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Author Topic: Andrea Schmidt reports from Occupied Baghdad
Mick
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 2753

posted 01 April 2004 01:00 AM      Profile for Mick        Edit/Delete Post
Here's an on the ground report from a Montreal anarchist activist I know currently in Iraq.

quote:

March 29 2004: Sadr City is a massive subdivision
tacked on to the North end of Baghdad. It is home to 2 million
of Baghdad’s 5 million residents. It is a Shia area, and mostly
very poor.

During the regime era, the area was known as Saddam
City and was strictly off limits to foreigners. Shia
were kept out of universities and government jobs
throughout the 80s and 90s – a silent freeze-out of the
majority of Iraqis through which Saddam sought to
divide Sunni and Shia and shore up his control. Many
were isolated in Saddam City by poverty, and by the
Mukhabarat.

Now, after the war, it has been re-named after Sayyid
Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, who used to preach against the
US and ‘Satan,’ the name for Saddam that everyone here
understood. Not surprisingly, in 1999 he became
one of many Shia religious leaders to be assassinated
by Saddam’s regime. But many residents still refer to
the area as Thawra, a name that predates the
occupation, the war and Saddam -- Thawra, which
means ‘Revolution’.

I talk to some street kids hanging around squares in
Baghdad’s city center, hawking electrical wire
scavenged and stripped from bombed-out buildings. They
ask me if I’m American and I hastily reply no, I’m
Canadian, then feel sheepish about splitting hairs. I
ask them where they’re from. “Thawra,” they reply with
big smiles and in such a way that I fully expect them
to start flashing hand signs.

That name, “Thawra,” is supposed to strike fear in the
hearts of foreigners, who more or less try to avoid
the area. Many of our translators come from well-off,
well-educated Sunni backgrounds and have roughly the
same reaction to the idea of spending time outside a
car in Thawra that those of us who grew up in
Toronto’s Bloor West Village or North Toronto have
toward spending significant amounts of time in Dixon --
a combination of disdain, fear for their safety and
incomprehension: “Why would you want to go there?”

I drive up with Khaled and Ahmed, two young men for
whom that’s a non-question, since they’ve lived there
all their lives. We go in the late afternoon, our
windows rolled down to catch the evening breeze as it
rises.

I ask Khaled why everyone is so scared of Sadr City,
and why it is considered so unsafe. “I don’t know why
they think it’s unsafe,” he answers. “Stupid people
think this area is crazy or ali baba or something
but when people come to the area they see that this is
life. This is human, this is also human, I think.”

Portraits of Mohammed Al-Sadr have replaced the
ubiquitous portraits of Saddam that used to stand on
the street corners. There are also pictures
of other religious leaders who were assassinated by
the last regime. The face of Moqtada Al-Sadr,
Mohammed’s twenty-seven year old son who has a
massive following in the area’s mosques, is
omnipresent. Moqtada, who during last Friday’s prayer
in Kufa, near Najaf, denounced the US-designed
Interim Constitution as “a terrorist law”* and between
chants of “No No Israel, No No America,” urged those
praying to “seek freedom and democracy in a way that
satisfies God.” ** I ask Khaled if people in Thawra
like Moqtada as much as they liked his father. Yes,
they do.

There are a lot of sheep and goats, grazing on mounds
of garbage on street corners and vacant lots. And
compared to Baghdad City Center, the traffic is well-
regimented. Several men direct it at each
intersection. “Who are they?” I ask. They’re
Moqtada’s men, and men from the Hawza, Khaled
replies. “Why are they directing traffic?” “Because
people here like to help.” Indeed. The religious
groups have organized not only to direct traffic, but
to take care of security and mosques.

I ask Khaled if there’s more freedom here now than
before the war. He refuses to indulge the "I spoke to
one Iraqi and he said" game: “Let’s ask people what
they think,” he says, “maybe for one person there’s
more freedom, maybe someone else feels there’s less…”.
So we start by asking Ahmed, who immediately grows
grim: “There’s no freedom and no security. I think
Iraqi rights are missing. Simple things like
explosions, it’s not safe – there’s no rights in my
country.” He also cites a lack of jobs as a major
problem. Ahmed is self-employed as the driver of a
beat up old cab.

