Monday, February 19, 2007

War Away from War 

Two Iraqis currently living in New York write about their experience away from home.

The first, my friend and colleague Ayub Nuri, writes an op-ed in the New York Times about haunting memories and nightmares from Iraq. And another by Sarmad Ali, an Iraqi journalist working for the Wall Street Journal, about missing family members thousands of miles away in Baghdad.

I am often asked here how it feels to be an Iraqi in New York, and I was even considering writing a piece about it, but I think the above two articles perfectly sum up my feelings and, I'm sure, the feelings of hundreds of thousands of other Iraqi exiles.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Scenes from Baghdad 

A view of the dozens of corpses lying in the streets of Baghdad, often for weeks. These scenes of Iraq's civil war have become such a daily part of people's lives so much that they don't bother to remove the bodies. Those were taken in Adhamiya a month ago and the victims were judged as "strangers" or "spies" before they were shot and thrown with the garbage in the street. People in the neighbourhood just covered them with blankets and moved on. Those bodies are rarely counted in the daily death toll, and when they are counted they're just "unknown corpses."


I was told that this man's decomposing corpse was eaten by dogs, and that only his head was left. My friend sent me the photo but it's too graphic to post here.



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kid's latest post is a crude but powerful read. The state of affairs in Iraq today, or maybe the state of Kid's mind at the moment.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Iraq that was 

Iraq in photos, courtesy of Laith at From Baghdad to New York, who is also working on the upcoming online Iraqi encyclopedia WikIraqi. (Music is by the pre-eminent late Iraqi musician Munir Bashir).


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Al-Hassan Denies Involvement in Najaf 

A statement published on Al-Mahdiyoun's website, signed by Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi in Iraq denies any involvement in the events at Najaf. The statement strongly criticises media outlets and "false clerics" for slandering Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan Al-Basri, who claims to be Al-Yemani, the vanguard and the descendant of the Imam Al-Mahdi.

Statement from Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi in IraqStatement from Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi in IraqI can only conclude that Ahmed Al-Hassan is alive and was not the leader killed by Iraqi and U.S. troops Sunday, whose photos are below.

Here is the full text of the statement (my translation):
Statement in response to media outlets and the Iraqi government

In the name of Allah, the One, the Subjugator.
Peace be upon Allah and His worshippers, embraced with His mercy and blessings.
May Allah curse the infidels, who deny His messengers and their vanguards.

Over the last two days, media outlets have waged a vicious campaign to slander the image of Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan, some intentionally, and some out of ignorance by reporting unsubstantiated news. They have attributed this movement that appeared in Najaf to Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan (peace be upon him), while the Sayyid is not affiliated with them. We say this to all who are uninformed about the truth:

Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan is the vanguard and the messenger of Imam Al-Mahdi (may Allah empower him and his children), and he is the promised Al-Yemani, and he is the one mentioned in the testament of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him), in which he mentioned the imams of Ahl Al-Bait in name. The descendants of Mohammed (peace be upon them) have all mentioned him in name and description on several occasions, and they have heralded his appearance, as the Ansar Al-Mahdi have detailed in their publications. But these allegations are meant to strike the message of Allah and the message of the prophets brought by Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan at the request of his father the Imam Al-Mahdi. “They plot, but Allah (also) plotteth; and Allah is the best of plotters.” (Anfal: 30)

The truth is clear for those who seek it. The leader of this movement, Jund Al-Samaa’, also according to media outlets, is Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib, the author of the Qadhi Al-Samaa’ book, in which he claimed that the Imam Al-Mahdi (Mohammed bin Al-Hassan Al-Askari) is a myth created by the Shia, and that Imam Al-Askari (peace be upon him) was impotent. [He claimed] that he is the promised Al-Mahdi and that he was born mysteriously, along with countless claims he made in the mentioned book. Also, he is uncertain about his ancestry and his area, whereas Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan is the offspring of Imam Al-Mahdi and is from Basrah, as the descendants of Mohammed (peace be upon him) have foreseen.

Moreover, his mission is secret and unannounced, while we find that Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan has been preaching openly to the public and to jurists. In fact, Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan’s mission dates back three years before the throne of the tyrant Saddam fell as a reformer of the Hawza of holy Najaf and the messenger of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him), and it continues to this day. He has challenged the jurists of the three main religions (Islamic in the Quran, Christian in the Bible, and Jewish in the Torah) with all their subdivisions to prove his message from Imam Al-Mahdi to Muslims; from the prophet of Allah, Jesus, to the Christians; and from the prophet of Allah, Elijah, to the Jews. The Sayyid has called on them for debate but they have not responded.

The question remains, though: Why this media escalation against Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan? Why the distortion of the facts? To answer this question it should be known that there are multiple motives. On the part of some satellite channels owned by certain clerics, their aim is to slander Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan to repel people from listening to him and learning the truth about false clerics and their vile conspiracies and falsehoods. On the other hand, some media outlets are loyal to the American tyranny and the Iraqi government, since all supreme clerics in Najaf have issued fatwas legitimising the American occupation one way or another (such as the illegitimacy of Jihad against Americans, or endorsing the American elections in Iraq and the American constitution, etc.), while we find that Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan has mandated Jihad against the Americans and their lackeys, and you can find the statement on the Internet issued by the Sayyid on the day occupying forces entered Iraq, on 15 Dhu Al-Qi’da, 1424 A.H.

As to the Iraqi government, it serves its American masters and has an interest in this escalation against Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan and his followers in order to cover up its repulsive actions on 1 Muharram by destroying the Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi Husseiniya in holy Najaf, and then plundering and burning it. As well as the burning of the “Pledge to Allah” banner and the banners bearing the names of Allah, the Prophet and the pure Imams (peace be upon them), the arrest of the honourable Sayyid Hassan Al-Hamami – the son of Shi’ite cleric Sayyid Mohammed Ali Al-Hamami – and many followers of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him), for no reason, just because they said, “our pledge is to Allah, and our constitution is the Quran.” This action was not the first; it was preceded by the demolishing of the Najaf Al-Ashraf Husseiniya and the arrest of followers, the attack against the Amara and holy Karbala husseiniyas, and the husseiniya in Baghdad before that, the arrest of followers, and many, many other provocative actions.

