Civilians are still streaming out of Baghdad's Sadr City, despite the announcement of a truce late last week designed to avert – or at least give the appearance of diverting – a major bloodbath from an all-out assault on the densely-populated area by U.S. forces and their local junior partners. Announced on Saturday, the deal was immediately eviscerated by U.S. forces, who bombed three neighborhoods in Sadr City that very afternoon, as dpa reports.
Oddly enough, when Iraqi government forces tried to enter disputed Sadr City quadrants the next day, they were attacked, the New York Times reports. The Times' intrepid correspondents, including the ever-reliable spin-funnel Michael Gordon, professed to be shocked – shocked! – at such rude behavior, which they presented as clear and unprovoked violations of the nascent truce. Naturally, they omitted any unseemly and unnecessary mention of the American bombing of the day before.
The fighting is Sadr City is concentrated along a demarcation line, Al Quds Street (Jerusalem Street), between areas loyal to nationalist cleric Motqada al-Sadr and areas now under the control of the violent sectarian factions backed by both the United States and Iran; i.e., the Iraqi "government." In addition to bombing residential areas and leading Iraqi government troops in attacks, American forces are also erecting a massive concrete wall, 12 feet high, along three miles of Al Quds street, in attempt to seal off the recalcitrant neighborhoods. Of course, it was considered poor form – or rather, an international outrage – when the Soviets did this kind of thing in Berlin; but in our brave new world, it is now an accepted, even celebrated policy. (Just like torture, concentration camps, aggressive war, warrantless surveilance, etc.) During the past 17 months, throughout the vaunted "surge," U.S. forces have been building ghettos all over Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, often turning over these enclaves to the tender mercies of "former" insurgents and terrorists who, now in the pay of Washington, rule them as private fiefdoms. This, you understand, is what is now known as "liberation."
Civilians still living in the slowly closing concrete trap say they are almost as fearful of a genuine truce as continued warfare. That's because a real truce would allow the violent sectarians empowered by Bush to operate with murderous impunity in their neighborhoods, replacing al-Sadr's draconian militia with something even worse, as McClatchy Papers reports:
Inside Abdul Hassan's home, furnished with colorful rugs and flimsy mattresses, Sakran and his wife hoped for calm after weeks of bombardment and gun battles, but they feared the worst is yet to come. "We just want peace," Sakran's wife, Suham Bresam, said, her eyes heavy from sleepless nights. "This agreement happened and I was up all night from the gunshots and strikes."
Her home was in the middle of the fight on the edge of the district where U.S. forces are holed up in abandoned buildings and the Iraqi Army has set up checkpoints, and she hadn't left it in weeks. A nearly completed wall built by the U.S. military isolates the area, and her modest dwelling is scarred by bullets and shrapnel...
Nowhere in Sadr City is safe from an air strike, Bresam said, but Abdul Hassan's home was safer than her own. At home, the Iraqi Army shoots erratically after a roadside bomb blast hit civilians, and when the Mahdi Army shoots rockets at U.S. aircraft, missiles rain on people's homes.
"It's just the civilians who get hurt," she said....
Before the battle began in late March, the area was peaceful...but they lived in an atmosphere of intimidation. When women were beaten by the Mahdi Army in her neighborhood or Sunnis killed, they objected quietly and never challenged the militia....
But they also fear the Iraqi Army. Videos captured on cell phones are being sent as messages from person to person. Abdul Hassan pulled out his phone to show a public hanging of three men. They stood on police trucks with nooses around their necks as a crowd of people looked on and then the trucks were driven away and the men were hung. Another showed men shot by the Iraqi Security Forces and then burned. In the background Iraqi soldiers spoke.
"Don't say in the name of God the most compassionate the most merciful. They are animals," one soldier said....
Abdul Hassan said the videos were shot in the southern cities of Karbala and Nassiriyah, and he worried that the same would happen in Sadr City if the Iraqi Army had free reign.
"We haven't seen a solution that will give us peace," he said. "We don't want it to be like Karbala or Nassiriyah. We don't want people executed in the streets."
But there will be no peace in Sadr City. The "surge" will continue along the Al Quds line. Bombs will keep falling from American planes, missiles from drone-craft operated by button-pushers bunkered in Nevada will continue to rain death on houses and apartment blocks, and the extremists embraced by George Bush will keep hanging and shooting people in the streets.
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Meanwhile, civilians in Mosul are likewise fleeing or hunkering down in the face of a major assault by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reports that one of Iraq's largest cities has been turned into a "ghost town," as likewise fleeing or hunkering down in the face of an attack by U.S. and Iraqi forces. The latter have launched the attack because, they say, the city has been under the control of "al Qaeda in Iraq" for many months.
