Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fragments & Bullets

There is some kind of, what I may call, tradition in our family to collect bullets that fall on our house. It goes back to some twenty years ago or more. In fact, it is nothing more than a small plastic box in which one finds bomb fragments and bullets of different kinds & shapes. The other day I decided to weight this collection. Its weight was more than half a kilogram (I think it is something around one pound).

It is quite normal for the Iraqis to fire their arms into air in most of their occasions. It is a tribal heritage especially in the rural & desert areas. Since 1968 Iraq cities retrograded in their values toward tribal traditions.

I can recall a Ukrainian soldier, in the early days of invasion, who was speaking on the radio about what he had been doing in Hilla (a city about 100 Km south to Baghdad) and his impression about the community in that city. He spoke about different issues but he replied sarcastically to a question 'What makes the locals fire at you?':
"Well, I noticed that the Iraqis shoot their arms when they have a funeral, wedding, demonstration, dispute, football game…etc and they find coming across us as another occasion to be added to their list."

At midnight of 8/9 August 1988 a ceasefire was declared as an end of an eight years war between Iraq & Iran. People kept on firing their guns for three days as a sign of celebration. It caused casualties of more than 300 people killed and more than 3000 injured in Baghdad only.

Nowadays the Iraqi security forces convoys use the same way I referred to in a previous post (Novel Horn)
. It is shooting guns in the air. This does not mean that one might hear shooting once or twice a day; it means to hear shooting once or twice per hour. Each consists of chains of shots causing lot of nervous tension. Another factor may be added to increase the tension which is the US military helicopters. The pilots fly them very low (about 100 foot) causing lot of noise and terror especially when they pass directly over one's head. One could see more than 50 helicopters per day from one fixed location.
The other day I was watching through a window my nephew (less than 3) playing in the garden when two US helicopters flew over our house. The little boy put his hands on his ears and started to run aimlessly crying & shouting for his mother. The same happens to him whenever he hears gunfire.

Till now it is so hot in Iraq and with no sufficient electricity power, Iraqis resort to sleep at night over their housetop. I do the same; still, it is uncomfortable. Even at night it is hot. One can hear gunfire every now and then, and he/she might take the risk (if he/she is sleepy & lazy) by remaining on mattress, or jump to take shelter to avoid some straying bullets. Many times when I decide to remain in bed because I'm so lazy and considering the fire shots are far away; within seconds I hear buzzing objects flying over my head which makes me jump immediately to take shelter in the stairs entrance. Moreover, military helicopters don't stop their tours even at night. Sometimes mortar shells might be added as a 'flavor' to make the condition much worse. So, one could imagine what kind of conditions we are surrounded with.

Our house is in a backstreet in the neighborhood, but the main streets are not far. The distant between our house and one of these main streets (as a direct line) is about 100 meter. It is a street of less than 400 meter long. In a time interval of about three months five side-road-bombs exploded in it. The strange thing is that four of the SRB were placed in the very same hole. One of them went off at 7 am and after few seconds something hit the roof of our house. It sounded like some heavy piece of metal. Thanks god, nobody was sleeping there, and we went upstairs to discover a very hot piece of metal of about 15 cm length with very sharp edges.

Some stories are funny. I can recall one happened during the desert storm operation 1991 to liberate Kuwait. It was the fifth or sixth day since the military operations began, and there were continual air raids and lot of news about using chemical weapons. It was one hour after sunset and electricity power was cut off, so the house was in total darkness except for few oil lamps. Suddenly we heard a glass smash noise with some other unrecognizable sounds. At once I ran toward the source of the noise carrying torch in my hand followed by my two brothers. It was from the kitchen. We rushed in quickly to see what caused that smash; shockingly we smelled a smell of apple. Startlingly, one of us shouted 'CHEMICAL GAS'; it caused us to retreat in stampede to flee from the kitchen. Again we stopped in the corridor and one of us said 'No it is not; otherwise we should be asphyxiating'. On returning back we discovered one of the window glasses in the kitchen had a big hole, but we could not find what caused the hole or that apple smell since it was dark.