In order to silence the Ansar and free media outlets, they have to slander Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan so that his words would not be taken seriously. It is not a surprise that these despicable satellite channels would go along. It would be surprising if they stood for truth.

But other satellite channels have no interest or affiliation with the Iraqi government, but they clapped along with everyone else. They should report the attacks against husseiniyas, the detention of the Ansar and Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hamami, instead of broadcasting false news without corroboration from the offices of the Sayyid, which are all over Iraq. It would have taken less than an hour to inquire. The Ansar radio station also broadcasts day and night over the Internet, and the truth can be discerned from it.

In the end, we say to all that it is only a matter of days. If [rule] lasted for someone else, it would not have reached you. We are for Allah and to Him we will return. Those who have wronged the descendants of Mohammed (peace be upon them) will come to know by what a (great) reverse they will be overturned.

Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi in Iraq
10 Muharram, 1428 A.H.

This account by two LA Times correspondents who visited Zarga in Najaf has probably the best description so far of the compound and the fighters.

Regarding the author of the Qadhi Al-Samaa' book, Al-Arabiya TV reported ten days ago that unknown groups were distributing this book by an unknown man who claims to be Al-Mahdi and a descendant of Ali bin Abi Talib in Diwaniya and other southern Iraqi cities. The book has the photo of the so-called Dhiyaa' Abdul Zahra, whose posters were found at the orchard in Zarga, on its cover. No other details are known about the author, but it seems that the Iraqi government and even informed Shi'ite clerics have confused him with Ahmed Al-Hassan (who denies writing the book as his statement above makes it clear), while the media confused them both with Mohammed Al-Hassani Al-Sarkhi. The details remain murky and the government has not disclosed how it discovered that the group was plotting to attack pilgrims or to kill senior Shi'ite clerics in Najaf. But it's interesting to hear the telling detail that local police officers said they did not move against the group at first because they thought they were the Mahdi Army.

UPDATE: Read my latest column at Iraq Slogger for the Najaf governor's recent statement.

UPDATE: Another account of the Najaf battle, based on interiews with some members of the Hawatim tribe.

Aswat Al-Iraq News Agency just reported that Iraqi police raided offices at the town of Hayy, south of Kut in the Wasit Governorate, suspected to belong to the Jund Al-Samaa' movement. No one was found at the offices but several documents were confiscated. Colonel Abbas Al-Jubouri, commander of the Scorpion Brigade of the Interior Ministry in the nearby Babil Governorate, which took part in the Najaf operation last Sunday, had stated that interrogation of the detained members of the group indicate that the majority of those killed in the operation were from Diwaniya, Hilla and Kut, and the rest were from Samawa, Nasiriya, Amara, Basrah, Najaf and Karbala.

UPDATE: A biography of Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan, as posted on the forums on his website:

- Born in Basrah, Iraq.
- Graduate of the Civil Engineering Department, Engineering College, Basrah University.
- Studied at the Hawza (religious seminary) of Najaf.
- The Imam Al-Mahdi sent him to reform the Hawza in Najaf five years ago, and he has carried out practical, scientific and economic reform in the Hawza and in society.
- Since the Hawza does not offer Quran studies, he taught the Quran there and the cause of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him).
- After the infidel Saddam Hussein defiled the holy Quran when he ordered it to be written in his blood, Al-Hassan publicly stated that Saddam did that to curry favour with Satan. He was chased by the infidel forces of Saddam because of this statement. Al-Hassan was the only cleric in Najaf to strongly protest that, and he said that Saddam made his death wish and the end of his rule when he wrote the Quran with his najis (impure) blood. He also condemned the clerics of Najaf and Muslims in general for remaining silent over this abominable act of the infidel Saddam.
- The Hawza had abandoned its role in preaching virtue and preventing vice, in addition to caring about the public's affairs. Al-Hassan called for taking care of the public's personal and religious affairs and for lifting injustice against them.
- He was responsible for what was termed the revolution against financial corruption in the Hawza, and he was supported in this by many Hawza students. He once entered the office of an aide to one of the supreme clerics with over 30 students and demanded that he tell the cleric to reform. He also sent students to supreme clerics to demand that they put an end to financial corruption in their dealings, by wasting monies on their aides and agents while leaving orphans and widow starving in poverty.
- Three years ago, under the rule of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, he declared himself the messenger of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) and, as a result, he was sought by Saddam's infidel forces. He was miraculously saved by Allah from the hands of the tyrant, and he is now preaching for the support and the empowerment of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him).

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another close call today in my neighbourhood in Baghdad. It was showered with over 30 mortar shells from nearby Shi'ite districts after news of the attacks against Shia pilgrims in Diyala got out. One shell tore through a bedroom on the second floor of my grandmother's house, which is next to ours. No one was hurt, thankfully. Another hit a nearby house and killed our long-time neighbour who was on the roof.

U.S. soldiers, who have cordoned the district for the last few days, knocked on our door at 6 a.m. My family was asleep and they didn't hear it. The U.S. soldiers then went to my grandmother's house next door and stayed for four hours, drinking tea and chatting with my uncle. My uncle, a former army officer and a fierce Arab nationalist, seems to have told the American soldiers all about the history of Iraq's colonisers, all the way back to the Mongols and Hulago. My family said the American soldiers, who listened attentively to my uncle's story, apologised and told him that they did not want to be in Iraq either but they did not have much of a choice.

UPDATE: My brother should not be seeing this terrible stuff.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

So What Happened in Najaf? 

The Sadrist account: Nahrain Net, a Sadrist website, quotes anonymous sources from the Hawza and security officials in Najaf that an armed group named “Jund Al-Samaa’” (the Army of Heaven, the Soldiers of Heaven, the Soldiers of the Skies) were amassing in palm groves at Zarga, north of Kufa, and that they were plotting to take supreme Shi’ite clerics in Najaf, including Sistani, Ishaq Al-Fayyadh, Ya’qubi, Mohammed Al-Hakim, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, as hostages in order to use as a bargain to control the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Allegedly, a list was found with the group that contained names of senior clerics in Najaf and Karbala, and that Muqtada was number two on the list after Sistani. They added that the group was coordinating with Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda and that they have received logistic and monetary backing from Saudi Arabia.

