”
In the United States, freedom of speech is considered one of the major hallmarks of democracy, and is enshrined as the first amendment to the Constitution. After riots broke out all over the world in response to cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper, the place of free speech has been increasingly questioned and re-assessed. This is particularly true in countries that have majority Muslim populations, where there was a backlash against these cartoons, which were seen as an abuse of free speech and an affront against Islam.
Ibrahim Faisal, a 21 year-old student thinks it is important for people to understand the implications of their speech and to be respectful. He also said that free speech was a good thing to have but, “some people use it for evil because you can use it in two ways.”
A guard who was on duty at the Abu Hanifa mosque during large demonstrations against Denmark last February heard the Danish paper thought it would be acceptable to print the cartoons of Muhammad, since they had previously printed cartoons of Jesus. “They must be careful before saying that because that means this was wrong and to draw caricatures of our prophet is very wrong too because we respect all prophets.”
Condoleeza Rice, while Secretary of State for the United States, has declared the Middle East to be living with a “freedom deficit.” The United Statesí publicly professed policy is to work toward democratization of the Middle East.
Isam Hamdi, an engineer who, at 55, is old enough to have seen many changes in his country, said, “I donít believe there is real democracy anywhere in the world now. Even in the US look what happened in their last election, it was a fake election.”
With each democratic motion in the Middle East, the United States finds itself increasingly alienated. First Iraq voted in primarily religious hard-liners, close to Iran. Then Hamas swept the elections in Palestine.
Raghad, a housewife and student, feels that, “Free speech means democracy, but some times we feel there is no democracy in Iraq because of Occupation and their violence.”
The United Statesí heavy hand appears to be making some “progress” however, with the selection of a Prime Minister, and movements toward a 4 year initial government. For a few Iraqis, such as Raghad, democracy feels inevitable, with or without the presence of the occupation.
“In the west they have a real democracy, they have elections to vote for the government. In the Arab world there is no real democracy, there is no real election. Democracy is a new system. I think in the future free speech will be better in Arab countries. It only takes time.”
Raghadís words appeared to ring hollow with her fellow Iraqis. Muhanad hopes the freedom of speech will be better after the occupation ends, “because the new Iraqi government will have to be a democratic government.” However, he, like most Iraqis, stressed there would only be a true democracy if there is an end to sectarianism and in-fighting. If this doesnít happen, he fears, “they will use their militias to kill anyone who speaks against them.”
Iraqís long history of being led by strongmen and dictators has made Iraqis cynical of the idea of democracy. Ibrahim agreed with Muhanad and he explained, “At the end of occupation there will be a strong Iraqi government, they will investigate anyone using free speech, especially against them.”
Although Iraqis remain suspicious of the prospects for democracy and free speech, they also recognize the steps taken today. Iraq is no longer under a direct totalitarian regime, and for that most Iraqis seem grateful.
Despite the end of the regime, Isam Hamdi wanted to emphasize that free speech is still a very dangerous thing in Iraq, “No one can speak freely because Iraqis are afraid of the militias and occupation forces, so how can they speak?”
Ibrahim and Raghad agreed with each other, both rushing to express their happiness with the removal of Saddam before the other. Under Saddamís government, no one could speak freely, they were always being watched, and spies were always close by.
Ibrahim offered one example of a change by freedom of speech, saying there are some good accomplishments, “like what happened when the Iraqi government changed the salary for retired workers.”
Raghad chimed in her agreement while offering an opposing point, “Yes, but not always, like what happened with the Iraqi flag, most Iraqi people did not agree to change the flag but the change succeeded.”
Again taking the long view, Mr. Hamdi still hopes democracy will return to Iraq, and to the world. “This government, is not an Iraqi government, they came to Iraq with the occupation. Iraq will stay in this dark tunnel for a long time at the end of occupation. Iraq will see the sun again, after that we can build democracy and real free speech.”
It seems that even with Zarqawi’s death, misstatements and propaganda about Iraq’s resistance still abound. I recently lodged a long comment at Robert Lindsay’s blog, which focuses mainly on the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Although Robert provides a great service in describing the situation in Afghanistan as well as providing a level of analysis often missing in the press, I feel that many of his statements reflect the continuing misunderstanding of Iraq’s resistance by many in the United States, and elsewhere in the “West.”
I left a long response to this recent entry, and felt it would benefit my readers here at AiB as well:
I have to lodge some friendly disagreements with you here. Al Qa’eda in Iraq took a subservient role to the Iraqi nationalist resistance some months back, with the formation of the Mujahideen Shura, or Mujahideen Council.
This “Council” is essentially a “unified command” of most of the major resistance groups, excluding Jeish Al Islamiyah, or the Islamic Army in Iraq.
A really essential detail that much of the media has overlooked is the change of perspective in the Iraqi populace towards the resistance.
When I was last in Iraq, nearly everyone outside o so-called Salafis and fundamentalists, utilized the arabic word Maqowamah, which literally means “resistance” to describe the fighters resisting the US with a focus on coalition forces, as opposed to those who are fighting a “Jihad.”
Unfortunately in recent months more and more Iraqis are using the word “Mujahideen” which directly translates as “fighters for god” either exclusively, or at the least interchangeably, with the term “Maqowamah.”
This should be understood to be a really negative change in the Iraqi civilian perspective. It appears to reflect a change of opinion regardin the resistance.
Rather than seeing hope for a return to secularism in Iraq, more and more Iraqis are seeing the Islamic forces as a last resort against the occupation.
This also exacerbates the possibilities of civil war, given that Muslims on either side can refer to Mujahideen from their own religious perspective.
This brings us to my other major concern with your post, the so-called “Shi’a resistance.”
Prior to the middle/end of 2005, Shi’a and Sunni nationalist “guerrillas,” to use your term, could be seen fighting side by side in many of Iraq’s largest battles, in particular Najaf and Fallujah come to mind.
Now that all major Shi’a parties have joined the government, we have seen the inclusion of militias in Iraq’s security regulars.
The Shi’as have not been “caught up in the sectarian struggle.” Instead, I would argue that Falek Badr, or the Badr Militia, has always been involved in “sectarian violence” against Sunnis.
In January 2003, Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, then spiritual leader of SCIRI and particularly Badr, informed Zalmay Khalilzad and the US/West generally, that when he decided the US was intending to occupy and not “liberate” Iraq, he would order his ten thousand strong Badr forces to begin attacking Coalition regulars.
Unfortunately, Hakim’s view of liberation directly chafed with that of Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a civilians, as well as those members of Iraq’s resistance intending a nationalist movement.
The situation now in Iraq seems more and more to have been inevitable given the US and UK’s actions in Iraq, the writing on the wall was there far longer than a few months or years back.
Today Al-Jazeera interviewed Ibrahim Shimeri, a representative from the Islamic Army in Iraq.