We visit a family. Khaled introduces me to Mohamed,
one of three brothers who live in the house along with
their wives, ten children and his mother. His little
girl has a devastating skin disease that he has been
told is caused by DU poisoning. He shows me around
their almost completely unfurnished house and says
that he has had to sell all the furnishings to try to
buy medicine for her, but it isn’t enough. He is
unemployed, and the CPA medical assistance people have
not helped him access the medication. He has contacted
the Ministry of Health, but has received no answer. He
is angry: “Now that Saddam is gone, I still don’t
have rights. Now I have trouble getting work, I can’t
get a salary. Before the war or after the war, we
still don’t have rights.”

I have my mini-disc recorder with me and I want to
speak to the women who have silently accompanied us
through the house . I ask Mohamed’s wife if I can
interview her. He cuts in: “She doesn’t speak well.”
That means no.

Khaled points out the headquarters of the Badr
Army/Organization, which returned from exile in
Iran ‘after’ the war, and has set up headquarters
in an old Baathist ministry building in Thawra. The
Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, with which the
Badr Organization is affiliated, is a member of the
Interim Governing Council. Next door, occupying
another section of the old regime compound, are a
group of squatters who needed housing and took it.
Something about this makes me happy. Something about
the fact that technically speaking, it is illegal to
squat old ministry buildings in Iraq – a CPA order
that seems to be enforced rather selectively in the
squatters’ camps around town. And here is a GC member
organization and poor people defying the order, side
by side in the same compound.

Apparently US troops don’t come through Thawra all
that visibly anymore. I see only one patrol all
evening. There’s plenty of other men patrolling
the streets with Kalashnikovs though, men
doing “grassroots security” duty for groups of
neighbors celebrating Muharram. It is 9 o’clock and
there are tons of people outside. Muharram music is
blaring in numerous spots; a video of a Sheikh
preaching is being projected onto an outdoor wall and
people are watching.

Khaled reflects on one of the ironies of the area’s
continued marginality: “Before, people, cab drivers,
used to be scared of coming here. Now, people are
saying that it is maybe better in Thawra. There’s no
explosions, it’s not an important area. People here
like to help, people here are friendly really. Yeah,
there’s problems, but…We hope for peace and freedom
for everyone in Iraq and everyone in the world. We
hope for justice for everyone.”

Justice… Watching the fires burning garbage on the
street median, and catching a final glimpse of Sadrs
father and son on a billboard as we leave the area,
it’s somehow difficult to believe that anyone will be
able to maintain the theory that Thawra isn’t an
important area for long.

* Source: AFP
** Source: WorldNet
(Note: I attended Friday prayer in Kufa, but am
retroactively relying on
news services for translation. Sketchy.)

-------

This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq
Solidarity Project. The Iraq Solidarity Project is a
Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis
struggling against the occupation; strengthen the
mobilization against economic and military
domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and
build links of solidarity between struggles against
the occupation of Iraq and struggles against
oppression in Canada and Quebec.

While in Iraq, Andréa can be reached by email at
andrea@tao.ca or andreaschmidt2004@yahoo.ca or, on
rare occasion, by sketchy Iraqna cell
phone: +011 964 079 01 379 573.

To get in touch with the Iraq Solidarity Project in
Montreal, email
psi@riseup.net or call (514) 521-5252.



From: Parkdale! | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged
Polunatic
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Babbler # 3278

posted 01 April 2004 01:44 AM      Profile for Polunatic   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Very interesting report! Hope they have a safe journey.
From: middle of nowhere | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Rufus Polson
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posted 02 April 2004 03:20 PM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Kinda makes me wonder--who is running Iraq?
The Americans have mostly withdrawn to huge military bases so they wont get hurt. The Governing Council have no real authority and little muscle of their own. Most of the bureaucracy was fired. The police can police, some, but they can't actually run a country. The ambitious boys in the Green Zone are behind wall and barbed wire and rarely come out. The "reconstruction" firms plus their security teams doubtless control the oil wells and pipelines.
The vital infrastructure like electrical power stations, such as remains, seems to be largely controlled by whoever was running it before the invasion. The Governing Council or the Americans or somebody is sending them just enough money to inadequately pay the existing staff, but seems to have taken little other interest; they're not setting goals, they're not planning or funding repairs. The US is funding repairs by giving contracts to Halliburton et al., but Halliburton et al. seem to have been conspicuous by their absence on the ground.
That leaves tribal authorities, religious groups, and community ad-hocracies being most of what's actually doing any co-ordinating of day-to-day life. With American intervention, near as I can make out, largely devoted to making sure none of them actually get organized enough to get uppity.