The Iraqi Health Minister’s account: Health Minister Ali Al-Shammari (Sadrist Bloc) revealed that over 123 militants were wounded in the battle and that they were being treated in Najaf’s hospitals. Militants killed were “in the hundreds,” most of who are of unknown identities. The group’s military commander was killed in the battle and he was identified as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, a man from Hilla.

Ahmed Du’aibil, Media Spokesman of the Najaf Governorate (SCIRI): 250 – 300 militants were killed in the clashes at Zarga. “16 terrorists” were detained, including two Egyptians and a Saudi.

The Iraqi News Agency quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source that the group’s leader is Ahmed Kadhim Al-Gar’awi Al-Basri (Ahmed Hassan Al-Basri), born 1969, and was a Hawza student of Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr (Muqtada’s father) in Najaf. He left to Iran right before the war and declared himself the vanguard of Imam Al-Mahdi, leading to his imprisonment by Iranian authorities for heresy. He was released and returned to Iraq after the war and he started preaching in Basrah, where he also put under house arrest by Iraqi authorities. His schools and husseiniyas in major cities in the south were closed and vandalised by Iraqi security forces and the Scorpion Brigade of the Interior Ministry Commandos detained several of his followers in Najaf last week. The source added that 140 militants were captured in the clashes yesterday.

SCIRI’s Buratha News Agency quotes a source in the Dhu Al-Fiqar Brigade, which fought the militants yesterday, saying over 1,000 “terrorists” were killed and 50 detained, with 200 “brainwashed women and children.” He added that the area was full of corpses and a large amount of ammunition and weapons was confiscated.

Deputy Governor of Najaf Abdul Hussein Abtan (SCIRI), as quoted on Al-Iraqiya TV: “Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, and hundreds detained. Their brainwashed families were also at the location and we are moving them to another place and clearing the killed and prisoners to complete investigations. Our information indicates that foreign groups funded this operation, but they used false slogans and recruited naive people in order to destroy holy Najaf and to kill the great clerics as a starting point and then to move to control other governorates. That is what their slain leader, who called himself the Imam Al-Mahdi, told them.” The deputy governor first said the group’s leader was a Lebanese national, but later he identified him as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, from Hilla. It seems there were no journalists to point out this contradiction to him in the room when he made this statement.

Najaf Governor As’ad Abu Gilel (SCIRI): The group was led by a man named Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib. Their planned attack was meant to destroy the Shiite community, kill the grand ayatollahs, destroy the convoys and occupy the holy shrine. He identified the group as “Shi’ite in its exterior, but not in its core.”

Another unnamed captain in the Iraqi Army, quoted by Buratha News Agency: “The leader who was killed claimed he was the Mahdi. He is in his forties and is from Diwaniya. Many Arab fighters were captured including Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese.”

Major General Othman Al-Ghanimi, Iraqi commander in charge of Najaf quoted by AP: Members of the group, including women and children, planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill as many leading clerics as possible. The group’s leader, wearing jeans, a coat and a hat and carrying two pistols was among those who were killed in the battle. Saddam’s Al-Quds Army, a people’s militia established in the late 1990s, once used the same area where the group was based.

Ahmed Al-Fatlawi (SCIRI), member of Najaf Governorate Council, quoted by AP: "We have information from our intelligence sources that indicated the leader of this group had links with the former regime elements since 1993. Some of the gunmen brought their families with them in order to make it easier to enter the city. The women have been detained.”

Colonel Ali Jiraiw, spokesman for the Najaf police, quoted by the Guardian: “The group which calls itself Army of Heaven had established itself two years ago in farms near Kufa. But it ran into trouble with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has a base in Kufa and who regards the group as heretical. The group is led by Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Al-Yamani, and its followers believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure whose coming heralds the dawn of a kingdom of peace and justice."

So let me get this straight. The Iraqi officials can't agree on who they were fighting or who their leader was, so how did they figure out all these colourful details about "brainwashed women and children" and the intentions of killing all clerics or bombing the shrine or taking over the shrine, etc.?

Also, alleged eyewitnesses said they saw fighters in "Afghan robes." What is an Afghan robe, anyway? I doubt someone from Kufa would know an Afghan robe when they see it. Also, why doesn't the government produce the evidence that foreign fighters have been captured?

SCIRI’s website posted this photo of the group’s leader, and another of him lying dead in the battlefield.

Alleged photo of Jund Al-Samaa' leader, according to SCIRI
Slain leader of Jund Al-Samaa', according to SCIRIAnother story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.” The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment.

The Islam Memo website says an American NBC cameraman and an Iraqi journalist named Aws Al-Khafaji were trying to reach the area to film the battlefield but were prevented by a security force from the Najaf governor’s office to leave their hotel in Najaf. The website also quotes Sheikh Khalaf Abdul Hussein Al-Khaz’ali, who said the government killed 33 members of his tribe and that they described them as Al-Qaeda. A delegation from the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are allegedly negotiating with the Najaf governor to retrieve the corpses of 70 tribesmen, including women and children, still kept at the Najaf Hospital. The delegation threatened with “grave consequences” if the corpses are not delivered to the tribes within 24 hours. A source from Diwaniya said that 57 bodies have reached the city and were buried in the Hawatim tribe cemetery, west of the city, Monday afternoon. The website published a list of the names of those who were killed from the tribe.

Both the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are anti-SCIRI and anti-Da’wa. Last July, they threatened to kill any of their members who join the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization. SCIRI, on the other hand, accuses the tribes of being Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists.

And, by the way, the Western media is confusing Ahmed Al-Hassan with Mahmoud Al-Hassani Al-Sarkhi, another Sadrist drop-out. They are not the same person, but they lead similar movements. Here is the background of Al-Sarkhi.

