|News and opinions on situation in Iraq|
|15/04/04||Winning Hearts and Minds a weblog entry by Dahr Jamail|
[Editors' Note: Dahr doesn't seem to be staying put after all, which comes as little surprise to those of us who know him. Here is his latest weblog dispatch. Also, welcome to the more than 250 people who have joined this list since our last mailing two days ago!]
Winning Hearts and Minds
Last night an older Iraqi man in his shop on Karrada Street told me, "The situation here is worse than I can ever remember. How the Americans handle things in Falluja and down South over the next few days will determine everything. I still can't understand their policy here. Where is the freedom they promised?"
This morning while I was on the roof of the apartment talking with a radio station in Connecticut, a huge explosion went off in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) area just across the Tigris from me. Not long after that, another went off at the Sheraton Hotel, then another in the other direction caused by a rocket flying just overhead. All of this was followed by sporadic gunfire to the north. Life in liberated Baghdad today.
It feels quite surreal to hear the news this morning that General Sanchez has announced the military is preparing to kill or arrest Muqtada Al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf, as troops are amassing around the city.
Shortly after receiving this news my good friend Abu Talat called me and said that on Sunday at 7am he went to look outside his home in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. He opened the gate to find an American soldier kneeling with a gun aimed down the road. There was also another soldier laying down in his yard aiming his gun in the same direction, and several tanks were coming up from behind them. The fighting was raging between US troops and the resistance.
This cannot be verified, but he claims the Americans lost 5 tanks, 7 Humvees and 30 soldiers in the fighting. He states that 4 Iraqis were killed, and 7 wounded. Resistance fighters battled the Americans in street fighting with RPGs and Kalashnikovs.
What caused this?
[Photo: Back gate of Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiya, smashed in by a U.S. Abrahms tank during a raid on Sunday.]
Mr. Alber, a spokesman at the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiya, explained the situation to me this afternon in a room at a Sunni mosque in the area. Prefacing his discussion about what occurred here, he pointed out that the Abu Hanifa mosque is not only the most important Sunni mosque in Iraq, but also one of the most important in all of the Middle East.
Mr. Alber took a deep breath, and began the story. "On April 11th at 3:30am, Americans raided the mosque by using tanks to crash through the gate to the area where food was being stored for the besieged people of Fallua. The other gate a tank smashed through was over near the student dormitory and the martyr's cemetery."
He went on to say that a Humvee was then driven through the gate and onto the food supply for Falluja, destroying three tons of food. I had previously seen the decaying bags of foodstuffs that were ripped open by the Humvee's huge wheels. 40 soldiers entered the mosque while about 60 more guarded the outside. Those inside went first into the main area of the mosque where people had been praying. Many Red Crescent Society (Iraqi Red Cross) volunteers from Kirkuk were resting prior to delivering more aid to Falluja. The soldiers entered with their boots on, made everyone stay on their knees with their faces down on the ground, and held guns to them.
Mr. Alber angrily raised his voice and told me, "I speak good English. I pleaded with the Americans to let us open all the doors for them so the wouldn't further damage our mosque. I was afraid of what this would cause in the people if they found out. But the Iraqi translator they had yelled at me, 'Silence! Shut your mouth!'"
Mr. Alber had on a previous occasion talked with General Rabin, who is in charge of the American base in the area. He asked the general if he could explain the delicate situation of the mosques to him, so they would cease inflaming the people of the area by their blatant disregard or the traditions of their religion. The general told him to keep his mouth shut. Mr. Alber held up his hands and said, "I feel the general is a good man, but has bad information. We never keep weapons in our mosque — only three Kalashnikovs to guard it as people guard hospitals."
While holding all the people in the mosque at gunpoint for 2 hours, the soldiers broke in nearly every door in the mosque that was closed, even many that were unlocked. I had walked around in the school (Imam Adham Islamic College is within the mosque compound, just as many private schools are attached to churches in the U.S.) and seen door after door smashed in, with random bullet holes in the walls and ceilings. Students' papers lay strewn about an instructor's desk, a mess caused by US troops rifling through them — looking for what?