Here is what he had to say, about Zarqawi and Al Qa’eda in Iraq
We are very sad for his lost. We are sad to lose a dear brother. It is hurtful and bad news, we have been brothers in religion and against the occupation of Iraq.
AJ - How will this affect the resistance?
IS - It will not afect us, we will keep fighting until we are victorious, or we are martyred.
I want to ask Al Qa’eda to concentrate on their security because what happened proves there is serious security penetration and what happened last night confirmed it.
AJ - Will you join the political process now in Iraq?
IS - We will never do this. The political process is not clean. We are mujahideen and the US are liars. We will keep fighting until we kick the US out of Iraq and return the rights of Iraqis from this government and the previous government(of Al-Jaafari).
I post this to increase an understanding of the resistance in Iraq, not to give support to Jeish al-Islamiya fi Iraq, or to Al-Qa’eda fi Iraq. The Islamic Army is the second largest resistance group in Iraq, after the Mujahideen Shura, or Mujahideen Council. This group is widely attributed in the press to be “Al-Qa’eda” or a “front for Al-Qa’eda.”
In reality the Mujahideen Shura is a unified command of Al-Qa’eda in Iraq as well as other smaller resistance groups throughout the country. We will try to provide more insight to this in the future.
Finally, the Jordanian government released a statement claiming that they worked with the Coalition to assist them with information and intelligence on Zarqawi, but were not involved in the actions directly leading to his death last night.
Today Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi was pronounced dead, first by coalition forces and later in a report from al-hesbah, a website regularly utilized by Al-Qa’eda for transmissions from Iraq and other areas of influence.
Until we see a body however, this shouldn’t be considered to negate previous reports from men close to Zarqawi that he died in Afghanistan or in north Iraq early on in the war.
We haven’t seen a body, and so far CNN in Amman has only carried some random pictures of what is allegedly the location of the “safehouse” where Zarqawi was meeting with seven colleagues, all of whom are presumed killed in the US airstrike yesterday evening in Hibhib, a village near Baquba in Iraq’s Diyala province.
While CNN was musing over the possible implications of Zarqawi’s death, and really providing little newsworthy, Al-Jazeera travelled to Zarqa, Abu Musab’s place of birth.
CNN provided us some real insight into how the news media work now in Baghdad, speaking with their correspondent in Baghdad. Although CNN acknowledged that their correspondent was not travelling outside the Palestine Hotel compound, they still asked him to give a “sense of the feeling of Iraqis” in response to news of Zarqawi’s death.
Today as the announcement came of Zarqawi’s death, Iraq’s parliament finally named Ministers of Defense and the Interior, as well as someone to preside over issues of national security.
It is unclear whether the decision to put forward the nominees was confirmed before Zarqawi’s death, but it seems likely the fast nomination and acceptance was pushed through by Nuri Al-Maliki on the heels of this announcement.
CNN decided to spin the Zarqawi death by saying, “This is the kind of message this government needs.”
Meanwhile in Zarqa, Al-Jazeera was conducting a live interview with Abu Musab’s brother-in-law, Abu Qudama. He spoke well of Zarqawi, saying he was always looking for martyrdom and he was happy to die for Allah.
At 2:20 PM, Jordanian time, he was arrested by Jordanian police. Just before he was arrested he was denouncing members of the press for not always speaking the truth about his brother-in-law, making him into an evil man, and not just a fighter for god.
After Jordanian agents stopped the interview they arrested Abu Qudama as well as at least one Al-Jazeera correspondent on the scene. We are waiting to see what will happen next in this incident.
Please contact CPJ.org and Reporters Without Borders, requesting they look into this incident and immediately contact Jordanian authorities about the detention of a journalist simple doing his work.
Two blasts and the assassination of five policemen occurred in Baghdad’s Mansur neighborhood today.
The first blast occurred at 8am. It was followed by heavy gunfire from a car near a police checkpoint, targetting the Iraqi police. The blast apparently targetted a police convoy, but missed and seems to have resulted in no casualties or injuries.
The five policemen were killed by gunfire, it is unknown what happened to the men who fired on them. A few hours later, around 11am a second blast occurred, targetting another convoy, and also missing. Omar witnessed this second blast, and reported no casualties or injuries.
At this time this area in Mansur was surrounded by Iraqi National Guardsmen, who locked down the neighborhood. The blast scenes were cordoned with yellow tape, and the neighborhood was locked down until approximately 5pm Baghdad time.
What Omar felt was most noteworthy about these events in Mansur was the complete lack of US support presence, neither helicopters nor humvees or US soldiers were visible in the area of the blasts.
Photos from Mansur are on the way, and should be up tonight or tomorrow morning local time in Amman.
Meanwhile in Ramadi today, events appear to be heating up, possibly heading for a major operation.
We reached two sources there who explained the situation. Both of whom wish to reamin anonymous for the safety of themselves and their families.
The first reported a US soldier shot in front of his home, during an operation. Apparently he was hit by a sniper.l
The other wanted to report that he and his family, along with dozens of others have fled the city to outlying areas, fearing a major assault is imminent. We are working hard to bring updates from the Ramadi area and will provide them as they come in.
BAGHDAD, Jun 7 (IPS) - Baghdad’s central morgue received more than a thousand bodies each month this year, a doctor has revealed. The body count here gives a more accurate picture of the story in Baghdad than any official statistics.
Baghdad’s central morgue received more than a thousand bodies each month this year, a doctor has revealed. The body count here gives a more accurate picture of the story in Baghdad than any official statistics.
Before the war this morgue located at Bab al-Mu’atham near the city centre received only about 200 to 300 bodies a month, Dr Kais Hassan who has worked at the morgue said.
There are only three storage rooms, and two doctors at the centre. Today the morgue is overflowing. On some days more than 100 bodies are interred at the morgue.
The capacity became stretched particularly during the term of Ibrahim al-Jaafari who took over as prime minister after the January 2005 elections but was finally persuaded to stand down earlier this year. The ministry of interior was then under Bayan Jabr..
Killing in Baghdad increased after the occupation, but it has flourished under the militia explosion and the creation of what Iraqis commonly refer to as death squads.
“Most of those brought dead here have been tortured by beating, electricity, acid, drills, and by other horrible ways,” said an Iraqi who refused to give his name. “When any Iraqi is arrested by police now it means we will find his dead body in Baghdad’s streets after some days. Because of all this killing, this morgue is not enough.”
The smell of death is all around the morgue. That and the crowds of crying families searching for their dead are now a ubiquitous sight around the morgue.
IPS was refused access to the morgue, and was told journalists are forbidden to report on the conditions inside.
“The last manager for this morgue, Faik Bakr, received death threats because he said there were more than 7,000 Iraqis killed by death squads in recent months,” an employee told IPS. “Most of the dead arrived with their hands tied behind their backs.”
