Dahr Jamail for the World Crisis Web
So far, every single journalist I?ve spoken with here has told me that they had followed the news closely prior to their arrival, and knew to prepare themselves for it. But after being here even just a day, have been astonished at how terrible the situation here truly is. This was my experience as well upon arriving my very first day. It has now been over 9 months since the ?war? ended. The country of Iraq remains in chaos, and the lack of consistent basic services such as petrol, security, electricity, and running water continue to afflict Iraqis.
So many times I?ve heard people discuss that even though Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator, he still managed to get the electricity, water, and communications systems back up and running three months after the Gulf War. For the record, several engineers I?ve spoken with have stated that these portions of the infrastructure suffered far greater damage then, than during the more recent Anglo-American Invasion.
Under orders from their political masters, occupying forces occupy almost every street corner of Samarra.
Each day I walk by a communications building that was bombed last March. While the building remains in shambles, a metal tower has been erected, and every other day a new dish appears on it. Several times when I?ve walked by it I see that the machine gun toting security guards near the ?entrance? of what is left of the building are wearing Bechtel security badges.
Meanwhile, in other parts of Baghdad there are no land lines, and I?ve yet to see one of the communication centers being rebuilt. The lesson seems to be that if repairing/rebuilding something in Iraq isn?t necessary to serve USA and British interests, it is left as it is. Most Iraqis I speak with continue to wonder just when, exactly will the rebuilding of the damaged infrastructure begin.
A micro-example of the aforementioned is that the owner of Pizzeria Napoli on Karrada Marium Street carries one of the highly sought after MCI cell phones. Generally these are only available to certain NGO?s in Baghdad, some CPA members, and a select few relief agencies that are bold enough to stay here. So why does the owner of a pizza shop near the ?Green Zone? have one of these while United Nations Development Program emergency doctors go without? So that westerners and their puppets in the IGC can have their pizza orders phoned in ahead of time?
Meanwhile, the USA military pushes further down the road towards liberating the people of Iraq using military operations currently in progress with names such as: Iron Hammer, Iron Grip, Iron Justice, Desert Scorpion, Ivy Serpent, Ivy Needle, Ivy Cyclone (I and II), and Operation Bulldog Mammoth. And we musn?t forget Operation Rifles Fury.
No, I am not making these names up.
With fighter jets flying over Baghdad the last several nights, helicopters constantly rumbling overhead, Bradleys and Humvees roaming the streets, thumping explosions and random gunfire all over Baghdad, I?ve yet to talk with an Iraqi in the five weeks I have been here who has told me they are enjoying their newfound freedoms, democracy, or liberation.
Of course the constant attacks by the resistance fighters that so often kill Iraqi civilians along with the targeted USA soldiers don?t help them feel any more liberated either. Gunmen wearing face masks, supported by the CPA, are visible around Baghdad. Men with automatic machine guns inside bunkers guard the banks. Bradley fighting vehicles loom in front of many of the petrol stations. Razor wire is visible on every other block. Check points abound, yet the disparity is glaringly apparent, whether they are IP (Iraqi Police) checkpoints, or run by the USA military. Most times we are waved through?so much for searching cars for bombs, weapons, or insurgents.
Today found me and some fellow journalists in Samarra. Our mini-van is slowed by having to follow a patrol right up the main street to the Golden Mosque. The patrol is comprised of three Humvees, a truck full of IP?s, and several soldiers walking with IP?s walking between them and the people on the sidewalks. We conducted several sidewalk interviews to get an idea of how the climate is in the city, which has been suffering home raids both day and night and home demolitions by the military.
Taking a chance to be famous, a young Samarran poses for a photo, with the ever-present occupiers behind.
Rahud, at a tea stall tells me there is a 9pm curfew now, and anyone out after that is detained, no questions asked. Another man tells me he knows of several people picked up for being out too late, and nobody knows where they have been taken.
He raises his voice and says: “We have electricity for five minutes, then it is cut. Then five more minutes, then cut. It is always like this here now. I know some people who were detained 8 months ago, and still none of us know where they are. There is no civilization here now. All of Iraq wants the USA out now.”
The usual crowd gathers during the interview, and men begin to chime in with their anti-American comments: “America no good! Americans outside of Iraq! Down Down Bush!”