So basically, the American presence isn't running Iraq. If anything they're maintaining a state of anarchy (in the "chaos" sense, not the political system) to avoid the growth of any indigenous power that could compete with them. Way to do an occupation.

Oh, yeah--and the Kurds are running the north. Which is basically what they were doing before the invasion.


From: Caithnard College | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
DownTheRoad
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Babbler # 4523

posted 02 April 2004 03:38 PM      Profile for DownTheRoad     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Oh, yeah--and the Kurds are running the north. Which is basically what they were doing before the invasion.

Something similar seems to be developing in the south. I recently spoke with an aquaintance working on a medical mission in southern Iraq. He said the British and other "coalition" troops rarely venture beyond Basra and the port and that the real authority is Shia militia who openly operate checkpoints on major roads. People and arms move freely over Iranian border. His read of the situation is that the Shia are willing to give the political process a chance, but if it fails, have the will and means to create their own state in the south. Not quite the story we see on TV. The thing I find most worrying is what happens with the Shia minority in Sunni dominated areas if this should happen?

From: land of cotton | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
beluga2
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 3838

posted 03 April 2004 03:55 AM      Profile for beluga2     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
This story, posted by Cueball on another thread, seems to confirm that impression:

quote:
The town's destruction has raised fears that the militia, which operates under the command of Mr Sadr, and is active in Baghdad and eight southern provinces, is not just operating above the law, but defining it. Mr Shubari says his Diwaniya office operates its own Sharia (Islamic law) courts, and uses its Sharia police to apply Islamic punishments.

Militiamen say their Diwaniya brigade alone has between 800 and 1,000 men under arms. Diwaniya residents speak of a reign of terror, and say masked militiamen with Kalashnikovs are staging processions.



From: vancouvergrad, BCSSR | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged
Mick
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 2753

posted 04 April 2004 01:31 PM      Profile for Mick        Edit/Delete Post
Here's a slightly older report from Andrea.

quote:

One Year after the Invasion: Iraqi and International Human Rights Organizations Plan Three Days of Solidarity with Iraqi People Suffering Under Occupation

March 14 2004
Baghdad, Iraq

In the week leading up to the anniversary of the last year's US-led invasion
of Iraq, communities around the world are mobilizing to march again to say
no to war and to occupation.

Here in Iraq, over the past week, the occupation has wormed its way ever
deeper into Iraq's soil and into its future. The interim constitution,
known as the Transitional Administrative Law, which will govern the
transition of power to an appointed government in June was signed by the
Interim Governing Council on Monday, after a number of false starts. And
in spite of the transition to a nominally 'sovereign' -- if unelected --
Iraqi government in June, the US has announced that it will maintain
military control of Iraq's security forces for two years. A US general
will be at the helm of a multinational security force which will include
the Iraqi army, and a second US general will head up the Operations unit.

The announcement comes as Iraqi and international organizations prepare
"Three Days of Solidarity with Iraqi People Suffering Under Occupation",
a series of events that will be held in Baghdad from Tuesday, March 16th
to Friday, March 19th and which aim to denounce the large-scale violation
of Iraqis' human rights by occupation forces over the past year.

The Days of Solidarity are being called under the slogan: "After three
decades of human rights abuses under the old regime, we don't need to
endure any more violations!" The events will provide a forum for
individuals whose rights have been violated by occupation forces, and
their families to come and tell their stories. Their stories will be
documented by a team of human rights lawyers, in the view of eventually
submitting them to the Ministry of Human Rights of Iraq and the United
Nations Human Rights Commission.

What sort of stories? Last week I accompanied Paola and Ismail, two human
rights activists, to a town just North of Baghdad, where we met with two
families with direct experience of the brutality of occupation forces.
Ismail Daoud works with the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in
Iraq, and Paola Gasparoli is an international working with theOccupation
Watch Center. Both organizations are involved in putting together the
"Three Days of Solidarity."

Last January, they released a report on the CPA's compensation process,
according to which Iraqis who have suffered theft, damages, injury or
death of a relative at the hands of US occupying forces in a 'non-combat
situation' can file a claim for financial restitution for their losses.
The report described in detail the sorts of violations committed by
occupation forces. Last week's trip was the sort of visit that Paola and
Ismail have made numerous times over the past several months -- a fact
that in no sense diminished the horrific nature of the stories the
families recounted.

