On Deadline…

BAGHDAD — Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been on deadline working on a project and haven’t had time. There’s much going on here in Baghdad, both politically and in the streets (where the real politics take place.) I hope to have some more analysis and reporting up soon. My apologies.
In the meantime, more than 70 85 bodies have been found around Baghdad in the last 24 hours, most of them bearing signs of torture. One of the victims still had his identity papers on him, which identified him as a 22-year-old Sunni student. However, Iraqi authorities are refusing to identify the other victims found around the capital because they fear fueling (more) sectarian violence. Based on my experience here, it’s likely most of these bodies are of Sunni men, killed in reprisal for Sunday’s car bomb attacks in Sadr City that killed 58 and wounded more than 200. The culprits are probably members of the Shi’ite-led security forces or members of the Mahdi Militia, based in Sadr City.
Or, heck, there’s no reason the killers couldn’t be both, considering how deeply the Iraqi security forces have been integrated into the Shi’ite militias.
“No civil war here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/03/no_civil_war.php, though. Nope. Just a slaughter.
Elsewhere, in Palestine, militants rioted across Gaza after the Israelis stormed a prison holding Ahmad Saadat, one of the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Lebanon, today is the first anniversary of the massive March 14 demonstrations that many hoped would establish a new Lebanese politics.

Radio appearance

I will be appearing on WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston for the show, “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook at 10 a.m. EST today if anyone wants to listen in. The topic will be Iraq, civil war, etc. It will be syndicated in New York and in many other markets.

BAGHDAD — I will be appearing on WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston for the show, “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook at 10 a.m. EST today if anyone wants to listen in. The topic will be Iraq, civil war, etc. It will be syndicated in New York and in many other markets.
In an hour, the daytime curfew will be over, and already I can hear the chants from Shi’ite mosque down the streets. The faint rat-a-tat of automatic weapon fire is clearly audible. This could be a bad night. Let’s hope not.
UPDATE 4:24 p.m. +0300 GMT: There’s a report, unconfirmed, that a crowd of 100-700 Iraqis have gathered and are marching toward the Ministry of Interior. Approximately 50 of the crowd are armed, but so far the march has been peaceful.
UPDATE 6:10 p.m. +0300 GMT: Well, damn. Cancelled radio spot.

“The Anger of God”: Al Qaeda claimed Hamra bombing

I found the video claim of responsibility for the Hamra bombing back in November. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, did the operation in the name of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” currently in prison for his role in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks.

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BAGHDAD — Following up on my “previous entry”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/02/aftermath_of_th_1.php, I found the “video claim of responsibility”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/al-Hamra.rmvb (60MB, RealVideo, sorry) for the Hamra bombing “back in November”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/11/the_hamras_been_1.php. It’s all in Arabic, but it’s pretty typical _jihadi_ video stuff, albeit with better production values than I’ve seen usually.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, did the operation in the name of “Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheik_Omar_Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” currently in prison for his role in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks. Early in the morning on Nov. 18, two white vans laden with explosives approached the back wall of the Hamra compound. The first one, driven by Abu Ayub al-Iraqi, was to clear a path for the second van. In the video, the bomb-makers claim to have loaded the second van with 2.5 _tons_ of explosives, but I find this doubtful. You can see, however, that they used a number of 155mm artillery shells.

Abu Abdul Malik al-Najdi, a Saudi, drove the second van. Alongside him was Abu Samain al-Tunisi, from Tunisia, who carried a Russian machine gun to shoot any guards who arrived at the scene of the first bombing and tried to prevent the second bomb from getting to the heart of the compound. This means they learned from the “unsuccessful Palestine Bombing in October”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/three_car_bombs.php, when the van carrying the main payload came under fire and was, possibly, stopped because the driver was shot.

Also, you can see that they make use of the latest open-source intelligence, mainly Google maps. In one part of the video, the plotters are shown poring over printouts of the neighborhood, marking routes of access. They look exactly like Google maps. The maps are also later used to show the planned points of attack.

Why attack the compound? The video claims it was in retaliation for the torture of Sunnis at the hands of the Shi’ite-led Ministry of Interior as well as for the deaths of Iraqi officers by Americans interrogators. They also saw the compound as a den of foreign intelligence, the Badr Brigade and housing for Kurdish _pesh merga_ and Western security companies. The attack also was billed a success in the video: “It was the anger of God to heal the hearts of believers,” the video proclaims. It ends with a recording of someone who is claimed to be Zarqawi himself: “To the Islamic nation, we promise you we will continue fighting until the last drop of blood.”