Monday, January 29, 2007

U.S. Likely Duped in Najaf Clashes 

The official U.S. and Iraqi story about what happened in Najaf today, which was swallowed and propagated by news wires (and apparently also the New York Times), is complete nonsense. First of all, they can’t even decide whether they were fighting Sunni insurgents or a “violent Shi’ite cult,” as Reuters’ unnamed self-appointed expert put it in their story. Secondly, the U.S. and Iraqi descriptions don’t match and both contain gross inconsistencies; Najaf’s governor, As’ad Abu Gilel, who is a member of the pro-Iranian SCIRI, said they were Sunni insurgents, including Pakistani and Afghan fighters, plotting to stage an attack against Shia pilgrims commemorating the holy month of Muharram in Najaf, and to possibly attack the Shi’ite clerical leadership that is based in the old city, around the shrine of Imam Ali. Then he turned around and said they were local [Shia] loyalists to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, probably referring to the Shi’ite tribe of Bani Hassan around Kufa, which facilitated the assault by Saddam’s Republican Guard against rebels in the 1991 Intifada. (The Bani Hassan tribe is despised by major Shi’ite political parties, and residents of Najaf scornfully refer to their town of Al-Abbasiya, across the Euphrates from Kufa, as Al-Ouja, which is the hometown of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit. Many members of Bani Hassan also supported Sadrists in their 2004 uprising.) A U.S. military source confirmed that 250 “insurgents” were killed and several other militants were captured, including a Sudanese. An Iraqi security source, however, as well as the local Iraqi media, identified the militants as members of a Shi’ite splinter group called Al-Mahdiyoun or Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi, which if true means the U.S. military was once again duped into doing the dirty work of SCIRI and other Shi’ite factions – and, I daresay, Iran – for them.

The Mahdiyoun, or Mahdawiya, as they are called in Iraq, are a very small fringe Shia movement with scattered followers in major urban centres in the south, such as Basrah, Amara, Nasiriya, Samawa and Kut. Their leader is Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan, a former disciple of Muqtada’s father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr from Tannumah in Basrah, and who declared himself the promised Al-Yemani, who according to Shi’ite lore is the vanguard of the twelfth Imam Al-Mahdi (Shi’ite messiah-like figure) and who will prepare for his return. I won’t go into the theological details, but it suffices to say that Ahmed Al-Hassan claimed to have met the Imam Al-Mahdi, that he is infallible, that he is more knowledgeable about the secrets and meanings of the Torah, the bible and the Quran than anyone else, that the Star of David is also the star of Imam Al-Mahdi and the descendents of Prophet Muhammed and that it should not be defiled by Muslims. He opposes the occupation, elections and the constitution because he considers himself the rightful ruler. And he contests the authority of supreme Shi’ite clerics, such as Sistani.

Al-Mahdiyoun banner and sealsAl-Hassan also wrote letters to major word leaders, some included below:

To Sayyid Ali Khameni,

You are required to immediately hand over the rule in Iran to the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him), otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him). The honourable Iranian people in the land of Al-Rai – which irrigates the earth at the end of time – should enable me to rule the land of Iran.

Ahmed Al-Hassan
Vanguard and messenger of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to all people
Supported by Gabriel, guided by Michael, victorious by Israfil

***
To the people of Iraq,

The land of discord; Yes, there has been no prophet or messenger sent to Iraq who was not killed or expelled by the people of Iraq. You are required to enable the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to rule Iraq, otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan (peace be upon him). My father, Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan, has ordered me to give those who disobey him either the sword or death under the rule of the sword.

Ahmed Al-Hassan

***
To the president of America, Bush, or whoever holds his position,

It is I who you have seen in your sleep, and you will see me even more. You are required to unconditionally withdraw your military power from Muslim land or, I swear by the One and Only, I will throw America – the iron monster that has stomped on the kingdoms of earth – into the pits of hell, as Daniel (peace be upon him) was told in the Torah. You will hear from me again, and you should know that America will be pushed to my right in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I will crush it, God willing.

Ahmed Al-Hassan

***
He has also issued statements calling on all Iraqi political parties, leaders and Iraqi tribes to pledge allegiance to him or they will suffer in hell. But, as I said, he barely has a few hundred followers scattered all over the country, and I doubt that he would come up with something as foolish as attacking Najaf, because actually it was his movement that has been under attack lately by Iraqi security forces, heavily infiltrated by SCIRI in the south. Last week, his main office and husseiniya in Najaf was raided and destroyed with several of his followers detained by the Aqrab (Scorpion) Brigade of Interior Ministry Commandos. The same happened to his offices in Basrah, Amara and Karbala, days ago. Al-Hassan himself was placed under house arrest in Tannumah, Basrah, by the Iraqi government some months ago.

I suspect this whole campaign is a result of Al-Hassan’s strange, unorthodox teachings and his defiance of the mainstream Shi’ite religious and political institution, including, most importantly, Iran. The movement’s detractors claim the group has engaged in obscene behaviour such as walking naked in public or hosting group sex orgies in husseiniyas and mosques, in order to “provoke” the Imam Al-Mahdi to return, or that they are Saddam loyalists who were planted just before the war by the regime to undermine the Najaf clerical authority, with some even claiming the group is Israeli or supported by US. radical Christian movements.

The “preemptive” crackdown against Al-Hassan – like that against Mahmoud Al-Sarkhi months ago, which I wrote about here – bears all the signs of U.S. Shi’ite allies (SCIRI and Da’wa) fooling the U.S. into supporting them in their intra-Shi’ite struggle to control the south. This is even more shocking because these “cults,” as crazy as they may sound, have never carried arms or posed a threat to anyone; their activities are restricted to theological debate and polemics with other Shi’ite clerics and movements. The fact that they may have a few armed followers means nothing. Virtually everyone in Iraq is armed to the teeth. This might actually turn out to be a massacre against some harmless cultists. If true, then congratulations to the U.S. for carrying out Iran’s dirty deeds in Iraq yet again.

Najaf and Kufa mapUPDATE: I can't take the idiocy of the media any more. ABC News just described Al-Mahdiyoun as a "doomsday cult" with both Sunni and Shia members preparing to attack the shrine of Imam Ali and Shia clerics in Najaf. Ummm. Four years in Iraq and you still can't get the obvious facts straight? No wonder Iraq got into such a mess.