The employee advised the IPS correspondent to leave immediately.
Ahmed, who was in the crowd outside the morgue with his family, explained why so many families were waiting.
“All of them are here to look for their sons, fathers, mothers and friends who disappeared some days before. Also they look for them because militias wearing police uniforms arrested them. Now in Iraq, if anyone is arrested by militias wearing police uniforms, his family looks for him in the morgue.”
Bodies arrive at the morgue in the custody of the police convoys many times throughout the day. While IPS was speaking with Ahmed, two police vehicles arrived, carrying many bodies.
After a few minutes of chaos, one man began shouting, “This is my son! He was tortured and killed, I lost him forever!” Many people gathered around to comfort him.
The body showed many holes. One of the eyes had been removed.
The father, Ali, spoke with IPS after the body was taken into the morgue. “He was a shopkeeper, his shop was in al-Rashid street, and three days ago he was arrested by police, and I find him here, killed.”
Ali believes his son was killed only because he is Sunni. He said his son was not wanted by the police for any crime. “He was loved by all his friends, and everyone liked him. He was innocent and he did nothing wrong.”
Near the morgue is a large parking lot. Ramadan, a guard in his forties, is able to watch what goes on all day.
“A week earlier they brought more than 100 bodies in one day from al-Taji north of Baghdad, and another day they brought just 20 bodies. There is an average of 50 to 60 bodies everyday.”
Ramadan is not always an observer from the parking lot.
“Many times I helped the workers at the morgue carry bodies inside. It isn’t cold enough in there, and they keep the bodies piled one over another. Some of the bodies are on the floor and everywhere else inside the morgue.”
He says the bodies are from both Sunni and Shia families, “I see their families when they came to take their bodies. They are from both because of the sectarian war that is being waged in Iraq.”
Ramadan added, “I hope one day I can find other work and leave this place.”
Pete, bAb, and others, I’m making this a full post, as my comment went quite a bit long.
One of my sources in Ramadi has tried to explain to me how the governor, who has has around 30 attempts on his life, is not accepted in the city.
At the end of the day, he says it came down to the fact that, though the Governor had some level of tolerance from the tribe, he failed to live up to his responsibilities, and is no longer accepted as a legitimate authority.
Its important to understand that, despite the media’s portrayal, Saddam did not necessarily have direct control over even the middle area of Iraq. (below the north and above the south no-fly parallels)
Some of our grandparents(and great grandparents!) were alive when Iraq was not a state. The idea that somehow the Westphalian state model exists in Iraq just because Iraq’s western educated elites and those of the international community created a state, is really absurd.
Tribalism has existed in Iraq much longer than European State ideals.
I really feel that Iraq’s resistance/insurgency/terrorists/militias are not examined properly or with enough complexity in the media.
I get the impression that the situation Ramadi finds itself in has more to do with miscommunication and misteps by the Coalition forces and the Tribes, and less to do with the influence of Al Qaeda and others.
That said, I think its a certainty that Al Qaeda operates in force in other parts of Iraq, and is certainly a large piece of the puzzle.
I think the definition of “civilians” is also incredibly malleable. I’m working on another piece for IPS about the relationship between civilians, fighters, and the US military in Ramadi, I hope that will shed some light on this topic.
We all have our own definitions, the US military brings its definitions from the ROE, or Rules of Engagement. The UN has its own definitions, and of course the rest of us all have our own ideas.
I’ve never made any illusions about my own feelings on “resistance.” Resistance, as an idea, is clearly legitimate, but we never deal with a utopian ideal, we deal with what we have. Unfortunately, crimes have been committed on all sides, but I won’t be the first to ask Iraqis to lay down and die while their civil services are destroyed and bankers are put in charge of their country.
To misquote the Bush Administration, “We go to war with the resistance we have.”
When all is said and done, and the US project ends in Iraq, there will be alot of crimes still to answer for. Whether we’re talking about soldiers with US, Iraqi, or other nationalities, or civilians, or “amateur” guerrilla fighters, at the end of the day, things in Iraq will, pardon my french, fuck people up bad for a long time.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of mine who’s now a Marine:
We’re professionals. We know that killing civilians is not only wrong on every level for us (morally, ethically, etc) - but it fucks you over in wartime situations. I mean, c’mon - we do this for a living.
AMMAN, Jun 5 (IPS) - These days, Ramadi is nearly impossible to enter. Against the backdrop of the Haditha massacre, IPS has received reports of civilians killed by snipers, and homes occupied with American snipers on their roof, while families were detained downstairs.
One man, who wishes to be known simply as ‘an Iraqi friend,’ met with IPS in Amman to describe the situation in Ramadi and detail recent events there as he saw them.
“To enter Ramadi (about 100 km west of Baghdad) you have to pass the bridge on the Euphrates and the electrical station for Ramadi. This is occupied by the U.S. troops. The checkpoint is there, the glass factory nearby is occupied by American snipers. Here they inspect cars and you will need more than four hours just to pass the bridge.”
Reports from Ramadi have been few and far between in recent months, and always filed by reporters embedded with U.S. troops working in the area.
Witnesses interviewed by IPS in Amman provided a nuanced picture of the situation, one that is very different from the military focus of embedded journalists.
Their stories describe death happening any moment, without signals or warning.
“On the side of the main street you will find destroyed buildings, and military tents on the buildings for snipers. Be careful, if you hear any sound of fighting, hide in the side roads, park your car there and get in any house and hide, because snipers will kill anyone who moves, even if the fighting is in another area.”
Sheikh Majeed al-Ga’oud is from Wahaj al-Iraq village just outside Ramadi, and visits the city regularly. He also described snipers killing without discretion.
“The American snipers don’t make any distinction between civilians or fighters, anything that moves, he shoots immediately. This is a very dirty thing, they are killing lots of civilians who are not fighters.”
According to the Iraqi friend, many people have been killed in Ramadi because they simply do not know which parts of the city are now no-go zones.
One such area is the main street through Ramadi. After the first traffic light you are not allowed to proceed forward, only to the right or left.
“The way is blocked, not by concrete, but by snipers. Anyone who goes ahead in the street will be killed. There’s no sign that it’s not allowed, but it’s known to the local people. Many people came to visit us from Baghdad. They didn’t know this and they went ahead a few metres and were killed.”
Sheikh Majeed was in Ramadi just a few days before speaking to IPS in Amman. He described a city where the fighters are very much in control.
“They are controlling the ground and they are very self-confident. They don’t cover their faces with masks, and the Americans are running away from them. The Americans cannot win an infantry war with them, so they began using massive airpower to bomb them..”
While in Ramadi, he saw many damaged homes, and said there were no civil services functioning.
“You will see that they bombed the power stations, water treatment facilities, and water pipes. This house is destroyed, that house is destroyed. You will see poverty everywhere. The things that the simplest human in the world must have, you won’t have it there.”