The other day we realized that an antiaircraft bullet hit the window punching a spray detergent container used for cleaning dishes. The bullet was added to the collection in the plastic box and so is the bomb fragment.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Battle of Baghdad

I'm borrowing the title of a column written by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in the Wall Street Journal. It has been well known that the party which takes control of Baghdad would rule Iraq. For that whenever there was a coup, the target of the implementers was Baghdad. There are many examples of failure of those who tried to seize power by setting out their work far from Baghdad. One is a coup attempt by Col. Shaw'waf in March 1959 against Gen. Qassim government. He declared disobedience in Mosul (about 400 Km north to Baghdad). That declaration in a remote city from Baghdad made it easy for Gen. Qassim to crush the attempt.

Another example is the uprising of March 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Saddam crushed it within two weeks because it had not targeted Baghdad, though the rebels had managed to take control of the southern part of Iraq. Nowadays the former regime leaders, working underground, consider Baghdad as the most vital prize. One of them, Mohammed Younis Al-Ahmed (settler in Syria), gave orders to his followers to intensify their operations in Baghdad. He said that a year ago or more.

It is true what Ambassador Khalilzad wrote:
"Iraq faces an urgent crisis in securing its capital, Baghdad."
But shouldn't it be something expected according to many calls said by terrorists and Saddamists. Sometimes I feel puzzled about the way of work and decisions made by the Americans.

Saddam realized that Baghdad should appear in the most polished image to give unreal impression of stability. He worked hard on that; especially in the last 13 years under the UN sanctions against Iraq. So, one could not feel power shortage or insecure environment in Baghdad. Municipality services seemed good; markets were opened till midnight. Generally, he held Baghdad with a firm grip. Saddam was a man of propaganda and media represented a very essential means for him to reflect a fake image to the Iraqis & the world.

It was expected that the Saddamists would concentrate there effort on Baghdad by causing as much chaos as possible to show unreal image of what's going on in Iraq. Ambassador Khalilzad indicates:
"Baghdad is also Iraq's financial and media center, the latter of which is especially important given that the declared strategy of the terrorists and violent sectarian groups in Iraq revolves around creating a perception of growing chaos in an effort to persuade Americans that the effort in Iraq has failed. Therefore, violence in Baghdad has a disproportionate psychological and strategic effect."
The result would be as Amir Taheri says:

"It would be hard indeed for the average interested citizen to find out on his own just how grossly this image distorts the realities of present-day Iraq."
It is Baghdad which creates the perception for people around the world since most of the media agencies are located in it. And by inciting violence, a distorted image would be conveyed:
"…by reporters, cocooned in hotels in Baghdad, explaining the “carnage” and “chaos” in the streets as signs of the country’s “impending” or “undeclared” civil war."
Mr. Khalilzad says:
"It is understandable that when the American people hear of new U.S. casualties and witness the images of bloodshed from the streets of Baghdad, they conclude that our plans for stemming sectarian violence in Iraq have failed."
I expect the insurgents will increase their operations against US troops in the coming days trying to increase the casualties. It is essential for the Saddamists to turn the public opinion in the US against the Republicans in the coming elections. Though it is not necessary that the Democrats would make a radical change in the US policy toward Iraq, still the reactionary parties in Iraq believe that they consider it one step to victory. A victory which would make the US administration changes its priorities in Iraq by putting a 'stable Iraq' instead of a 'democratic Iraq' as the first priority.

The Saddamists are eager to regain power. But it should be according to their conditions. So, if they manage to retrograde the US goals in Iraq to 'maintain stability', then they might step forward and say we are here to help.

I have not been to the 'green zone' in Baghdad, but I hear a lot about the security measures on entering it. Every car or pedestrian is to be checked carefully using very sophisticated equipment. I wonder why not extending such measures to the districts neighboring the green zone according to some kind of step-by-step schedule. Many other technical devices, like surveillance cameras & balloons, could be used to watch the streets. The Iraqis can not understand what makes the super power unable to tackle the security situation. According to Khalilzad:
"In July, a poll by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to democracy promotion, found that 94% of Iraqis said they support a "unity" government representing all sects and ethnic communities"
Which gives an indication that these who endeavor to undermine 'new Iraq' represent a minority; still they have the determination to frustrate the Americans. Frustration can be provoked through television footage showing the charred remains of vehicles used in suicide attacks, surrounded by wailing women in black and grim-looking men carrying coffins. As Taheri says:
"To make matters worse, many of the newsmen, pundits, and commentators on whom American viewers and readers rely to describe the situation have been contaminated by the increasing bitterness of American politics. Clearly there are those in the media and the think tanks who wish the Iraq enterprise to end in tragedy, as a just comeuppance for George W. Bush."