Hint for the U.S.: There are no "bad guys" and "good guys" in Iraq. Everyone has dirty hands. It makes no sense for you, nor is it going to improve anything in Iraq, to side with one bad guy against another, just because you're so confused that you can't differentiate between friend and foe. Just please remember that. The trick is to reach a settlement where all the "bad guys" are satisified and agree to behave as "good guys" again. Otherwise, just forget about it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

2007 Bloggies Award 

Healing Iraq has been nominated for the 2007 Bloggies Award in the Best African or Middle Eastern Weblog. Show us some voting love.

2007 bloggies

Friday, January 26, 2007

No Quorum for Months 

Iraqi Parliament has failed to reach quorum since October 2006. Understandably, it's hard to attend parliamentary sessions when you live in the Green Zone, or the Rashid Hotel, or Amman, or Dubai, or London. MP Adnan Al-Pachachi, who spoke from Dubai, complained that their salaries can only afford 20 security guards, while they need at least 40 to make it from the Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone. I wonder how many security guards Pachachi would need if he were to venture on the streets of Baghdad, which he probably hasn't seen in decades.

Funny, too, that he would complain about the salary. Iraqi members of parliament receive up to $120,000 in salaries and benefits, or about $10,000 a month, plus the additional salaries of 20 security guards - which most MPs choose to pocket instead. Actually, the first bill Iraqi MPs (of all sects and ethnicities) passed unanimously was the one in which they defined their salaries, privileges and benefits. That session was conveniently closed to the media. Perhaps you should also know that the average salary for a civil servant in Iraq is $150. A day labourer would make less than half of that. And you would be considered quite well-to-do if your salary is $400 or $500.

Shame. And this is what they call a "democratically-elected government."

Iraqi parliament fails to reach quorum***

Meanwhile, Iraqi refugees are piling up in Jordan and Syria, except they are regarded as tourists, since Jordan is worried about the consequences of the word "refugee." Soon, Iraqis might not even have that luxury. I often tell my family to come up with a plan to leave as soon as possible before Syria - the last remaining outlet for Iraqis fresh out of the country - decides to close its borders as well when it becomes too much of a strain.

Here is my post on Iraqis in Jordan when I was in Amman last summer.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mustansiriya 

Yesterday’s barbaric bombings that targeted the students of Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University are the latest in a long series of dark stains that will mar the history of Iraqis for a long time to come. It was the first all-out, wholesale targeting of college students whose only sin was attempting to finish their higher education – perhaps to flee the disaster-stricken country later, or to seek better jobs to support their families.

Over 80 students were robbed of their future by fanatics bent on revenge and destruction. No one can fathom what was possibly in the mind of those who planted a car rigged with explosives in a college’s parking lot, where students carrying their lectures and books gather to wait for their minivans and buses, maybe in hopes of returning home to study for tomorrow’s exam, or maybe to share a meal or tea with loved-ones. Nor can we understand what the man who waited, while watching the devastating scene of torn limbs, pools of blood, amid fire and smoke and the smell of burning flesh, and fleeing students after the first explosion, then pressed a button to blow himself up was thinking. What were the perpetrators hoping to achieve?

Can you imagine the scene? Try. Think of your own schools, your own college campuses. Think of how you would feel if your own son or daughter had to go to school in the hell that is called Iraq. Think of what you would do if you heard the news that the school was bombed.

Eyewitnesses said cell phones were still ringing urgently in pockets and purses lying around human body parts. Try to imagine the person on the other line.

A man searched for his son and finally found his head and torso, but no legs. “Where is his other half?” he asked, before he started shaking with violent sobs.

Over here, the above scenes elicit a 20-second sound bite in the news, perhaps immediately followed by dog food or deodorant commercials. At best, politicians would use it in talking points, to justify even more bloodshed and destruction.

Sucked up in a sectarian vortex they can never escape, students in Iraq face enemies from all sides. Sadrist militias took over this particular university a long time ago. Posters of religious symbols filled lecture halls. A black religious flag flew above the university’s main tower. Girls were told to cover up, not just in veils, as was the case last year, but in ‘abayas, or full Islamic body garb. College texts were tampered with. Student unions became fronts for militiamen, who replaced former Ba’athist unions and threatened students and professors alike for any reason. Professors were kicked out, because they were of the wrong sect or political ideology, and many were abducted and assassinated. Just days ago, there were rumours that three female students from the university were kidnapped, tortured and raped before they were killed by militiamen. However, some students insisted to complete their studies, even though attendance rates in Baghdad have fallen to less than 30%. Dozens of academics were abducted and went missing in one recent incident when gunmen in police uniform stormed an educational institution.

As if all that was not enough, Sunni insurgent groups distributed pamphlets recently, calling on college students and professors to boycott their universities. Ironically, they called it a “campaign to support our scientists and students in Baghdad universities.” Students were warned not to attend their classes because universities have turned into headquarters of militias and death squads. “Save the lives of our professors and dear students from the rejectionist government of Maliki and their death squads,” one pamphlet said. “It is prohibited to attend after this announcement.” Another one featured a photo of the very main gate of Mustansiriya University, where the bombings took place yesterday, reading, “From these universities, our scientists graduated. And today they are killed on their gates. There is no solution to stop the bloodshed except by boycotting.” “God willing,” said another, “we will work to cleanse universities from these filthy groups.”

Ansar Al-Sunna fliersIn response to these fliers, PM Maliki, who hides behind the concrete walls of the Green Zone, threatened to expel students and professors that did not continue to attend their schools. Many families decided not to send their kids, anyway, and professors are still trying to flee the country, but many more have no other option but to go on … until the criminals strike.

Both my brother and sister are still college students in Baghdad. I can’t stop thinking of them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Update on Nabil 

My younger brother Nabil is very close to receiving his student visa to New Zealand, which should be during the next few days. He has been enrolled as a student in the University of Auckland and will be taking a foundation course and an IELTS examination. If he passes, he will be eligible to complete his studies in pharmacy. If not, he will finish the one-year foundation course and then re-apply.

Nabil has not left the house in Baghdad for weeks as roadside bombs are exploding right on our doorstep and bodies are piling in the street, but he is very excited about this opportunity to leave and start anew. My sister returned to Baghdad to finish her last year of college but she has been unable so far to reach it. Once Nabil is out and my sister returns with her husband to Amman, my parents will be in an easier position to plan their own retreat. Their first priority was to get us all out.