This claim of responsibility is unusual in that it came in January, two months after the attack. It’s possible the delay is because of the relative failure of the attack. Only Iraqi civilians were killed or injured and the second bomb didn’t make it to its intended target. Whether that means al Qaeda will come back as they usually do after initial failures is still unclear.

Aftermath of the Hamra Bombing


Bloodstains on the Hamra walls
(Originally uploaded by Baghdad Chris).

BAGHDAD — I finally made it over to where the bombing of the “Hamra Hotel occurred in November”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/11/the_hamras_been_1.php. The building is being repaired, but it’s still grim inside. Bloodstains still adorn the walls where fleeing residents pressed their hands against the wall for support as they tumbled down the stairs. Ceilings are still caved in. And the house that bore the brunt of the blast is simply gone, with nothing more to mark it but a gap and a pile of bricks. Surrounding homes had their facades sheared off.
All those people died.
It’s a grim reminder of what dangers exist for us in Iraq every day. And by “us” I don’t mean just journalists or foreigners, but I mean every person in Iraq. (More photos “here”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/baghdadchris/sets/72057594060666710/)

Welcome back, habibi

Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.

BAGHDAD — Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.
Well, it’s not exactly the same. I’ve been back a day and I’ve already received an earful on the high price of petrol: 250 dinars for a liter as opposed to 20 dinars it was in the summer of 2003 and the 30 dinar or so it was when I left in mid-November. Fuel subsidies are being lifted and people are feeling the squeeze.
If only there were fuel for the city’s power stations. Electricity is down to about two hours a day in Baghdad, doled out in fits and spurts of 15 mins or so at a time. Sometimes, gloriously, we get a solid hour, but it’s rare. Generators pick up the slack, and since you have rising fuel costs, you start to see the double squeeze that poor Iraqis are feeling.
Add on to that incessant guerilla attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure that has left exports _below pre-war levels_ and there’s no money coming into the government. Insurgents have hit upon pipeline sabotage as a means to cut off Baghdad’s funding, so no matter what the composition of the government — when it’s finally done — it won’t be able to do much. So the new government, which is still being negotiated, will probably be viewed with the same resentment as the current Jaafari government does, except we’ll be stuck with these guys for four years now.
Speaking of the government, word is that the United Iraqi Alliance list, dominated by Shi’ite religious parties and thought to have the blessings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is deadlocked over who will be their candidate for the prime minister’s office. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Da’wa Party, wants to keep the job, but current vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi (of the rival SCIRI party) is favored by others in the coalition. The Kurds are willing to support whoever will legalize their hold on Kirkuk.
The question is what will the Sunni groups do. Ally with the UIA in a national unity government? Cleave to Iyad Allawi’s rump bloc in the hopes of creating a viable opposition? We’ll see.
The mood here among reporters, I think, is grim. Jill Carroll’s kidnapping is still unresolved, despite hopeful rumors of her release soon. Those, so far, have gone unrealized.
I arrived yesterday and today did little other than get my bearings and plan some stories with the other reporters. Tomorrow will be taken up with more logistics and media credentialling business. Wednesday, I sit down in the Saddam Circus, or should I say, “Trial.”
On the way in from the airport yesterday, I counted more marriage convoys than I had in months (three.) Why? Because tomorrow is the start of the Islamic new year and the beginning of _Muharram ul Haram_, the month in which religious Shi’ites refrain from marriage or other celebrations. (It must suck to have your birthday this month.) So, everyone was trying to get their last-minute wedding plans in. In 10 days, we’ll be faced with Ashurah, the marking of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Iraq’s Shi’ites in Najaf and, especially, Karbala, mark it with bloody parades in which they beat, cut and flagellate themselves in a sign of grief for the death of Hussein. It’s going to be a tense month, for while fighting is generally frowned upon during this month, Salafist/Wahabi Muslims consider the Umayyed Caliph Yazid, who sent the army that killed Hussein and his followers, a righteous figure while Shi’ites naturally detest him. In other words, the potential for violence is high.
Yes, Baghdad is the same as always. As the tagline to “Jarhead” goes, “Welcome to the Suck.”