The Iraqi friend described a similar situation. “I saw four houses until now, but I didn’t see all of Ramadi, it’s a big town. There are also houses destroyed in the farms, I saw some, but most of them I couldn’t see it because they are huge farms.”
Ramadi is at present cut off from the rest of Iraq. Within, sometimes the electricity works, and some homes have generators, but the local phone service has been completely destroyed.
“The phone station was attacked by U.S. troops, and now even the building is completely destroyed. And the train station also, one hundred percent destroyed, day after day F16s bomb it.”
Life in Ramadi has not always been this difficult. When Baghdad fell, Ramadi had not yet been entered. When Baghdad was wracked by lawlessness and theft, Ramadi remained relatively calm.
“It was a very quiet city, there was order,” Sheikh Majeed said. “Though there are many different tribes there, and there is tension between the tribes, there was order. They respected each other, they respected the law.”
The Iraqi friend suggested why Ramadi remained calm and, unlike Baghdad, was not entered in the first days of the occupation.
“They made a deal with the tribes to not enter the city. But the political parties spoiled this agreement. They wanted to control Ramadi, so they gave wrong information to Americans. There was a small demonstration but not by Saddam loyalists; it was a peaceful demonstration against the occupation.”
After this demonstration of just 30 people, the agreement was broken and the military invaded Ramadi. Iraqis were killed, and following tribal policies of revenge, a cycle of violence began.
Qasem Dulaimi, who lives in Ramadi, told IPS his home was occupied by American and Iraqi troops in May.
“They crushed the main doors and entered the house. I got out of my room and said some words in English, ‘we are a peaceful family, ok its ok’.” But the family members were locked up in a small room downstairs.
“From time to time we heard shooting from our roof. They used our house as a killing tool, they used the roof as a killing tool.”
Eventually his family was released and the American troops moved on.
The Iraqi friend witnessed the killing of a young boy. “He was going to his school at about eight in the morning, carrying his books and crossing the street. Suddenly he fell down. I thought he just had a problem in his leg and fell, but he stayed for a long time like this. I knew or I felt there was a sniper who shot him.”
Stories such as this one are common amongst Ramadi’s residents.
“Haithem, one of the brothers of this kid, tried to find a way and took two steps to take the boy away. Snipers shot and missed him. So he didn’t try again. The boy remained there four hours, bleeding. He had been shot in the head.”
I’ll send a free copy of the Alive in Baghdad DVD to anyone who can describe what Iraq’s “makeshift checkpoints,” such as the one mentioned below actually look like:
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen dragged 24 civilians out of their cars at a makeshift checkpoint in a town north of Baghdad on Sunday and shot them “execution style”, a senior police official said.
Post your version of what a makeshift checkpoint is in the comments and I’ll get back to you about the dvd.
Ok, I lied. To be honest, unless there are some veteran Iraq war correspondents, Iraqis, US soldiers, or NGO aidworkers reading this blog regularly, I doubt any of you will win this bet anyhow.
The only way to define a “makeshift checkpoint” is to first define an “actual checkpoint.” Driving around Baghdad, sometimes you can travel much of the city without encountering checkpoints.
As the evening lengthens however, checkpoints seem to sprout up like weeds.
Generally speaking, a checkpoint consists of one or two vehicles parked on the side of the road, and 3 or more Iraqis standing around, usually with at least one rifle handy.
As it gets later, its nearly impossible to see these checkpoints, unless there are cars parked in front of you waiting to proceed. This makes it easy to get shot accidentally running them, and even easier to impersonate them.
US Checkpoints and semi-permanent Iraqi checkpoints-such as the major one in west Baghdad, just beyond the “Mother of All Battles Mosque,” renamed “Um Al Qura,” or Mother of Villages, after the war by the Muslim Scholars Association-are usually better established, but sometimes consist only of a few soldiers and humvees, searching cars and checking ID along the highways.
Militias, Iraqi Police, Resistance fighters, and terrorists alike all have a shockingly easy time setting up their own checkpoints.
Stories such as this one from Reuters fail to provide the nuance and insight necessary to understand the situation Iraqis find themselves in:
The two competing problems causing such a mess in Iraq continue to be the lack of oversight placed on security forces by the international community and the lack of insight provided on Iraq’s crisis by the international media.
As most of you are probably aware, there has been discussion for awhile now about “new evidence” in the Haditha Killings and findings by the US on the case.
I think the evidence is pretty clear in this incident, but something that’s important to remember is that this isn’t isolated.
The interesting element about this case is the existence of photographs and video evidence.
Unfortunately there’s no such evidence available from Ramadi, Duluiyah, and even most of Baghdad.
Right now Omar has no electricity, either from the powergrid or neighborhood generators, nor is water functioning for showering.
Isam is in Japan right now, discussing the situation in Iraq through contacts he has there. He told me that he knows dozens of people who were killed or injured in the Adhamiya bombings Omar detailed a few days ago.
Iraq is a war-zone, and that should never for an instant get out of people’s minds.
The Haditha massacre appears to have been uncovered, but what about the murder of a 7 year-old boy a friend in Ramadi witnessed a few weeks ago? He was standing in front of his house when the boy was crossing the street, holding only his schoolbooks.
The account I was given provided details as the incident unfolded, and I believe it to be genuine.
Nouri al-Maliki said violence against civilians had become a “daily phenomenon”.
“They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable.”
I won’t apologize for the killing, however I will ask you to consider that this is war’s reality. Soldiers in Ramadi and elsewhere are under attack everyday, and mistakes happen. Don’t for an instant think these mistakes should be acceptable, but also, don’t think Haditha or Abu Ghraib were isolated incidents.
Nor were Mai Lai or Hiroshima.
Analysis by Brian Conley and Muhammad Zaher
BAGHDAD, May 30 (IPS) - It could be instructive to recall that the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its armed wing, the Badr Corps, arose from a conference of Iraqi opposition parties called in Iran in 1982.
The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was a breakaway faction of the Da’wa movement that had been outlawed in Iraq.
The Badr Corps, estimated before the war to be approximately 10,000 to 15,000 strong was similarly outlawed, along with its parent organisation, the SCIRI. The Badr Corps was considered a terrorist group by Saddam’s regime.
But in 2002 and 2003, the SCIRI and the Badr Corps, also known as the Badr militia, joined negotiations with United States officials, including now ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad over the liberation of Iraq.
During initial negotiations, it was proposed that the Badr Corps would participate in the invasion of Iraq alongside U.S. troops. That plan was abandoned in January 2003. It was decided at this time that the United States would temporarily administer Iraq, through what became the Coalition Provisional Authority.
At this January meeting, Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim from the Badr Corps (who was killed in August 2003) told Zalmay Khalilzad that if the United States presence began to appear like an occupation, he would order his forces to attack Coalition troops.