The family that has gracefully sponsored Nabil in New Zealand has also helped a female classmate of his to enroll in the same school. They will probably be taking the trip together from Baghdad to Amman to NZ and will keep each other company during their stay. My only concern is that Jordan is not allowing young Iraqi males to enter the country, but I hope that Nabil's papers will be proof enough for immigration officers that he is in transit.

We are still very short on the funds and I'm going to be forced to divert some of my own living expenses here to help Nabil leave Iraq and get settled in New Zealand. Please consider hitting the tip jar on the right sidebar or at Nabil's blog to assist us with this next step. You have helped me in the past and I'm asking you now to help me save my brother's life and to ensure him a new future.

Stories from Iraq 

I recently posted a link to Konfused Kid's Omar's Odyssey, the story of his friend Omar, who escaped near execution by a Mahdi Army death squad. Kid now posted Ali's Illiad, the story of a businessman who escaped possible execution by insurgents in Ramadi with just sheer luck and the help of a sympathetic truck driver.

The Iraqi Roulette also has a story about an abducted cousin, which ended happily - or at least as happy as it can get in Iraq.

Semiramis is a new Iraqi blogger who intends to be the chronicler of the Iraqi blogosphere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Embedded 

Splendid. We have another Ralph 'Sure, it's bad but they love us there' Peters in town. She's even posting tear-jerking photos of impoverished Iraqi kids in Baghdad's slums begging American troops for sweets and footballs, and of course the obligatory shot of the Iraqi kid with a small American flag. The triumphant 'You won't see this in the MSM' moment. Oh, how heartbreaking.

On the other hand, I wonder if any bloggers are going to investigate whether that photo was "staged."

Man on the moon 

One of the most amusing rumours to result from the Saddam execution spectacle was the claims by some Iraqis that they saw Saddam's smiling face in a beret on the moon. Someone even went to the trouble of posting an image to prove it.



There was a similar situation when former Iraqi president General Abdul Karim Qassim was executed shortly after Ba'athists took control of Baghdad in the 1963 coup. Sighting of the Za'eem's face on the moon infested Iraq at the time, especially among the impoverished slum-dwellers of Baghdad.

***

On an unrelated note, here is a post I had two days ago on the Washington Post's Postglobal blog about the troops "surge."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Saddam's burial 

Scenes from the burial of Saddam Hussein's corpse in his hometown of Al-Ouja, near Tikrit, as seen on Salah Al-Din TV.

It looks like a regular Iraqi burial to me, except that there is a larger number of people - presumably members of Saddam's tribe, Al-Bu Nasir - present than what was reported in the media. They pray a last prayer for him in which the cleric describes him as the "martyred hero." Then, the camera cuts to a scene where people are opening the casket to reveal Saddam's face and shouting frantically. When they are burying him, some people are yelling, "Farewell Akhu Hadla." (Akhu Hadla means "Hadla's brother," which is a tribal name carrying meanings of courage, chivalry and generosity.)



UPDATE: Another Saddam video has surfaced on the Internet today. This one, also shot by a cell phone camera, shows Saddam's corpse in a shroud and the wound on his neck.

UPDATE: I don't know who is translating for CNN but again, like the Times with the execution video last week, they got most of the conversation in the video wrong. Here is the transcript they posted in their story:

Man 1: "Quickly, quickly please, take one picture."

Man 2: "Yes, I hear you."

Man 1 (raising his voice when the video continues longer than a still shot would have required): "Come on, what's the matter?"

Man 2: "I hear you, I hear you."

Man 1 (to a third man): "Abu Ali, come on and deal with this."

Man 1 (apparently irritated over the length of time Man 2 is taking): "Come on, habibi ... I'll say this one time politely otherwise I'm going to get real angry."

Man 2: "I hear you."

Here is what was actually said in the video:

Man 1: "Quickly, quickly. I'm going to count from one to four. One ... Two ... Ha, Abu Ali. Come on, habibi. Just a moment. Mercy be on your family -"

Man 2: "I'm coming."

Man 1: " ... You're going to bring us a disaster ..."

Man 2: "I'm coming. I'm coming."

Man 1: "Just a moment. One moment. Abu Ali ... "

Man 2: "I'm coming."

Man 1: " ... Abu Ali, you take care of this. Abu Ali."

Abu Ali: "Come on. Come on."

Man 1: "Ya habibi, ya aini (my dear) ... "

Man 2: "That's it. I'm coming."

There's not that much of a difference in meaning, but there was no mention of taking one picture or a guy threatening to get angry. It just looked like they were afraid to get caught.

My whole point is that whoever is translating for CNN and the NY Times is not doing a great job.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Capt. Jamil Hussein 

The Associated Press is reporting that the Iraqi Interior Ministry has acknowledged today that the "mysterious" Captain Jamil Hussein is in fact an active member of the Iraqi police force.

Both the Interior Ministry and U.S. CENTCOM had denied his existence following an AP report on the burning of six Sunni people in Hurriya a few weeks ago. He now faces arrest for speaking to the media without authorisation, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The current Iraqi government has crossed a dangerous line in its attempts to silence its critics. Closing independent satellite channels that are not cheerleading for them, and issuing arrest warrants for police officers who speak to the media.

What's next?

UPDATE: I've been following the exchange in the blogosphere over this issue for a while. It unfortunately descended into a juvenile contest over who is right and who is wrong, and it eventually boiled down to a right vs. left argument. Just as there are many bloggers who can’t wait for a chance to jump over the media, for whatever reasons, the media, by the same token, too often haughtily considers itself above reproach, as in the case of the Associated Press when it dismissed serious accusations as “ludicrous.”

I was just discussing this today with some classmates who were unfamiliar with the story. The AP should come clean about the whole affair, I told them, and admit that it was misled by its Iraqi stringers if that proved to be the case, because its very credibility was on the line.

The blogosphere focused on the identity of Capt. Hussein, claiming he was a manufactured source, but now some are saying this is a secondary issue and that they were really concerned about the truth. Give me a break.