That's right; as Juan Cole notes, one of Iraq's largest cities has been in the hands of what is supposed to be America's deadliest enemies in Iraq – even while Americans has been bombarded with propaganda about the "success" of the surge. This is the same city, by the way, that is routinely trumpted as a "success story" in the glittering career of General David Petraeus, architect of the "successful" surge. Petraeus was in control of Mosul during the first months of the war, when he was regularly touted – by Michael Gordon of the NYT, among others – for his remarkable "counterinsurgency techniques" and peerless "nation-building skills." So "successful" were Petraeus' efforts that the current assault to dislodge "al Qaeda in Iraq" is a carbon-copy of a similar operation launched earlier this year, as Cole reports:
Reading news about Iraq is like watching Bill Murray's 'Groundhog Day' in which you have to live through the same day over and over again. So the US and Iraqi governments have announced a new campaign against Sunni radicals in Ninevah province, especially Mosul. Take a look at this article, published late last January: "Thousands of Iraqi army soldiers reached the northern city of Mosul on Sunday in preparation for what the government said would be a major offensive there against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, along with other Sunni militants."
Ninevah governor Duraid Kashmula admitted to Al-Hayat that Mosul "has come to dominated by the leaders of al-Qaeda as a result of the delay in the military operation in the city."
What??! Mosul is Iraq's second largest city at 1.7 million, and it is under the control of "al-Qaeda"? How long has this been the case? All this time? While the US press was reveling in the "calm" in the country?
Mosul was also taken over by insurgents in 2004 – while U.S. forces were destroying Fallujah. It has long been flashpoint for terrorist attacks, reprisals and strife throughout the war. And now, for the second time in less than a year, it is being subjected to a major attack to wrest it away from insurgents. This is the kind of "success" that has fuelled Petraeus' meteoric rise to his current perch in command of the entire "Central Command" of the Terror War.
But what is happening in Mosul today? Patrick Cockburn has the story:
Mosul looks like a city of the dead. American and Iraqi troops have launched an attack aimed at crushing the last bastion of al- Qa'ida in Iraq and in doing so have turned the country's northern capital into a ghost town.
Soldiers shoot at any civilian vehicle on the streets in defiance of a strict curfew. Two men, a woman and child in one car which failed to stop were shot dead yesterday by US troops, who issued a statement saying the men were armed and one made "threatening movements"....
I had been to Mosul down this road half a dozen times since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and on each occasion the military escort necessary to reach the city safely has grown bigger....
That's Petraeus' legacy of "success" in action!
There is no doubt that security in Mosul has been deteriorating over the last six months. Mr Goran, who in effect runs the city, said that 90 people were killed in Mosul last September compared to 213 dead this March, including 58 soldiers and policemen. The number of roadside bombs had risen from 175 to 269 over the same period.
The official theory for this is that al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which has only a limited connection with Osama bin Laden and is largely home grown, has been driven out of its bastions in Anbar and Diyala provinces and Sunni districts of Baghdad. It has retreated to Mosul, the largest Sunni Arab city and the third largest in Iraq.
This is probably over-simple. Attacks on US troops in Anbar province have restarted and in Sunni districts of west Baghdad al-Qa'ida appears to be lying low rather than being eliminated. In many cases in Baghdad al-Sahwa, the supposedly anti-al-Qa'ida awakening councils paid by the Americans, in practice have cosy arrangements with al-Qa'ida.
I was in Mosul on the day it was surrendered by Saddam Hussein's forces in 2003. Scenes of joy were succeeded within the space of a few hours by looting and gun battles between Arabs and Kurds. Five years later Mosul, one of the great cities of the world, looks ruinous and under siege. Every alley way is blocked by barricades and the only new building is in the form of concrete blast walls. The fact that the government has to empty the streets of Mosul of its people to establish peace for a few days shows how far the city is from genuine peace.
How far from peace.... There will be no peace in that tormented land now, because the ones who started the war, and keep it going, see no profit in peace – unless, as we've said before, it is the peace of the grave, with all resistance to their will, their interests, their agenda crushed utterly. There is no middle way for the war-and-dominion machine that bestrides our system. There is only the "obliteration" of resistance – or else, as in Vietnam, ignominous retreat after years of pointless death and ruin. But what do they care? In the words of Suham Bresam: "It's just the civilians who get hurt."
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This story was published on May 12, 2008.