Badr groups have emerged now from those controversial origins. Members of the Badr Corps, now known as the Badr Organisation, reflected on the change, and how it came about, in the course of several conversations with IPS.
A Badr member who gave his name as Abu Haider told IPS that while the group did not participate in the initial invasion, the Badr Corps swiftly joined the coalition forces “to destroy Saddam’s regime.”
Soon after the invasion two militant Shia groups became visible in Iraq — the Badr Corps and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. These groups have long been engaged in conflict with one another, each vying for control over Iraq’s Shia majority.
Although the Badr Organisation initially paid homage to Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim, after his death in August 2003 there was apparently a split in the organisation, between direct allegiance to Hakim’s brother, Abd al-Aziz, who is also an Ayatollah, and Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani.
“I follow al-Sistani, and I’m not with al-Sadr in his opposition to the occupation, because we need the U.S. troops help at this time, in order to kill the terrorists,” Abu Haider said.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s vocal opposition to the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain has placed him at odds with some of the larger Shia parties in Iraq.
Abu Haider explained the position of his organisation and the Shia parties that oppose Muqtada al-Sadr. “When we have a strong government and control of Iraq, our religious leaders will ask them to leave Iraq.”
When the interim government of Iyad Allawi took power in 2004, Iraqis began to play a greater role in Iraq’s domestic security issues. A ministry of the interior was established to supervise Iraq’s police and non-military security problems.
Iraq’s Sunnis accuse the Badr Corps of infiltrating the Iraqi police, largely made up of Shias. When Bayan Jabr Solagh became minister of the interior in 2005, their concern was greatly exacerbated.
Bayan Jabr was the head of the Badr Corps before he took up position as minister. Jabr has repeatedly denied accusations that the Badr Corps was controlling and directing the Iraqi police.
But under public pressure the Badr Corps was disbanded, and replaced by the Badr Organisation, ostensibly with a new focus on domestic aid.
Because of Muqtada al-Sadr’s opposition to the United States and other coalition nations, members of the Mehdi Army did not play a large role in the new Iraqi police. The common assumption, therefore, has been that Badr’s ideology, if not its leaders directly, played a strong role in directing the actions of Iraq’s police.
The Mehdi Army aside, Abu Haider believes it is a misconception that there is a nationalist resistance in Iraq. “There is no real resistance in Iraq; they fight for personal reasons or for revenge. Also, some of them fight to return Saddam to power.”
Sunni groups have called on Iraq’s Shia parties, particularly on new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to disband and disarm the militias because of their role in sectarian violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests and killings of Iraqis.
Sunni parties have also alleged that the Badr Organisation and certain Shia parties still owe allegiance to Iran. Through government or outside of it, Badr groups continue to play a significant role in shaping political life in Iraq.
[Editor’s note: Omar worked with Alive in Baghdad last fall, as our translator, fixer, and all around good guy. Now he’s shooting video for us in Baghdad, we’re looking forward to the first delivery of tapes later this week. He’s going to begin doing regular dispatches as well about his experiences on the beat.]
Today I was in Adhameya for a gallery opening, to interview artists and show some of the different things happening here. Even in Baghdad, in the midst of the war, we have an art gallery opening!
There were 2 blasts today in Adhamiya, while I was covering the gallery. The attacks targeted a police station and an Iraqi National Guard base near Delal square. They blocked the street for more than two hours and I was trapped there. then they started making raids on homes and searching inside homes nearby the blasts.
I took a few shots of the soldiers when they entered the gallery we were in. they were standing in the front door and i took a shot of them from the window. The shot wasn’t too clear, but it’s clear enough to see ther were soldiers in the gallery doorway.
Today I interviewed a member of UNESCO who runs an organisation that work on planting flowers around Baghdad, but the new government prevented them from doing that. They prevented this because the organization existed before the war. The blasts and gunfire occured while I was shooting this interview.
I was trying to film the blasts, but the National Guard prevented me from doing that. they just took the tape. They said go back inside, and took the tape. I had just filmed the first blast and there was a lot of smoke and fire at the end of the street i was standing in and there were Iraqi soldiers running toward the bomb site. They were shooting in the air and running. The video i shot was very close to them and very clear. But they didn’t know for what channel I worked, and they didn’t ask me for my badge. There were Americans at the bomb site, maybe 10 humvees, and a lot of infantry in the street as well.
While I was shooting, one of the Iraqi National Guard soldiers tapped me on the shoulder and told me “Turn the camera off, and take the tape out of the camera.”
I showed him my press badge, but he said he didn’t care, he just wanted the tape and that’s it. Then he told me to go back in the gallery. Then they began arresting people in the gallery. There were some people walking on the street when the blast took place.
The guard of the gallery offered to let them come into the gallery, and there was a big crowd in there. Then the Iraqi National Guard came in and arrested 4 of the people who were staying in the gallery. These weren’t people involved with the art show, but just people who were on the street.
One of the detainees was armed. I think he was just carrying a weapon for self-defense. I dont think he was an insurgent and he didn’t look anything like a mujahideen, just like a regular citizen. I even think he had permission to carry his gun for self-defense.
We were trapped in the gallery for more than 2 hours, but after that they let us go.
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, May 29 (IPS) - Guns have come to be seen in Iraq as a need second only to food.
Under Saddam Hussein possession of weapons was highly regulated. But after the invasion of Iraq, the military collapsed and many armouries and ammunition dumps were left unprotected. In an environment of a lack of security, these came to supply a growing appetite for guns.
To begin with people bought guns — or took those discarded on the streets — as a defence against the eruption of lawlessness after the fall of Baghdad.
Recently, after the bombing of the al-Askariyah shrine in Samarra in February this year, a wave of reprisal killings drastically increased the desire of each Iraqi family to have at least one gun.
“I think it is important for every Iraqi to have a weapon to protect himself and his family,” Abu Hasan, a weapons merchant in Baghdad told IPS. “There is no security at all in Iraq now and we have no real government to protect us. The occupation forces protect themselves only.”
Soon after the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority, its administrator L. Paul Bremer signed a declaration outlawing the possession of more than one weapon per family.
This declaration, CPA Order no: 3, frustrated many Iraqis. Many felt a need for at least two guns, one to protect the family at home, a second for a family member to pass through an insecure area.
Those needs have become desperate after the Samarra bombing. Abu Thu al-Fikar, a teacher, bought a gun for the equivalent of 250 dollars after the bombing. It was expensive, but he had to buy it “because the killing started everywhere,” he told IPS. “I was forced to buy one to protect my family.”
Samir, another weapons merchant, says his business has had its ups and downs.
“When the occupation forces entered Baghdad, the Iraqi army dropped their weapons in the streets and Iraqi people went and took these weapons and kept them in their houses.” This brought a temporary setback to business, he said.