Capt. Hussein was not the sole source for the story, as some bloggers have said. AP only quoted him after the alleged incident made its rounds on local Iraqi message boards and was circulated extensively by SMS messages in Baghdad. The Sunni tribal sheikh who first mentioned the story on Al-Jazeera was later “visited” by an Iraqi Defense Ministry delegation and then he sinisterly retracted his account. AP reporters returned to Hurriya and corroborated the incident from several eyewitnesses, some who, understandably, refused to be named. A few residents denied though. It could be that the Shia residents denied the story taking place, because they sympathised with the Mahdi Army, or it could be that the Sunni residents just can’t wait for another chance to point out the barbarity of Shi’ite militias. Commentators in the West often overlook these nuances. The same when they readily accepted the denials of the Interior Ministry and CENTCOM. They don’t remember that the same ministry denied the allegations of torture last year before the Jadiriya prison scandal was uncovered.

I have heard from friends in Baghdad that they have seen a cell phone video of the burning incident and that it was broadcast on Zawra TV. They couldn’t get me the clip when I asked for it, though. Mosques have been burned before in Baghdad, so I also can’t see why that would be surprising to some American bloggers. Just check my YouTube page on the sidebar for examples.

Could the whole incident be just an urban legend, given the highly polarised environment in Iraq today and the total lack of trust between the Shia and Sunni communities in Baghdad? I would say it’s totally possible, and there have been many occasions of outlandish accusations made by both sides of the conflict, to the extent that it is hard to discern the truth of what is happening. That is why we have to rely sometimes on Internet postings, rumours, word of mouth, and incomplete reporting. The alternative would be no news stories, as it is a bit absurd to ask for media organisations on the ground in Iraq to apply Western standards in their reporting. Yes, sometimes sources have to be bribed, local stringers often have to be blindly trusted, and relying on anonymous sources has to be the norm because everyone fears for their life.

There have been many cases of sloppy and incompetent reporting from Iraq. Just a few days ago, the NY Times in its rush got most of its story about Saddam’s final words wrong. And it didn’t even bother to post a correction the next day when the cell phone video recording was out for the whole word to see. Actually, the coverage of Saddam’s execution has been the worst reporting by Western media in Iraq since 2003. The stories were full of erroneous translations of what was said in the video and many other discrepancies.

American bloggers were astounded that it took so long to verify that Capt. Hussein exists. What they don’t see is that it is almost impossible for an independent party to just walk into the Khadraa’ police station and ask for the man, otherwise the NY Times or the WaPo would probably have done it. I personally tried to convince my sources in Baghdad to locate the man and they told me I was crazy to make such a request. Another thing that bloggers haven’t considered is that all this controversy may have well caused Capt. Hussein to reject any further media exposure and go underground. I’m sure Capt. Hussein was pretty far from interested in having his photo and identity put out there just for some far away American bloggers to prove a point in their ideological debate. And I’m sure he doesn’t give a rat’s behind about APs credibility either.

The question that should be asked, by bloggers and the media alike, is why the Iraqi government persists to shoot the messenger - Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, Zawraa TV, Salah Al-Din TV, Sharqiya TV, the guard who filmed Saddam's execution, and now Capt. Jamal Hussein - instead of going after the people responsible for the atrocities?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Omar's Odyssey 

Iraqi Konfused Kid tells the untold: Omar's Odyssey, the story of a survivor of a Shi'ite death squad in Sadr City. Must read.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Reactions to Saddam's execution in the Iraqi blogosphere 

Sami - Iraqi Thoughts:

I am still shocked even after watching hours of TV. Its funny how as I grew up this was the man I hated most in my life and have always wanted him killed but for some reason the feelings of joy were not what I expected. There are many reasons for that but I think mainly the fact that this ended up being an Al Dawa political party fight versus Saddam is what saddens me. Al Dawa where the political party involved in Dujail, the first case Saddam was tried on was Dujail (in my eyes a big mistake) but that was on the orders of former Iraqi PM Ibrahim Al-Ja'afari who comes from the Al Dawa party. Coincidentally the warrant was signed by Al-Maliki again from the Al Dawa party and finally exclusive footage of Saddam's dead corpse was shown on Al Dawa's TV channel Baladi. I just wish that he could have faced all the charges against him, but I am no politician and maybe they couldn't wait any longer. Finally I don't think the situation will change in Iraq much because the people who hate Saddam or love him are all still going to have the same deep hatred and divisons towards each other. Unity isn't about being the same but about accepting each other's differences and the way Iraqis act that does not look like happening any time soon.

Iraq Pundit:

Saddam has long been a dead man walking, and I don't care about him or whatever hell he has gone to. My concern is how his well-deserved execution will affect the continuing crisis in Iraq. Most of those around me feel the same way. An older relative who long ago fled Iraq thought of Saddam as the man who signed tens of thousands of death warrants. And even younger relatives who never lived under Saddam regard him as a man undeserving of sympathy. All of us are focused on seeing Iraq's current agony come to an end.

24 Steps to Liberty:

The scene basically dismissed my life, my emotional sufferings, my sleepless nights under Saddam Hussein's regime and it dismissed any respect to what I've been through. Watching Hussein walking to the gallows was what reassured me that the "liberation" wasn't for the Iraqis to enjoy, but for an invasion to allow the exiles, especially the Mullahs, to take revenge. What's next? Does it mean my family will be safe now that Saddam Hussein is dead? Does it mean the Iraqis will stop hating each other and killing each other? There are no more Shiites and Sunnis slaughtering each other? [Ironically Hussein is accused of provoking sectarian conflict in Iraq!] Did they [Iraqi government and their advisors] think killing Saddam Hussein will unite the Iraqis and solve the problem? The answer to those questions is: No. And they don't care!

Dr Fadhil Badran - Iraq4Ever:

The assassination of Saddam Hussein has killed the last hope of peace in Iraq. I think, this assassination has been planned by Iran, Israel, and Britain; those players used the US as a fire-catcher! Iran chose to assassinate him on the 1st. day of Al-Ad'ha to say that the Eid is not on the 30th of December, which means that Muslims are not unified, and of course because Saddam had stopped the Persian dream to occupy the Arab countries in the gulf area. Israel has chose the way of assassination by Hanging him to make revenge for the Israeli spies who were hanged in Baghdad in 1969. Britain insists on the assassination for the revenge of Saddam Hussein nationalization of the Iraqi petroleum in 1971. The only losers in this event are the Iraqis and the American soldiers in Iraq.

