Sunday, March 28, 2004

Iraq Total Chaos - Waiting For Civil War

Reason Magazine shows the reality in Iraq we are not getting on the news.

Sunni and Shi'ite leaders were quick to condemn the new interim constitution for its secularism. They were united in calling the Quran their only constitution. They need not have worried since what happens in the walled-off "Green Zone" of the Occupiers is a land of make believe that does not affect the rest of Iraqis living in the "Red Zone" which is the rest of the country. Westerners who work for the Occupation in the green zone rarely venture beyond its walls; Iraq is as alien to them as they are to Iraqis. Congressional staffers put in six months to spice up their resumes, former military or State Department officials fish for contracts with General Electric or KBR after they finish their stint. They don't have to deal with many Iraqis. In the Rashid cafeteria for military and civilian servants of the Occupation, non-Iraqis serve the food. When they do deal with Iraqis, they have interesting choices. The deputy minister of the interior has been diverting arms and stockpiling them privately. He is accompanied by two doting American intelligence agents. Perhaps he is their last hope, should all else fail. The minister of higher education has banned all student unions that are not ethnically or religiously based. He is forcing even Christian girls to cover their heads and instituting mandatory Islamic education.

I was with a US army unit when they went on a raid one morning. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and Humvees squeezed through the neighborhood walls as a CIA operator eyed the rooftops and windows of nearby houses angrily, a silencer on his assault weapon. Intelligence had intercepted a phone conversation in which a man called Ayoub spoke of advancing to the next level to obtain landmines and other weapons. Soldiers broke through Ayoub's door early in the morning, but when the sleepy man did not immediately respond to their orders he was shot with non-lethal ordnance, little pellets exploding like gun shot from the weapon's grenade launcher. The floor of the house was covered with his blood. He was dragged into a room and interrogated forcefully as his family was pushed back against their garden's fence.

Ayoub's frail mother, covered in a shawl, with traditional tribal tattoos marking her face, pleaded with the immense soldier to spare her son's life, protesting his innocence. She took the soldier's hand and kissed it repeatedly while on her knees. He pushed her to the grass along with Ayoub's four girls and two boys, all small, and his wife. They squatted barefoot, screaming, their eyes wide open in terror, clutching one another as soldiers emerged with bags full of documents, photo albums and two compact discs with Saddam Hussein and his cronies on the cover. These CDs, called The Crimes of Saddam, are common on every Iraqi street and, as their title suggests, they were not made by Saddam supporters. But the soldiers couldn't read Arabic and saw only the picture of Saddam, which was proof enough of guilt. Ayoub was brought out and pushed on to the truck. He gestured to his shrieking family to remain where they were. He was a gentle, avuncular man, small and round, balding and unshaven, with a hooked nose and slightly pockmarked face. It seemed unlikely that he was involved in any anti-American activity; but he did not protest and maintained his dignity, sitting frozen, staring numbly ahead. The soldiers ignored him, occasionally glancing down at their prisoner with sneering disdain. The medic looked at Ayoub's injured hand and chuckled to his friends, "It ain't my hand." The truck blasted country music on the way back to the base. Ayoub was thrown in the detainment center. After the operation there were smiles of relief among the soldiers, slaps on the back and thumbs up.

Several hours later a call was intercepted from another Ayoub. "Oh shit," said the unit's intelligence officer, "it was the wrong Ayoub." The innocent father of six who had the wrong name was not immediately let go so as not to risk revealing to the other Ayoub that the Americans were searching for him. The night after his arrest a relieved Ayoub could be seen escorted by soldiers to call his family and tell them he was fine, but would not be home for a few days. "It was not the wrong guy," said the units commander defensively, shifting blame elsewhere. "We raided the house we were supposed to and arrested the man we were told to." Meanwhile Army intelligence was still confounded by the meaning of the intercepted conversations until somebody realized it was not a terrorist intent on obtaining weapons. It was a kid playing video games and talking about them with his friend on the phone.

The violence is relentless. Explosions from bombs, rocket propelled grenades and artillery as well as guns firing can be heard all day and night, but their locations are usually impossible to determine, even if you are foolish enough to search for them after dark, when gangs and wild dogs own the streets. There are systematic assassinations of policemen, translators, local officials, and anybody associated with the occupiers. The pace of the violence is normal and mundane, so nobody cares. Unless an explosion is perceptibly close, it is just an echo, and nobody pauses in mid-conversation or stops chewing his kabob. Nobody in the US (and certainly nobody in Iraq) even cares much about the American soldiers dying daily, as long as the numbers on any given day are low. In the Sunni neighborhood of Aadhamiya in Baghdad there are nightly RPG and mortar attacks on the US base, and the men on the street erupt in cheers and whistles at the sounds.

Mosques are attacked every night and clerics killed, leading to retaliations against the opposite sect. Mosques now have armies of young volunteers wielding Kalashnikovs guarding them. Soon neighborhood mosques will unite to form neighborhood armies, to fight rival mosques or rival neighborhoods. (Even many journalists now travel with armed bodyguards; in at least one incident they returned fire, making them combatants). In the Sunni Hudheifa Mosque in Rasala one can purchase a magazine that praises Yazid, the early Muslim leader who killed Hussein, the martyr whom Shi'ites venerate and mourn for. This article would be enough to start a civil war if Shi'ites found it.

"We don't talk about civil war," one Sunni tribal leader told me. "We just prepare for it."

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