“In 2003 it was difficult to find someone to buy my guns because everyone had one or maybe more in his house. In 2004, and after the resistance grew, Iraqis started looking for weapons. Iraqi people started buying weapons for resistance, and others gave their weapons as gifts for use in the resistance.”
The demand has now risen again. Many Iraqis commonly have pistols or Kalashnikovs, to protect themselves both from death squads and sectarian violence.
Others use them against occupation forces. The fighters have relatively sophisticated weapons. Some are said to have small missiles and mortars.
Ali Minshid, who works in the sports ministry said controls over possessing guns still exist in law. “I have a special ID to carry my gun, but there are many Iraqis who carry guns in the streets without permission, and our government cannot control that..”
Although he works for the government, Ali Minshid supports families to acquire guns illegally.
“In this situation every Iraqi must buy a gun. Even if he doesn’t have enough money, he must borrow money and buy one to protect his family. To protect your family is more important than to be able to eat.”
The increased flow of weapons has been seen as a consequence of general anxiety and “sectarian violence,” but many Iraqis have very particular fears.
Samir is afraid of the influence of Iran, and blames the United States for focusing too little on Iran at the beginning of the occupation. He says U.S. failures encouraged Iraqis to buy weapons, because they failed to provide security.
Many Iraqis say the partial response of the government to the spread of weapons is not helping.
Abu Hasan said government agents were acting in a sectarian manner. “They confiscate the guns from Sunni areas and leave them in Shia neighbourhoods. I think this is because Sunnis are resisting the occupation and Shias control the government now.”
Samir says some of his customers are so poor they could never afford even the cheapest gun before. “But now they are borrowing money to buy guns to protect themselves.”
In the last few weeks friends of mine in Iraq have experienced a rash of deaths amongst their friends and coworkers.
It began with a courier we know being killed by gunfire. I’m still not sure whether it was at some kind of checkpoint, a carjacking, or other random violence.
At least five friends of Omar and his brother Mhyar were killed in the previous 2 or 3 weeks. One of those killed was the brother of a guy named Wisam, Omar’s best friend.
I’ve never met Wisam personally, but because Omar is often at his house and, because of the curfew, stays the night often as well, I’ve had a few chance conversations with him.
He’s a nice guy, though a bit strange-his nickname is Weirdo! He and Omar bond over their love for metal, metallica, and other similar things any American boy in his late teens/early 20s might be prone to.
Wisam’s brother was killed last week in a carjacking gone wrong. Apparently he shot back, but wasn’t able to scare them off or stop the assault. They shot back, and he was killed.
Two days later, the husband of Um Abeer, a woman who works with Omar’s mother, was killed in another carjacking. Both times the deaths were caused by guns.
For Wisam, his situation is made even worse by the fact that his father died two weeks earlier. No, he wasn’t killed by gun violence or deathsquads, just a good old fashioned heart attack.
I was having dinner with my friend Rafat last night and I mentioned to him that it had been a good two days. Two days since I heard of any of Omar’s friends being killed, or any other friends for that matter.
That’s when Rafat told me that the husband of his friend’s sister was killed the day before yesterday. I started to provide my regards, but, darkly, wanted as always to know how it happened.
As many of you may know, current accepted numbers put the daily death toll in Iraq at somewhere between 50 and 100 persons. Their deaths range from such causes as coalition operations, sectarian violence, and bombings, and of course carjackings, to name a few.
It only takes one of these many options to understand why the man I’m writing about began carrying a gun.
I’m keeping his name hidden for a variety of reasons, so I hope you’ll forgive me. Let’s just call him Abu Muhammad for now-a nom de guere used these days by many Baghdadis.
Abu Mohammad took to carrying a pistol with him when he went outside of his house, an effort to keep safe from the spate of carjackings and other violence now rampant in Baghdad.
Abu Mohammad only kept one bullet in his gun, which says something about his intentions. The only reason to keep just one bullet in your gun is the hope of firing a warning shot, to scare off would be assailants.
The other reason might be the rising cost of ammunition. The only people wasting ammunition these days in Iraq are the Iraqi Police-notoriously triggerhappy-and the US military. One recent study suggested the US military have fired as many as 250,000 bullets per “insurgent.”
After the exorbitant cost of pistols-usually several hundred dollars a piece since the Samarra bombing in February, perhaps Abu Mohammad couldn’t afford much in the way of ammunition.
As you’ll hear in a story that I’ll have published soon, families are now more concerned about protection than eating, and many have borrowed money or gone hungry just to afford the relatively low-in comparison-cost of a used Kalashnikov, now averaging around $250 US.
To put this in perspective, the average Iraqi salary is less than 200 per month.
Given all these things Abu Mohammad had on his mind, what happened next is more than understandable.
While driving through Baghdad’s heavy traffic, far worse these days than LA or Washington’s Beltway at rush hour, Abu Mohammad realized a dangerous oversight on his part.
He had loaded his pistol, as always, with one bullet. He placed the bullet into the chamber. And he forgot to put the safety lock on.
At this point, he realized the foolishness of this simple mistake, and attempted to rectify it. For anyone who’s tried to get a map to check their directions on a busy highway, or who’s been involved in an important cellphone call, the danger of this maneuver should be clear.
While removing the pistol and attempting to put on the safety, the gun went off, and the one bullet in Abu Mohammad’s pistol penetrated his leg, apparently severing the femoral artery.
Its still unclear how this happened, perhaps a checkpoint appeared suddenly, or an especially aggressive merge caught him offguard. It’s even possible he was startled or forced to come to an abrupt stop by a US or Iraqi convoy in the city.
Whatever the reason, the accident was noticed quickly and Abu Mohammad was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Unfortunately, as those of you with at least mild medical knowledge have already guessed, the wound was fatal.
The femoral artery is a major artery running through the leg, and severing this artery, especially in a country with the tenuous medical situation Iraq finds itself in, almost certainly results in death.
I hope Alive in Baghdad can continue to bring light to the stories of senseless death and violence in Iraq. Simple casualty numbers do no justice to the lives lived and lost in Iraq. If you have stories such as this, please share them, in the comments or with us directly by email.
Todd Pittman has been reporting from Ramadi for the AP over the last month or two. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the falsities he’s been writing lately are based more on misunderstanding than malice.
I can accept that Todd’s misconceptions are directly due to his embedded status in Ramadi. I can also accept that this is a legitimate, important piece of the story.
However, when the AP fails to make contact with the residents of Ramadi, but allows Mr. Pittman to make assertions such as:
The criminal court system doesn’t function because judges are afraid to work; tribal sheiks have fled or been assassinated.
He needs to back them up with quotes from the sheikhs and judges themselves.
I myself know two Sheikhs from the Ramadi area, and yes, if you’re going to transliterate correctly, Sheikh better approximates the sound of the letter “Kha” that ends the word Sheikh in Arabic.