The first story goes like this: One night in late December, US forces
exploded the door of the family's home. They pulled everyone from their
beds, leaving some of the women no time to put on hijab. They were looking
for the eldest brother, who was in Baghdad for the night. They pushed the
two younger brothers and the father onto the ground, held them at gunpoint
and demanded to know where the brother was. They beat the father, who is
diabetic and has heart problems. They ransacked the house, throwing the
Qu'ran onto the ground and stomping on it in the process. Finally, they
arrested the middle brother and took the eldest sister hostage, saying
that the brother they were searching for would be sure to turn up if they
arrested her too.

While in detention, the brother was interrogated and tortured. Lying on
the ground, his head was stomped on by US soldiers, and he was repeatedly
beaten. First they wanted to know where his brother was. Then they wanted
him to name people in old pictures they had taken from his family house --
many of them of people he didn't know, in photos taken before he was born.
They threatened to kill his sisters if he didn't cooperate. Then they
asked him to inform on his friends. Ultimately they tortured him until he
led them to a friend's house.

Three days later, the older brother had returned from Baghdad and, hearing
from the rest of his family what had happened, he went to the police
station where his siblings were being held. The authorities there did not
arrest him, and questioned him only briefly, although he had been the
ostensible target of the search operation. Finally, all three siblings
were released together. But the beatings he received in detention have
left the young man, roughly my age, deaf in his left ear and with blurry
vision in his left eye.

The second story was told by a family mourning the murder of their son by
occupation forces. On a night in January, their son was returning from a
nearby town with his cousin. The two young men were stopped by Iraqi
police at a checkpoint, searched and then told to proceed onward. Then
they were then stopped by US soldiers, who first searched them and then
let them go, then stopped them again and forced them into their armed
personel carrier. Next to the river, the soldiers made both men get out of
the car, and at gun point, obliged them to jump into the river just below
the dam, where water fell with greatest force. The cousin was lucky and
was able to grab onto a branch that saved his life. The son drowned.

His family found his body in a small river behind the dam. They buried
him, and went to the US military to demand some sort of justice. The US
military denied categorically that the murder had taken place; its
soldiers would never perpetrate such crimes. The family told them they
had witnesses, and the military demanded that an autopsy be done on the
body. The family went to the Islamic Council, and received permission to
exhume their son's body. Now they are waiting for occupation authorities
to fly in a US military doctor from Washington, who alone, it seems, is
competent enough to examine the body.

Faced with stories such as these, the disingenuity of the basic premises
of the compensation process is patently obvious. How could even the most
'fair' and accessible of processes adequately compensate a family for the
loss of their son, or a young man for the loss of his hearing and his
sight, or a young woman for the trauma of being taken hostage to lure one
brother and manipulate another? How could even the best and most generous
compensation process imaginable mitigate or erase the injustice of an
illegal occupation pursued for purposes of pillage and global dominance?
Yet, as Paola and Ismail's report pointed out, the US compensation process
is far from fair or generous; it heaps insult upon injury. Getting through
the bureaucracy is a Kafkaesque experience for Iraqis, which they
frequently endure only to end up with a "bureaucratic smile" and the
dismissal of their cases on the grounds that the crimes were committed 'in
a combat situation.' (A link to the full report is included at the end of
this email.)

Equally egregious violations of the basic rights of detainees are being
perpetrated by occupying forces in detention centers across Iraq. The
Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq authored a report on the inhumane
treatment of Iraqi detainees by occupation forces in December 2003. At
the end of February, they began a 40 day campaign, fasting and praying in
public squares in Baghdad and in towns in the surrounding area, in order
to denounce these violations and to demand just treatment for all
detainees: access to a lawyer, being informed of their charges, access to
their families, freedom from torture and physical and psychological abuse,
water, and bathroom facilities.

At each vigil in Al-Tahrir square in Baghdad, hundreds of people approach
the line of CPTers who hold large pictures of detainees. Some tell stories
of their own detention, or the detention of one of their loved ones. Some
speak out of curiosity, asking the CPT members why, as foreigners, and as
American foreigners no less, they care. Some ask challenging questions,
questions the vast majority of the anti-occupation movement must reckon
with: "Why weren't you here when Saddam was ?"

The "Three Days of Solidarity" will be built around these stories, around
issues related to compensation and detention, and on the obligations of
occupying forces to provide for the security of civilians according to the
Geneva conventions. On Thursday, the day devoted to the rights of
detainees, families will be invited to join the CPT's vigil in Al-Tahrir
Square. Then families, supporters and members of the convening
organizations will march from Al-Tahrir Square to CPA headquarters in the
Green Zone to demand just treatment for all those detained.