Treasure of Baghdad:

Although I expected it, I was shocked when I heard it. I felt I want to cry but my tears were mixed, tears of happiness and sadness at the same time. Memories of my life under Saddam flashed back in my mind like a train moving fast. An important chapter of our life is finally over. I felt happy because finally the one who suppressed us is gone and forever now. However, I felt sad because his execution is going to increase the blood bath that is already taking place. I felt sad because Saddam was replaced by more tyrants instead of one. Iraq is not a free country yet. Iraq is suffering from Mullahs and Sheikhs who most of them are religious extremists who are trying to take back Iraq to hundreds years back. Sunni and Shiite extremists who are in the government and parliament now are the ones who are imposing their religious ideas on people and in a country where most of its cities were secular. If someone criticizes them, they kill him. So what's the difference? Saddam is hanged and so should the ones ruling Iraq now.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Hangs (Updated) 

A broken, submissive Saddam Hussein is taken to the gallows by masked executioners at the former Iraqi Military Intelligence (5th Department) compound at Kadhimiya, Baghdad. This is the footage as aired on state-run Al-Iraqiya TV:



The fear is evident on his face as he struggles to appear calm. He reportedly tried to resist when American soldiers handed him over to Iraqi guards, but then grew quiet and calm as he accepted a fate that was expected. The last moment appeal to a U.S. judge by Saddam's lawyers to stay the execution was rejected.

Saddam shortly after he was executedThe Shi'ite executioners and witnesses were reported to have danced around Saddam's corpse after he was hanged while chanting Shi'ite religious slogans. The same situation was reported from the Green Zone by Al-Arabiya TV reporters who said members of the current Iraqi government were also celebrating. Iraqis took to the streets in Sadr City, Najaf and Basrah. Some carried portraits of Muqtada Al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, the new strongmen of Iraq.

Protests took place in Tikrit, Baiji, Fallujah, Ramadi and Garma, but so far there have been no violent reactions. Instead of visiting relatives or going out to parks, people had to stay home out of fear. According to an Iraqi law expert interviewed on Al-Arabiya TV, It is against Iraqi law to schedule an execution on an official or religious holiday, but he conceded that this was obviously a political decision.

I hope the execution of the tyrant brings relief to the families of his victims.

There are still many dark days ahead in Iraq.

UPDATE: Here is a full cell phone video recording of Saddam's execution, apparently by someone in the audience. This should dispel all rumours and conflicting media accounts about Saddam's last words and the reaction of the audience.

Saddam (as the noose is put around his neck): Ya Allah (Oh God).
Someone in the audience: Mercy be on those who pray for Mohammed and the household of Muhammed (Everyone repeats the prayer, including Saddam) -
Executioner and two people in the audience: ... And hasten his return (the Mahdi), curse his enemy and grant victory to his son, Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada! (This is a common Sadrist chant.)
Saddam (smirking): Muqtada? Is this your manhood? (unclear)
NSA Muwafaq Al-Rubai'i: To Hell!
Saddam: (laughing) ... and disgrace to you. (unintelligible)
Prosecutor Munqidh Al-Far'awn: Please, no.
Muwafaq Al-Rubai'i: Longlive Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr!
Someone in the audience: To Hell!
Prosecutor Munqidh Al-Far'awn: No. Please, no. I beg you. The man is in an execution.
Saddam (solemnly recites the Shahada prayer): I witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah. I witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammed is the-- (trap door is opened).
Audience (in unison): Prayers for Mohammed and the household of Muhammed.
Someone: The tyrant has fell. May Allah's curse be upon him.
Someone: May Allah's curse be upon him.
(commotion in the hall)
Someone: No. No. Stay back.
Someone: Leave him for 8 minutes, boys. Don't take him down.
Someone: Everyone. Stay back. Everyone. Back.

There was no denouncing American and Persians after his last prayers, as this New York Times story says, but perhaps that was before he was led to the gallows.

It utterly disgusts me that Sadr's supporters have infiltrated every level of the state, and that the witnesses, including Iraqi government officials, have made this look like a sectarian issue. They were doomed to repeat Iraqi history by hanging their former oppressor and labeling it as justice. In a perfect situation, Saddam's execution would have united Iraqis, but thanks to the actions of the new Iraqi rulers, it will only serve to divide further. I doubt any of them will prevail as much as Saddam did, though.

UPDATE: Some Iraqis are saying this was part of the deal for the Sadrist bloc to return to parliament, that they would take care of Saddam's execution themselves. Recent statements from Sadrists demanding a swift execution of Saddam seem to support this theory. In any case, the fact that masked Sadr followers took care of the hanging follows a familiar formula in modern Iraqi history, where the victors taunt and execute whoever was in rule before them. It looks like Iraq is doomed to repeat that cycle.

UPDATE: Saddam has been buried in his hometown of Al-Ouja, south of Tikrit, before dawn Sunday, members of his Al-Bu Nasir tribe told the Aswat Al-Iraq News Agency.

A tribal delegation from Tikrit had retrieved Saddam's body from the Iraqi government earlier yesterday, after Sheikh Ali Al-Nida refused to allow Saddam's body to be buried in Baghdad or elsewhere, Al-Arabiya TV reported. Saddam's body was returned with the delegation on an American helicopter to Tikrit where it was buried in the yard of the Al-Ouja Hall for Religious Ceremonies, which was built by Saddam in the early nineties. The burial was attended by American and Iraqi troops, in addition to members of Al-Bu Nasir, Saddam's tribe, and the governor of Salah Al-Din at 4 a.m. Sunday.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Apologies for the unannounced absence. Things have been crazy this week with the end of the fall semester at CUNY.

Posting will resume shortly.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Iraqis Prepare for Further Sectarian Violence (Updated) 

(Scroll down for updates.)

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.

Ghazaliya:
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.

M.H.D:
Dear brothers, Please inform us on how the Shia pray because this will save many from being killed during interrogation after they are abducted.

Norway:
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.

Baghdad:
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.

Khadhraa district:
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.

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