How did I meet these Sheikhs, having never travelled to Ramadi personally? Well I met them in Amman, one last fall and one last week. I’m sure you’re thinking, doesn’t that prove Mr. Pittman’s poiint?
You’d be right except for one thing. Those Sheikhs, Ghazi and Majeed, and their brother Sattam, are in Amman running three NGOs and trying to shed light on the ongoing humanitarian crises in Ramadi and Al-Anbar province. The only thing they’ve fled is ongoing aggression by Iraqi militia and US forces.
Let’s start from the top with the title of Mr. Pittman’s story:
Insurgents keep U.S. at bay in Ramadi
Well, that’s fair enough, and I’d argue it’s accurate as well! Unfortunately, that’s where the fairness and balance ends.
The first paragraph reads like this:
RAMADI, Iraq - Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden that U.S. troops won’t use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out - and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don’t.
The question here is really the definition of lawless. If lawless merely means opposition to the occupation troops and a government many still view as illegitimate, then most of Iraq is “lawless.”
I’ve been informed on multiple occasions so far, by Sheikh Majeed, as well as Qasem and another Iraqi who wishes to remain nameless, that the resistance has loose connections and communication with the residents of Ramadi. They use this network to inform the public about which areas will be under attack that day or in the coming days.
Unlike Baghdad and many other areas of Iraq, Ramadi seems to have a surprisingly low incidence of civilian casualties due to roadside bombs.
If by lawless you mean the, perhaps accidental, killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure, then Ramadi is certainly full of “lawless” acts.
Both Qasem and Sheikh Majeed recounted separate occurrences where civilians were killed in front of their eyes. The numerous accounts of snipers in Ramadi makes it difficult to understand why there are so few accounts of snipers in Iraq from embedded journalists.
Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use “maximum force” when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn’t done it.
Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that’s turned city blocks into rubble.
Reining in Ramadi will continue to be a difficult challenge, so long as the governor is considered a weak leader in the back pocket of the Americans and the leadership of tribal sheikhs continues to be disregarded as secondary.
Reining in Ramadi will continue to be difficult so long as its residents see little reason to trust the American military. At this time, there are only two really feasible entrances to Ramadi. One is by the checkpoint located at the exit to Ramadi from the highway. The other is by swimming across one of the two rivers that Ramadi is located between.
The indignities faced daily by the citizens of Ramadi further ingratiate them to the resistance and further distance them from the Occupation.
According to an account told to me by a resident of Ramadi (and since corroborated by Sheikh Majeed and Qasem)
“When you enter Ramadi, just inside the city there is a stoplight. You can go straight or right or left. If you go straight you will be killed by snipers. We know this because sometimes friendds came to visit, and they didn’t know which way to go, so they went straight, and one time a whole car full of our friends were killed. There are no signs to indicate the danger, you just have to know from the people who live in Ramadi.”
If you could continue on past this stoplight, you would eventually get to the city center and the area where the much vaunted “Government Center” is located. This is one of the few areas the American military has managed to hold.
Along with the Government Center, they are also holed up in the Ramadi School and one other school in this area. These schools have not been rebuilt, and are not being used for their educational purpose, because they currently provide military function to the US and Iraqi troops.
Mentioning the difference in photos taken by Marines two years ago, and the situation now, Todd Pittman gives his own account of the Government Center area, which seems to corroborate with the accounts Ramadi residents have provided me:
Some of the pictures show bullet-strafed buildings and cars on fire, but it’s a far cry from Ramadi, 2006. Case in point: Government Center, headquarters of the provincial governor.
Once, civilian traffic was allowed to pass in front of the near-pristine edifice. Today, only military vehicles are allowed near. The wrecked building is enclosed by blast walls, barbed wire and a sometime moat of sewage. From machine-gun nests, walls of sandbags and tents of camouflage on the roof Marines repel several attacks a day.
Marines say that the governor is unfazed and comes to work despite 29 assassination attempts.
Residents of Ramadi repeatedly assure me that were the US troops to leave Ramadi, order could be restored within a matter of days. They feel that without the support of the local people, resistance elements would not be able to continue fighting.
According to Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, interviewed in the article:
We’re holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight,
Given Qasem’s recent account of three Iraqi soldiers abandoned in his home when the American’s left, as well as the lack of an adequate translator with their unit, these kinds of stat
Mr. Pittman’s account of the civilian toll appears to be diametrically opposed to everything I’ve heard from the residents of Ramadi:
When U.S. and Iraqi troops question civilians, insurgents follow in their footsteps to visit and sometimes kill the suspected informants.
After U.S. troops use residential rooftop walls as observation posts, insurgents have been known to knock them down.
Ramadi is dangerous not only for combatants, but for civilians caught in the crossfire.
“It’s getting worse. Safety is zero,” Col. Hassan said.
After one neighborhood sweep devolved into an hour-long gunbattle, Iraqi Maj. Jabar Marouf al-Tamini returned to base and drew his finger across a satellite map of the area he’d just fled under fire: “It’s fallen under the command of insurgents,” he said, shaking his head. “They control it now.”
According to Qasem and others, many residences have been abandoned, because the families were killed or fled the increasing violence. Despite his own home being used as a sniper’s nest by the Americans, while he was locked in a closet downstairs, he doesn’t fear reprisals.
He informed me that such things have happened before, and if the Americans decide they particularly prefer a certain home for this use, resistance members have contacted the family and asked them to leave, possibly providing them some support to find a new residence.
Qasem and Sheikh Majeed both assured me that the resistance has rarely, if ever, targetted civilian buildings with residents inside. The same cannot be said for the US troops, who are so desperate to “win” that they seem to subscribe to an increasingly liberal interpretation of the Geneva conventions, setting up residence in civilian buildings, destroying civilian infrastructure, and allegedly guilty of negligence in the sniper deaths of several civilians.
.com/photos/aliveinbaghdad”>our Flickr site to view new photos from the Ruweishid Refugee Camp.
Video coming soon!
Imagine your entire life has been spent in a place that is not your home. Imagine that after 20 years, you’re forced to leave that place because of war. Imagine it was another war in your homeland that forced you to leave in the first place.
Imagine you fled this new war, only to find yourself stuck in a stateless zone, an area between countries, with no official recognition.
The Iranian Kurds who currently find themselves in this position, either fled their homeland in northern Iran in 1979, or are the children of those who fled.
These people fled most recently from the Al-Taash campe, which the United Nations High Commission for Refugees supervise. This camp is near Ramadi, which has been a flashpoint for violence, particularly over the last 6 months, but really for several years.
According to Barzan, an Iranian Kurd I made contact with after visiting the Ruweishid camp, Al-Taash was initially established in 1982 in collaboration with the UNHCR.