The almost laughable understatement of the banner slogan speaks volumes
about some of the realities of the occupation: After three decades of
human rights abuses under the old regime, Iraqi people reallly don't need to
endure any more violations.

-------
Please take a look at the following resources for more comprehensive
information about detention and compensation issues in occupied Iraq:


Report on Detentions and Detainees (Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq;
December 2003)
http://www.cpt.org/iraq/iraq.php

Justice for Detainees: An interview with Peggy Gish of the Christian
Peacemaker Team in Iraq (February 26 2004)
URL: http://www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=8803
mp3: ftp://ftp.radio4all.net/pub/radio/20040228cpt.mp3

Joint Report on Civilian Casualties and Claims Related to US Operations
(Occupation Watch and The National Association for the Defense of Human
Rights in Iraq; January 2004)
http://www.occupationwatch.org/downloads/compensationreport.pdf

-------

This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project.

The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the
occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military
domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of
solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles
against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

While in Iraq, Andréa can be reached by email at andrea@tao.ca or
andreaschmidt2004@yahoo.ca or, on rare occasion, by sketchy Iraqna cell
phone: +011 964 079 01 379 573.

To get in touch with the Iraq Solidarity Project in Montreal, email
psi@riseup.net or call (514) 521-5252. To join the ISP news list, send an
email to psi-news-subscribe@lists.riseup.net


[ 04 April 2004: Message edited by: Mick ]


From: Parkdale! | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged
Mick
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 2753

posted 11 April 2004 09:13 AM      Profile for Mick        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
A War Without End

April 10 2004
Occupied Baghdad

Iraq is a country at war.

Exactly a year after we were told that the war had ended and that freedom
had been brought to the people of Iraq, the square in which Saddam’s
statue was toppled was put under curfew again. The curfew didn't prevent
a mortar attack on the Alwiyah Club that stands beside the square hidden
behind blast walls.

Yesterday, reports from Falluja indicated that the city was still being
held under siege by US Occupation Forces, as it had been since Tuesday. In
the morning, word came that a cease-fire had been negotiated between US
soldiers and resistance fighters, but by afternoon, the cease-fire was
off. US Occupation Forces had continued to bomb the city with mortars,
Apache helicopters, fighter planes, RPG7s and cluster bombs.

By evening, medical aid workers were giving the cautious estimate that the
death-toll of this week’s massacre in Falluja had reached 427 Iraqis; 1200
people were said to be injured. An acquaintance arrived with video footage
of families fleeing the city in an attempt to reach Baghdad. They formed a
caravan that stretched over 10 kilometers long and were being prevented
from advancing by US troops.

We do not have news of what is going on in the predominately Shia cities
in the South where there has been fighting over the past days, and where
people are preparing to celebrate Arbayeen, the end of Muharram. We rely
on international news channels and the internet. But Muharram began with
the bombing of shrines in Najaf and in Kadhimiya, that killed over 178
people. Who will decide that their interests might be served by attacking
the pilgrimage?

The war is not a civil war; it is a war of terror in which collective
punishment is a preferred tactic.

In Sadr City, where battles between resistance fighters from Moqtada
Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and US Occupation Forces have gone on since last
Sunday, families have spent sleepless nights listening to the sound of
missiles, machine gun fire, tanks and low-flying helicopters.

On Wednesday morning, we visited a block of houses that had been hit by
missiles they said were fired from a helicopter after 11:30 PM on Monday
night. One missile hit the kitchen wall and blew up the kerosene tank,
causing a fire. The second missile hit the outside wall of a second floor
bedroom, destroying all the furniture within. A third missile hit the
corner room of the building next door, in which food rations for 158
families were said to be stored. The food was destroyed. Families on the
block have left temporarily to go and live with relatives or friends.

We also saw the burnt-out remains of two cars that neighbours say were
shot by rockets fired from helicopters the night before. Two neighbors who
tried to assist four people in one of the burning cars were shot at from
tanks. A total of six people were reportedly killed in the two cars. No
curfew had been imposed, but it seemed that US Occupying Forces were
targeting any vehicles they found moving after dark.

