Empty Days

Sunday, April 11, 2004



Iraq-n

The Agonist is poviding diverse and sometimes exclusive info on Iraq without running to wild conclusions - as opposed to Juan Cole, at least at the moment. Juan is pushing the line that this is a general national uprising - if this were true, I suspect we would have seen a spreading of the violence to much of the country by now, instead of concentration in certain specific areas as it has developped so far.

What is also interesting, and this is perhaps an uneducated musing of mine, is that the insurgents we see in the photos and videos (especially of the hostage-related demands) all have their faces masked by the "arab-freedom scarf" (I can't remember the right name for it at the moment) - I interpret this as their being afraid of the Coalition Authority eventually putting them down and hunting all the suspects one by one. It is a sign of isolated radicalism, not national uprising.

In the first few days of the violence, a fighter in Fallujah speaking to a western journalist, defiantly unwrapped his face to the camera - and that certainly meant he was hopeful that the entire country would rise behind his movement. A week later everyone is hiding their faces - that hope has not materialized.

The American truck-driver who was kidnapped from a supply-convoy the other day was show on Australian TV sitting in a car surrounded by hooded men - the journalists hurried to ask for his name and what has happened: just before the car drove off he said - "Hamil" (his name) and then blurted out "Hamas" (the captors) - it sounded like the same word and it was a good opportunity to name the group. Perhaps this guy is not such an expert on different fighting groups in Iraq but he probably can distinguish between militant islamists and tribal insurgents by now.

Or what about this quote from NYT (via Collounsbury):
Kidnappers seized the three Japanese citizens on Thursday and threatened to kill them on Sunday if Japan did not withdraw its forces from Iraq. Al Jazeera said the Japanese would be released in response to a call from the Muslim Clerics Association.

In Kuwait, an associate of Iraq's leading Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, denounced the kidnapping of the Japanese, Reuters reported. The associate, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Mohri, also denounced what he called the chaos in Iraq caused by the followers of Mr. Sadr. His remarks, from Friday Prayers, were carried in Kuwait's newspapers on Saturday. "We condemn the acts of sabotage, chaos and takeover of public property by a group that unfortunately is part of one of Iraq's biggest and best-known families," he said.
Translation: we are ashamed of you guys. Implication - no national uprising will follow a bunch of raving bandits.

***

Meanwhile Al-Jazeera is stepping up its own propaganda of the same all-Iraqi resistence. Howerever it overstates itself:
The images [Al-Jazeera from Fallujah] prove too much for Ahmad [an insurgent en route to Fallujah]; he drops his face into his hands and breaks down. As he walks away, I call an Aljazeera cameraman in Falluja to check on his safety.

Falluja's hospitals are overflowing with dead and wounded. My colleague's voice is panic-stricken as he describes the scene, echoing the pictures that have shocked Ahmad.

"There are images we can?t show because it?s just too gruesome. I have never seen anything like this before," he says.
Sorry to point this out but Al-Jazeera is definitely not afraid of gruesome images - it specializes in gore. The more shocking the better (I guess when it's not massive/shocking enough then you just say you can't show the real gore - cheap trick). Their claims of F-16 dropping cluster-bombs are still unconfirmed by any other media though there is no doubt that a lot of people were killed in the assaults on Fallujah:
"I can say more than 600 have been killed, but the number may not be totally correct as many families have already buried their dead in their gardens", Dr Rafa Hayad al-Issawi, the director of Falluja's hospital, told Aljazeera.
Add that to those buried at the local football field as reported after the first exodus of civilians on Friday and it looks like a bad picture, jets or no jets.

***

To profile a little better the chaos of multi-factional insurgency currently developping in Iraq, I'd like to cite one of the scores of articles from journalists who have been temporarily taken hostage and the released. That's very telling of the whole mayhem (via The View from Baghdad):
Toronto, Globe and Mail.
By ORLY HALPERN
Thursday, April 8, 2004 - Page A14
[...]
I was hauled out of the vehicle by a black-clad young man carrying an AK-47. "We are journalists, journalists," I repeated clearly in Arabic. He slapped me as he shrieked orders at the dozens of others surrounding us on the road.

Two gangs tried to separate us, but Steve forced his way over to me and grabbed my arm. I was thrown into a taxi and Steve pushed himself in, too, and was head-butted by the man in black who screamed that we were intelligence agents. Because they were Muslims and I was a woman, I would not be killed, he said. But Steve was going to die.

We drove at high speed through village streets -- no police, no marines, just swarms of men with AK-47s and RPGs. The car came to a screeching halt in front of some homes.

Dozens of men quickly jumped out of other vehicles and surrounded us. As we insisted that we were journalists, a tall man with greying hair, a kaffiyeh and a long tunic punched me twice in the face.

Suddenly a black sedan screeched to a halt and another young man holding a walkie- talkie jumped out of the car. He saw Steve's press badge and yelled at the others to free us. "What are you doing?" he said frantically. "They're press." We had our reprieve.

"We are the mujahedeen," the young man said after we were transferred to his custody. "Don't worry, we won't hurt you."

We were dropped off again, at the home of the village leader, the mukhtar, and led to a guest room where a 60-year-old mujahedeen leader entered in a flurry, followed by armed flunkies. We had an interview sitting on the floor of that room: an American, a Briton and an Iraqi resistance leader.

"I need for you to tell the news," began the man, who called himself Abu Mujahed, in halting English. "I need to know why the American army is killing the people of Iraq." Then he answered his own question: "The petrol."

"I ask Bush or Blair: Why do you need to kill people for the petrol? Today, Americans killed three children, ages 5, 3, and 4. Why? Americans are all around Fallujah now. Democracy is [about] killing the people? This is the lie of America. The American people -- no problem. The American army -- problem."

He apologized for our previous treatment and told us that the first people who stopped us were criminals, not real mujahedeen.

The interview was punctuated by loud explosions outside, and Abu Mujahed said he had already been launching rocket attacks against the Americans that day. As he stood up to go, he said: "I am now [going to fire] maybe 10 rockets."

After he left, the mukhtar's family took care of our needs. Lunch and tea were served and our belongings arrived. But night was falling, and the mukhtar's family refused to let us return to Baghdad alone, insisting we be led by another car.

"God willing, you will leave here happy," the mukhtar said. "We will make sure you get to Baghdad safely. It's too dangerous to go alone."
Pretty riveting, I thought. And a hell of a chaos too. [And here is another on the ground adventure by Brits ].

***

As it is I just don't know what to make of Iraq right now. It's a very bad situation but I don't see it spreading to the whole of Iraq yet. The south (Basra etc) is quiet. Clerics are not calling for general mayhem. I hope US will negotiate its way out of Fallujah siege (they can't take it as yet without inflicting enormous destruction). Agonist reports that there are no more troops to send to Iraq without a general draft (I was sorta wondering about that). Some members of IGC are secretely negotiating with Iran (?). While we are concentrating on military events, the balance of power in Iraq is perhaps slowly tipping from CPA towards an underhand control by the local religious leaders.

Personally I was hoping that all this unrest would finally make the US admin, inside and outside Iraq, revise its policies towards a real cooperation with Iraqis. A much-needed kick in the ass that would finally make things turn in the right direction. I am not seeing this happening so far.

***

Update. For an alternative view check out Healing Iraq blogger - Baghdad seems in chaos and there is totally surreal stuff re rumors that are currently circulating there. A sense of palpable lawlessness and GIs are once again in a state of "hostile territory" which means they shoot at everything that doesn't look american.





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