His family came later however. The reason he refuses to be relocated by UNHCR to the Kurdish area is that his father was killed there in 1986.
“I was three months old when Khomeini’s regime killed my father in Suleimaniyah, in 1986.”
Barzan contends that his father and others were killed by agents of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime, who entered northern Iraq in 1986. I have not yet been able to determine more about this event, but will be looking into it.
It appears that most of the refugees now in the No Man’s Land are under 12, but there are some who are 40, 50, or 60 years old. The younger members of their camp, including Barzan, have lived their entire lives as refugees inside Iraq.
The UNHCR’s position is that refugees should be relocated to the original camp established in 1979, but due to the history of violence there, allegedly from Khomeinist forces, Iranian Kurds are hesitant to return.
The Kurdish government desires to relocate these and other Kurds in similar circumstances to Kirkuk. This is of course a politically strategic move, aimed at increasing the chance of a Kurdish victory in the 2007 referendum on the future of Kirkuk.
Barzan contends that his group are political refugees and that it will not be safe to return to Al-Taash, or even the Kurdish area in the north.
The question of returning to their homeland, inside Iran, is certainly impossible.
Now Barzan is just hoping for some help, and for knowledge about their condition to reach Kofi Annan and other leaders around the world.
“The situation here is very hard and we nee water. Yesterday a five year old girl was burned from a fire. We cannot go back to Iraq. Our situation is very bad, the babies are begging every day for food and water.”
These refugees are distrustful of the UNHCR because they allege during the Ba’ath regime, many Kurds were able to curry favorable treatment, regarding aid and relocation, by paying bribes to Ba’ath representatives to the UNHCR project at Al-Taash.
I hope to reach another man, Khabat, by phone soon. Barzan named him as a leader or representative from a committee established by the community in the No Man’s Land to represent them and make decisions.
Entering the No Man’s Land is very difficult, indeed nearly impossible. After our trip to Ruweishid, another place incredibly difficult to visit, I have some hope, however.
Barzan’s last words to me before our conversation was cut short were, “Second by second we are suffering. Our story is really important and you should come to see it with your own eyes.”
Yesterday I travelled to the Ruweishid refugee camp in Jordan.
This camp is near Jordan’s border with Iraq, and was established 3 years ago to hold refugees who fled Iraq in 2003.
Today there are 498 refugees living in the camp, they range in nationality from Palestinians living in Iraq since 1948 to Iranian Kurds living in Iraq since 1979, to Turks, and even, allegedly, one Jordanian citizen.
To get to Ruweishid you have to drive out from Amman through Jordan’s eastern desert. It is a place that feels, literally, like the edge of the world. Along the desert highway linking Amman and Baghdad are black, possibly volcanic, rocks littering the desert expanse. In some places these rocks are so thick as to make the land look black.
I felt like we were in some kind of real-life land of demons. I was struck by how little justice has been done to the reality of the eastern desert in the various descriptions offered in journalists’ memoirs of the war in Iraq.
On the other hand, it’s almost as indescribable as what I found later in the day, when we reached Ruweishid.
Ruweishid proper is a small town that was formerly on the border with Iraq, until Saddam ceded control of a large swath of land on its western frontier to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan in the 90s.
Now Ruweishid is a lonely backwater town, without even the border trade to supply it with a steady influx of dinars.
A few kilometers west of the town, the empty desert continues. The only thing that differentiates the tents of Ruweishid camp from their Bedouin couterparts is their vast number and the incomprehensible chain-link fence surrounding them.
The eastern desert is an area of jordan populated mainly by Bedouins, many of whom I saw on our return trip, tending their herds along the highway. Every so often you’ll see an encampment, noticeable only by large, unmarked canvas tents.
The very amorphous nature of life in the eastern desert further stresses the anomaly of Ruweishid camp. The residents of the camp are cut off from the rest of the world, merely by the presence of a chainlink fence, a few guards, and their current state-less status.
They live in temporary tent structures, most without electricity, and barely sealed against the harsh summer and winter weather. Despite the temporary nature of their accomodations, many of Ruweishid’s residents have been there for more than three years now.
The UNHCR-United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been supporting the refugee camp in Ruweishid, which was established by the Hashemite kingdom after a royal decree. Despite this aid, they have only a few semi-permanent structures, utilized mainly for schooling and other general use functions.
The refugees also complained of problems with supplies for their schools, as well as delays in obtaining other necessary resources.
At this time, 20 Kurdish refugees are set to leave the camp for Denmark tomorrow, and others have nearly succeeded in relocation to Ireland.
Many of the Palestinians are preparing for relocation to Canada.
Near the end of our visit, I met an Iranian Kurd who has a cousin stuck in the “no-man’s land,” which is a stateless zone between the official borders of Iraq and Jordan.
I’ll publish an update about this later, as well as some photos and video from Ruweishid.
More news from Qasem in Ramadi:
During the time of our being in the dark hot room, we heard sound of single shots, the sounds coming from above the house-seems like on the roof. I asked the Iraqi soldiers about these sounds of shooting. They told me that there is some American snipers staying on the roof of my house.
Oh my! They used my house as a snipers base, to kill the people. This is what happened many times for the last year. They will shoot all the people who are leaving their house in the early morning, yes they will.
We kept silenct and some of us tried to sleep but nobody can-it is too hot and became wet, in addition to difficulty breathing. Maybe because the air cant be recycled, the room is completely closed, the window and door.
I felt hungry and thirsty…oh it is not fair…hungry and thirsty inside my own house…
And I felt bad because my house will be a killing tool, it is very criminal for me…
At 11am there was the sounds of tanks near my house. After awhile, US soldiers run down stairs and left the house. The Iraqi soldier, from behind the door, said to his friend “what happened???”
I donít know, maybe they found some thing outside!!!!!” the other soldier answered.
“Oh they’re riding in the tank-they are leaving, we should follow them. We can’t stay.” One of the Iraqi soldiers said.
Then I shouted to them, “Open the door now, you will go and nobody will open it!!!”
“Ha, ok, ok. I will give you the key,” the Iraqi soldier said.
He put the key under the door and ran to follow his friends
I wait until the tank left and I became sure that US soldiers go Ö.
I opened the door and asked my brother to take care and keep all the family inside until I came back. I looked around inside the house and roof and all the rooms. Then I came back to the room and let my family get out of the room.
It seemed like breathing freedom when I got out of the room. “Oh it was terrible night! A hard one and dangerous for me, my father, mother, brothers and kids.”
I found that American snipers used the beds of the kids for cover in their place on the roof. In addition, they broke holes in the front walls to look though them at the street and garden.
Anyway we are OK now we got back our lovely house, and while we were eating breakfast together we were discussing about this experience and some jokes were made by my brother who found that it is funny that American soldiers almost forgot the Iraqi soldiers in the house.