"If America doesn't leave the areas, this will go on and on," said a man
who said he witnessed the targeting of one of the cars. "America is
fighting poor people…"

Indeed, this war is visibly being fought with tanks and RPG7s, with
helicopters and cluster-bombs, but the years of US-supported Ba'athist
dictatorship and the impoverishment of the majority of Iraqi people were
also years of war. I listened yesterday as a Shia man told me that during
the twelve years of UN-imposed sanctions, Shiite communities in Iraq
really had to survive two sets of sanctions – one from outside Iraq, and
one imposed by the dictatorship within. This disenfranchisement has not
come to an end over the past year of war we’ve called occupation.
Poverty, denial of education, malnutrition: these are also forms of war,
as deadly in the long run as military machinery.

This is a war without end.

There is a feeling of hopelessness that permeates the present terror. As
the number of kidnapped foreigners rises NGOs and humanitarian
organizations are deliberating on whether or not to pack up and leave the
country. A young Iraqi woman called me yesterday morning, greeting me with
words dulled by resignation: “So we are at war again.” She told me to
leave the country.

An Iraqi man I run into describes his country as a prison, but adds that
“maybe prison is better, because at least in prison, there is a date when
you know you can leave.” As a foreigner with a Canadian passport, I have
the option of leaving and a choice to make.

We drive past the UNICEF compound and notice that new blast walls have put
up, closing off the entrance to their offices. A road that was open two
days ago is now blocked off by razor wire. The young man driving the car
turns around and motions to the dead-end, a new variant on the many
dead-ends that have turned the city into a labyrinth; “This is Iraq,” he
says, and smiles.

----------
This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project.
The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the
occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military
domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of
solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles
against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

While in Iraq, Andréa can be reached by email at andrea@tao.ca or
andreaschmidt2004@yahoo.ca.

To get in touch with the Iraq Solidarity Project in Montreal, email
psi@riseup.net or call (514) 521-5252.


And here's another report from earlier in the week.

quote:
Everything Changes So Quickly: Thawra Under Attack

April 6 2004
Occupied Baghdad

At 8 PM on Sunday night, Thawra looks like it is under curfew. At a time
when they are normally thronging with people and filled with noise, the
streets are dark, and all the shops are closed and locked for the night.
Every few blocks we see groups of twenty or so young men in black moving
restively and carrying guns – members of Moqtada Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army,
patrolling their neighborhood. Other than that, the only people we see out
are lined up in front of the Sadr hospital gates, waiting for news of the
injured and the dead.

We hear tank fire in the distance, and drive past a burning US humvee. A
few streets later, we pass a group of five US tanks; tense looking
soldiers surround cuffed detainees.

"Everything changes so quickly," says Khaled, one of the young men with
whom I am traveling. At noon, when he had left the area for the center of
Baghdad, things were quiet in Thawra.

Indeed, at noon Moqtada's people were demonstrating downtown in Firdaus
Square in front of the Palestine and Sheraton hotels -– yet another
demonstration in a week-long series of protests to denounce Paul Bremer's
decision to shut down Sadr's Al-Hawza newspaper for "making the security
situation unstable" and "encouraging violence against the Coalition Forces
and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)," by claiming that US troops
were responsible for the destruction of an Iraqi police building in
February.

The exact line of the occupiers' strategy is hard to discern. Is it to
keep destabilizing the situation enough to qualify the transition to
pseudo-sovereignty planned for June 30th as impossible and justify their
continued presence here? Or is it to force a confrontation with the
segments of the Iraqi political scene that they most want to see
neutralized before the 'hand-over'? Whatever the exact nature of the
strategy, shutting down the paper was a deliberate provocation. And it has
been followed by more actions on the part of occupation authorities that
are hard to interpret as anything but inflammatory attempts to fuel a
frustrated reaction from Shiite loyal to Moqtada.

On Saturday night, Iraqi police fired into a crowd of demonstrators in
Baghdad's Tahrir Square. According to media reports, three demonstrators
were killed. So at Sunday's demonstration, when the angry and unarmed
crowd of several hundred moved toward them, the US soldiers who guard the
hotels from tanks and towers behind blast walls shot into the crowd,
injuring at least two people.

Around the same time on Sunday, news began to reach Baghdad that protests
in Kufa, Moqtada's base just outside of Najaf, had been shot at by Spanish
and Salvadoran occupying forces. Twenty people were killed, according to
news agencies, and over sixty injured.

So perhaps we should have known that things would come to this. We had
driven into Thawra at 6:30 PM to meet with some people about organizing a
film screening. As we arrived at the squatters' camp, we saw tire smoke in
the distance and heard machine gun fire. We were told that there was
fighting between Moqtada's people and US troops on the other side of the
neighborhood, and that it wasn't a good evening to discuss anything.

