jamail: A Restless Calm…

January 13, 2005

A Restless Calm…

I’m typing as mortars are blasting away in the nearby “Green Zone.” Mortars are easy to tell-the higher pitched ‘thunk’ of their launch, then a pause, then a loud boom that echoes through the still night. Blaring sirens wail in the distance, along with the random cracking of gunfire. Nightfall always seems to bring action in this area of central Baghdad-just last night there were many sporadic gun battles out my window.

Earlier today while I was in the al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad the US base there was mortared 8 times. We heard it just after finished huge plates of kebabs at a sidewalk restaurant. After finishing the meal an old woman came to our table and asked if she could take our leftovers.

He took two plastic bags and began dumping our half eaten salads and extra bread into them. She thanked us and blessed us, then began to shuffle off…Abu Talat and I both quickly walked over to her and gave her a small wad of Iraqi Dinars. We walked back to the car not saying a word about it.

Funny that everyone lately is talking about how calm it is here in Baghdad…expecting things to grow so much worse as the election approaches. If this is calm…

Calm looks like the military not releasing the number of times each day they are attacked…at last count this was around 70 per day that they admitted to…which means it is probably more.

It also looks like a van with four bank guards being destroyed, burning the men to death; it looks like another US soldier being killed in al-Anbar province (read-Fallujah), four Iraqi soldiers being killed in Samarra, and Iraqi soldiers in Duluiya slaughtering three Iraqi civilians in their car at a checkpoint. In addition, in Hiyt, west of Ramadi, two US military vehicles were destroyed in a rocket attack. In Haqlaniya, also west of Ramadi, a roadside bomb detonated near a patrol, destroying two more US military vehicles. No word yet on casualities from either attack, although witnesses reported watching helicopters evacuating bloody soldiers from the attack scene near Hiyt.

Both of these locations are in the vicinity of Fallujah.

Calm looks like mortars and gunfire everyday, sporadically around Baghdad. Calm looks like two vehicle bombs in Mosul today, one a suicide van bomb that killed an unknown number of civilians when it missed a US convoy, the other a suicide car bomb that killed two Iraqi soldiers.

Of course it also looks like gas lines up to 6 miles long.

It is impossible to drive for long in Baghdad without running into these…lines of cars on the sides of highways and side streets, as people stand outside their cars waiting, then pushing their car forward each time the line inches a few meters closer to the sacred gas station. With 70% unemployment in Iraq, obtaining fuel is the most common full-time job for Iraqis now.

Sitting in another traffic jam while trying to decide how we’ll work if any more fuel stations close and the black markets begin to dry up, I suggest to Abu Talat, “We can get a donkey. You can drive and I’ll sit on the back and write in my notebook and take photos.”

“Yes, that is certainly an option,” he laughs, “Definitely a much better idea than trying to steal a fuel tanker.”

That had been my previous idea.

Earlier today I interviewed a man who was in the intelligence service of the former regime. He asked me if I wanted to go into Fallujah.

“Um, no thanks,” I said, “Not right now,” speaking to him from across a small table as we drank our orange Miranda soft drinks. The room was darkened by curtains, and he spoke to me only on condition of anonymity…after he took my satellite phone and placed it in another part of the building.

“They can track the satellite phones even when they are not on,” he explained to me, “Only by removing the SIM card can they not be tracked.”

Information I hope I never need to apply. One learns the most interesting things in Iraq nowadays.

He gives me a quick rundown of what he knows of Fallujah, telling me that the military controls two main checkpoints into the city and the main road which divides what is left of the demolished city. “There are still 25 attacks each day by the mujahideen there against the occupiers,” he says, “And the resistance is in control of large areas of the city to this day.”

Who knows how accurate this is. And with the military cordon around most of the city, it’s almost impossible to verify for now.

He claims that only 3% of the people killed during the assault were fighters, and the rest civilians. I’m sure this is a little low…but certainly closer to the truth than the US estimate that 1200-1300 of 2000 killed were fighters, and definitely closer than the statement from Allawi that every single person killed in Fallujah was a fighter. Even members of the Iraqi Red Crescent have stated that the majority of bodies, at least 60%, are of women, children and elderly.

He suddenly says, “That’s it, no more,” and the interview is over.

We thank him for his time and are back on the street.

There are white military surveillance balloons floating all over Baghdad now.

Most of the Iraqi Army (formerly known as Iraqi National Guard) is wearing black facemasks as they ride around in the backs of pickups with makeshift machine guns in them. They seem like boys with toys compared to the Humvees with the 50 calibers on top of them, rocket launchers slung over the backs of the seats of the soldiers riding atop them…their faces hidden under helmets and behind goggles.

Baghdad feels restless during this “calm” time. There is an expectant energy in the air as the days tick off leading to January 30th. It’s as if we are all waiting for the bombs and fierce clashes to kick off at anytime. Or maybe they will not occur until afterwards…nobody can say.

Driving down the highway this afternoon a van passes with a man waving a pistol at cars…making them give way so it can speed ahead.

“This is our civilization now,” says Abu Talat, laughing his deep contagious belly laugh as he lights another of his terribly harsh Gold Seal cigarettes.

If you don’t laugh here, you lose your mind in a hurry.

Posted by Dahr_Jamail at January 13, 2005 06:16 PM

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