A man named Kamel Rashid Abrahim tells of how the gate to his home was bombed, injuring some of his family. His home was searched, then the just soldiers left. Another man grabs my arm and points to his foot as he stomps the ground: “America no good! America under my foot!”
The crowd continues to grow in size and noise, so it is time to leave. While walking to the mini-van a man says to me: “If anyone hits the USA in the streets here, they arrest everyone around. No questions asked. How can we live like this? Where are our human rights?”
We ask if it is possible to see a home that has been demolished, the new form of collective punishment the Americans are now practicing here in Iraq. Weaving our way to the outskirts of Samarra Abu Mohammed brings us to his brothers home, which is now a heap of broken concrete pushed into piles with twisted metal bars chaotically reaching towards the sky.
Many neighbors gather around as we survey they damage, and pieces of the story of what happened begin to fall in place. The men tell us that in the early afternoon of 18 December, a large military convoy the was passing the home when an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploded on a Stryker vehicle, it rolled another 10 meters, then sat burning.
There is a large black scar of scorched earth where they point, 10 meters away from where they show us the IED blew up. The soldiers then opened fire at several of the surrounding homes. Bullet pock marks are pointed out in several walls of nearby homes, and particularly the home directly across the road from where the Stryker vehicle was hit.
The old man takes us into this home, pointing out bullet holes in the walls, a television destroyed with a bullet hole in the wall behind it. He says: “We were having lunch, and laid on the ground as our home was shot. There was nothing else we could do.”
He told us that soldiers raided the home, searched it, then occupied it until nightfall: “They just stayed here to scare us, there is not other reason. I am afraid of them. They demanded information that we do not have,” he says.
The troops left at nightfall. Four days later tanks and bulldozers arrived, with the tanks sealing off the area, and the bulldozers demolished the home near the IED which was under construction.
The neighbors asked them why they were doing this to an empty home. The soldiers told them: “We are just following orders.”
’Just following orders’ ? the excuse of war criminals down the centuries, has left the home of Abu Mohammad’s brother in ruins.
Another home a little way down the road was demolished as well by the bulldozer, after the family was forced outside, carrying the few valuables they could.
We leave this area, and shortly thereafter come upon a large group of Stryker vehicles. They have sealed off a section of town, and we saw troops walking down several of the streets. The soldiers were helpful when we asked for information, in that they were cordial and brought us inside a perimeter of Strykers while we awaited the commander who was said to be on his way to answer our questions.
One of the soldiers talking to us is looking around nervously, sometimes not finishing his sentences. He does go on to tell us that two Stryker vehicles have been destroyed here in the last few weeks, and they were a freshly deployed group, having only arrived in
the first week of December. He somberly tells us that they had already lost five soldiers from their brigade here.
He is asked how they can tell the enemy from the civilians. His face hardens somewhat, and he says: “We can?t. All I can do is stay sharp and hope for the best. I just want to complete my mission and get out of here.”
Two helicopters constantly circle us, apparently giving air support to this operation in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I look around and watch soldiers constantly scanning the distance and the cars that slowly pass by. I try to put myself in their shoes, guessing which vehicle could be a suicide bomber-and I have no idea how to tell the difference from all of the beat up cars, or any of the men walking past wearing Kifirs.
I ask him when he will get to go home: “I don?t have any idea. I just get through today, and maybe think about the next few days, but that?s it. I try not to think about it too much.”
I ask him: “Do you get any days off? How many hours a day do you do this?” “We got a few hours off on Christmas. We?re always on the move,” he replies.
A woman soldier, along with a man from Oakland ask us what is going on in the world, as they have no email or phone access. They have no idea what is going on anywhere in Iraq, or outside of Iraq. Only what they are doing in Samarra. One of them asks what Baghdad is like.
The commander who was to answer our questions never shows up, so we drive away. Leaving Samarra as the sun sets finds us passing walls along the side of the road with graffiti that says:
“All the spies will die!”
“Fall down America!”
“God will protect the Mujahideen.”
Dahr Jamail, is an independent journalist from Anchorage, Alaska, reporting direct from Iraq. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
An original publication for the World Crisis Web.