Ahmed and Khaled drove me back toward the center of the city, but as we
approached the blast-wall and private security protected hotel where I was
supposed to meet other friends for the evening, I got frustrated. I
didn't come to Iraq to watch the occupation from behind blast walls in
upper class Jadriya where the old regime used to play. I came out of some
desire to work for justice and to demonstrate solidarity with people
struggling against the occupation –- and I have become angered by the lack
of connection the anti-war and anti-occupation movement seems to have
built here to the Shiite communities who were most horrifically oppressed
under the Ba'athist regime and continue to be both politically and
economically incredibly marginalized in occupied Iraq. Tonight, those
people are the people of Thawra


Khaled was convinced by my rant, but worried about my safety. I was
worried about his safety, since he was the one accompanying a foreigner at
this particularly tense time. We agreed not be worried, and Ahmed turned
the car around once again.

Still, when we return, we are surprised by the eerie empty streets.
Machine gun fire continues in the darkness and Khaled and Ahmed both want
to go to make sure their families are OK. They are, though the younger
children are scared of the gunfire and the airplanes flying too low
overhead.

At Khaled's house the family is gathered in the living room. We ask what
happened and it seems that Moqtada's men took control of several police
stations and local government buildings in Thawra in the late afternoon.
US occupation forces responded with tank and helicopter fire. The
neighborhood shut down, except for the fighting.

The men in the family reminisce about the uprising that took place when
Saddam had Moqtada's father, Sayyid Mohamed Sadiq Al-Sadr, and his two
elder sons assassinated in 1999. They remember the days of fighting with
Saddam's security forces that ensued, and the blood and the death. Khaled
tells me that the streets of his neighborhood tonight remind him of the
way they looked then. This story has played itself out in Thawra many
times before.

The only silver lining in all this: "Maku madrasa." There's no school for
the kids tomorrow.

It is 9:30 and with erratic shooting audible in the environs, with no one
on the street but US occupation forces and a few members of the Mehdi
army, it is too late and too dangerous to drive back in to the center of
the city. Khaled's family graciously allows me to stay with them for the
night.

We hear the sound of missiles striking. I ask Khaled's nineteen year-old
sister if she is afraid. No. We sleep.

On Monday morning, we go to the hospitals in the area. Conversations with
hospital managers indicate that in the range of fifty people were killed
by US occupation forces fire, and over 150 have been injured. Eight US
soldiers were also killed.

In the hospital we are taken to the emergency area where we meet some of
the injured. Among them is a fourteen year old boy, lying unconscious,
breathing through a tube in his nose and receiving blood. He was shot by
US fire that penetrated a closed door.

Outside in the hospital courtyard, an ambulance driver tells us how US
troops had shot at him while he was trying to move the injured. A young
man who has come to donate blood tells me, "I am a follower of Al-Sistani,
not Moqtada. But if one of us is injured, all of us is injured, and if
Moqtada says to fight, I will fight." No one seems to expect that the
conflict will subside, in spite of the cool morning's apparent calm.

The streets of Thawra are filled with people, but many shops and most of
the market stalls remain closed. A major intersection is still occupied by
US tanks, and US tanks also surround Sadr's Baghdad offices. The humvee we
saw burning last night is still smoldering, surrounded by dancing, yelling
kids. Tension seems to rise palpably in Thawra as the morning wears on.

What will the evening bring? How will the Mehdi army respond to the
occupation forces' assault on their people, and what sort of punishment
will occupation forces seek to inflict?

I don't want to impose on Khaled's family for another night. So Khaled and
Ahmed accompany me back to Baghdad city center, where I write this report
from behind blast walls and feel sick that this is the best our movements
can do.

----------
This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project.
The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the
occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military
domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of
solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles
against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

While in Iraq, Andréa can be reached by email at andrea at tao.ca or
andreaschmidt2004 at yahoo.ca.

To get in touch with the Iraq Solidarity Project in Montreal, email
psi at riseup.net or call (514) 521-5252.