Mr. Alber stated, "After two hours of being held with our faces on the ground and Americas putting their feet on people (a huge insult here), the soldiers did not find one bullet. Then they simply left. A year ago they would apologize for these things. Now they have cancelled their apologies. Now they apologize by stomping on our necks!"
This is the third time Abu Hanifa has been raided by the Americans. The first time was exactly one year ago to the day of this most recent raid. It was also raided in December. I had covered that when I was here last, and took photos of shots fired into the outer walls and clock tower of the mosque. Mr. Adel said of this, "This is our one year anniversary present for the first raid."
There are over 200 tons of food collected at this mosque to be delivered to Falluja. Bags of food and supplies lay in a courtyard awaiting delivery, brought in from all over Iraq. I found tears in my eyes while looking at this outpouring of aid for the besieged Iraqis of Falluj.
[Photo: Kassem, a 54 year-old grandfather who works as a guard at Abu Hanifa mosque, was struck in the forehead by the butt of a U.S. soldier's M-16 during the mosque raid.]
While we were walking to the other side of the mosque, a woman from Falluja had just arrived, weeping, with her son. She explained to the men at the mosque that she had no ID card as the Americans had taken it, and was here begging for aid. Residents of Adhamiya have begun housing the refugees of Falluja by the hundreds, if not thousands. One family is said to have taken in 8 entire families from Falluja, and would not allow anyone to remove any of them. They insisted upon caring for as many as they possibly could. This is Adhamiya.
Around the other side of the mosque I am introduced to Kassem, a 54 year-old grandfather who is blind in one eye and has a disability in one of his legs He works as a guard at the mosque, and lives within the compound with his family and grandchildren. He stands talking with us and I notice the obvious bloody bandage on his forehead.
When the Americans crashed in the door to his humble home where he was with his family, he stood up and a soldier smashed his head with the butt of his M-16, knocking him to the ground. He points to his leg and says, "When I fell to the ground they kicked me!They came to humiliate the peope of Islam. Why else? We have no guns here, no mujahedeen. They want to destroy the Islamic religion."
[Photo: Two graves of children killed in Falluja recently — a 9 year-old boy and his 16 year-old sister. They are buried in the Martyr Cemetary in Abu Hanifa mosque.]
After talking with Kassem we visit the Shahid (martyr) cemetery within the compound. Over 60 bodies are buried there, yet it is reserved for those deemed martyrs, mostly from the area. The majority of graves are of locals who died defending Adhamiya during the invasion on April 19, 2003, but there are others. Four fresh graves are from fighters who died battling the Americans the day after the mosque was raided. Two young boys sit near the grave on one of them, a 19 year-old man, a good friend of theirs. They visit it every day, and plan to continue to do so indefinitely.
Another grave is from a demonstrator shot by the Americans, and another is a man who was shot by an Apache helicopter at a checkpoint in Mosul.
There are two other fresh graves. One is a 9 year-old boy, the other his 16 year-old sister. Both were from Falluja.
Earlier Mr. Alber had told us, "I was against Saddam. I was jailed by his regime in 1996 for making pastries because sugar was being rationed due to the snctions. But the U.S. policy now in Iraq will fail 100%! No people here support them now."
He took a deep breath after this and calmly, yet firmly stated, "The managers of the U.S. policy here are not clever people. When you come by terrorism, you create terrorism."
A little later while getting into the car we hear gunfire very nearby. After driving a short distance Abu Talat asks me to please cover my head. I pull my kefir up around my bearded face.
Driving home we pass several large plumes of billowing black smoke, which I have been here long enough to identify as more U.S. military vehicles ablaze.
The flame billowing from the distant wreckage in Al-Dora was raging higher in the darkening sky than I've ever seen it reach before.