[ 11 April 2004: Message edited by: Mick ]


From: Parkdale! | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged
Mick
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 2753

posted 19 April 2004 11:10 PM      Profile for Mick        Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Our Borders Are Blast Walls

April 19 2004
Occupied Baghdad

As the US pursues its War of Terror in Iraq, the kidnappings of foreigners
by the muqawama (resistance fighters) has grabbed the media spotlight. In
response to the kidnappings, many international NGOs and humanitarian aid
organizations have moved their foreign staff to Amman. Foreign journalists
who haven’t already left the country are nearly paralyzed, reporting from
their seats in front of TV sets in hotel compounds ‘secured’ by blast
walls, armed guards and the right connections. This isn’t a huge change
for the staffs of some news channels – for security reasons, CNN hasn’t
let its foreign journalists out on the streets of Baghdad after 4 PM for
the past year of occupation. But for many reporters, both independent
and mainstream, the current immobility is insanely frustrating.

Those of us who came here as anti-war or anti-occupation activists intent
on bearing witness to the injustices perpetrated by occupation authorities
aren't managing a whole lot better. I haven't even really been out walking
on the streets of Baghdad for a week now, and have submitted, in spite of
my better sense of moral judgment, to being driven between 'safe' houses
where sympathetic Iraqi and international friends have extended their
hospitality.

The concrete blast walls that surround NGO, humanitarian aid
organizations, ministry buildings, political party headquarters, the CPA
and hotels frequented by foreigners in Iraq have always struck me as
obscene. They are obscene because of the way in which they demarcate the
lives that are considered worthy of 'protection' from those which are not,
in the context of this occupation in which one of the most common
complaints heard from ordinary Iraqis is the almost total lack of security
that for themselves and their families.

The blast walls are also obscene because of the hypocrisy of NGOs and
humanitarian organizations that they make manifest in concrete. They are
barriers that prevent Iraq’s ‘multitudes’ -- the poorest people, the
unemployed families whose women and children panhandle in the streets,
people without the mandatory identification or the right contacts – from
entering the very organizations and institutions that purport to be
present to ‘help’ them. The blast walls send a message: “We will help you,
but only at a distance, and only at a level of risk that WE choose and can
control.”

At the same time as the fear of being kidnapped has paralyzed foreigners
in Iraq, US Occupation Forces have massacred hundreds of people in the
town of Falluja, a hundred people in Sadr City, bombed practically every
one of Moqtada Al-Sadr’s offices in Baghdad and have announced that they
will capture him dead or alive (essentially threatening to martyr him as
Saddam martyred Moqtada’s father before him). Explosions resound across
Baghdad at intervals throughout the day and night. The helicopters fly so
low that the windows rattle.

This crossroads of terror has made me think constantly about the blast
walls. I remember an observation made several weeks ago by a perceptive
friend. For those of us who are ‘first-class’ citizens of North American
or European countries in a global system best characterized as one of
apartheid, our borders are blast walls. They shield us from the conflict
and the poverty that our governments and our corporations create and
profit from in the rest of the world.

Iraqis didn’t choose their country to be the battleground for George W.
Bush’s War on Terror. And I don’t think that most of them would even have
chosen it as the battleground for a righteous stand against US
imperialism. That doesn’t mean that various sections of Iraqi society
aren’t fighting and won’t continue to fight to resist the occupiers. They
are and they will – and if the US forces that surround holy town of Najaf
at this moment actually invade the town, Shiite resistance will begin in
earnest and “it won’t ever stop.” At least that is the prediction of an
acquaintance of mine, a Shiite man and an ex-officer in the Iraqi army who
participated in the 1991 uprising against Saddam. But he also added,
referring to the current Intifada, “we are not fighting for an anti-war or
an anti-imperialist movement. We are fighting for the people of Iraq.”

If our borders are blast walls, then they are what many of us -- as
anti-war and anti-imperialist activists living in Western countries --
rely on to keep a safe distance between ourselves and the danger-filled
reality that Iraqis, peoples of other occupied and colonized nations, and
people displaced by war, poverty and occupation have no choice but to
survive on a day-to-day basis. Maybe solidarity and justice demand that
we stop playing it so safe. Maybe it is time to put our own bodies at risk
in the sort of direct actions that confront the empire within its own
fortress. Maybe it is time to move the battleground within our own
borders, and to become the resistance inside the blast walls – the sort of
resistance which would effectively take them down.

------
This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project.
The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the
occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military
domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of
solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles
against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

While in Iraq, Andréa can be reached by email at andrea@tao.ca or
andreaschmidt2004@yahoo.ca.

To get in touch with the Iraq Solidarity Project in Montreal, email
psi@riseup.net or call (514) 521-5252.


_______________________________________________
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iraqsol-contacts@lists.annares-net.org
https://lists.annares-net.org/lists/listinfo/iraqsol-contacts



From: Parkdale! | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged

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