Life In Blair's Baghdad

Iraqi Crisis Report

Baghdadis Keep a Low Profile

Residents fearful of the murderous gangs roaming their streets are careful not to draw attention to themselves.
By Hussein al-Yasiri in Baghdad (ICR No. 213, 23-Feb-07)Mahmood, 30, is a car dealer, but drives around Baghdad in a battered old vehicle, while newer, more expensive models gather dust in his garage.He likes to be as inconspicuous as possible after he narrowly escaped with his life while heading home in his Mercedes Benz. A gang tried to rob him and opened fire as he sped away, some of the bullets hitting the car.With murder, kidnapping and burglary a daily feature of Baghdad life, people like Mahmood choose to take their own precautions rather than rely on the police or other security forces for protection.For women, the perils of being on the street on their own are such that they always try to ensure that they’re escorted by a male member of their family or join up with a group of people when they go out - if they go out at all.Parents who still send their kids to school pick them up after class. Those who do not have a car hire busses to ferry the children home, but not before making sure they can trust the driver not to hand them over to kidnapping gangs.Sumaiya Faruq, 12, wears the hijab along with the standard blue school uniform for girls when she attends her primary school in the tense neighbourhood of Dora in the south of Baghdad. She used to walk to class but now her parents pay a driver 60,000 Iraqi dinars (40 US dollars) per month to take her and her sister to school. Even though she’s escorted, Sumaiya worries about being held up at one the many bogus checkpoints set up by militants across the city or being blown by a roadside or car bomb. "I’m terrified whenever I go to school," said the little girl.Joseph Yousif’s son Nabil, 18, was kidnapped last year on his way home from school. Fortunately, the kidnappers were stopped at a police checkpoint. Officers found the boy unconscious in the trunk of the car.Since then, Nabil has been escorted to school by two guards, members of the three-man-security team Yousif hired to protect his family for 900 dollars per month. The men, all Shia, were recommended to Yousif, a Christian, by a friend and until now have proved to be loyal to their employer. In other cases, guards have colluded with criminals to commit crimes against the families they’re supposed to be protecting. "Thank God so far I have had no problems,” said Yousif.The journey to school is so dangerous that teachers have grown used to classes where only half or less of their students turn up. They permit parents to decide for themselves whether it’s safe enough to let their kids go to school.Caution is the watchword: don’t make a journey unless you absolutely have to and if you do try to be as inconspicuous as possible, something Baghdadis have learnt to do very well. No one wears fancy clothes or jewelry - and expensive cars and top of the range mobile phones are a rare sight.Fahwa Faysal, a lawyer, stopped driving her BMW out of fear of attracting unwanted attention. And instead of visiting the main shopping centres in downtown Baghdad she now only goes to stores in her immediate neighbourhood. She’s also changed her appearance, dispensing with fashionable clothes for more modest attire and a veil.People go to such lengths to conceal their wealth and status that they leave their jobs and homes.Goldsmith Salah Hasan, 32, used to live in Mansoor, a once upmarket neighbourhood in western Baghdad. After his 18-year-old son was kidnapped and released for a ransom of 35,000 dollars, Hasan rented a house in a less affluent neighbourhood, sold his BMW and new Toyota Camry, buying two old cars instead, and opened a small electrical appliance shop. Those who work for the Iraqi security forces or for the multi-national forces have to be particularly vigilant as they are a prime target of kidnappers and death squads who view them as collaborators.Omar Mahmood, 34, from Baghdad, who serves as an officer in the Iraqi army in the south, told his family and neighbours that he works as a taxi driver. "I have had to hide my occupation for a long time,” he said. “Under Saddam, we were proud of joining the army. But now we are afraid of even keeping our military uniforms at home." Sarmad Aziz, 28, works as a translator for American troops, sometimes sleeps at his military base. When he’s at home, he keeps his gun next to him at all times, rarely sleeping more than two hours, as he’s fearful that someone might burst into the house. And when he goes to work, he always uses a different route. Aziz Ala, a social researcher at the ministry of labour and social affairs, believes that unless something is done to curb the criminal gangs that roam the streets of Baghdad, they could in time take over."If the state continues to turn a blind eye to these crimes, uncontrollable organised crime could take hold, dominating our daily lives and politics.”

US Military Censors Coverage



More Carnage From The Yee Ha Brigade

March 5, 2007, 3:24PMCoalition airstrike kills Afghan family
By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press Writers © 2007 The Associated Press

JABAR, Afghanistan — A coalition airstrike destroyed a mud-brick home after a rocket attack on a U.S. base, killing nine people from four generations of an Afghan family including a 6-month-old, officials and relatives said Monday — one of the latest in a string of civilian deaths that threaten to undermine the government.
It was the third report in two days of U.S. forces killing civilians. The airstrike took place late Sunday in Kapisa province north of the capital, some 12 hours after U.S. Marines opened fire on civilian cars and pedestrians following a suicide bombing in eastern Nangahar province.
In the other incident, an American convoy in the southern city of Kandahar — where suicide attacks have become commonplace over the past year — opened fire Monday on a vehicle that drove too close, killing the driver, said Noor Ahmad, a Kandahar police officer who said he witnessed the shooting. A NATO spokesman said he did not have any information.
Up to 10 Afghans died in the aftermath of the Nangahar suicide attack, which wounded a U.S. Marine. President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, "which caused the American forces to fire on civilians," and a statement said relatives of the dead wanted the "perpetrators" brought to justice.
In both the Nangahar and Kapisa incidents, the U.S. military blamed militants for putting innocent lives in danger. A villager in Kapisa, about 50 miles northeast of the capital, confirmed the U.S. account that a rocket was first fired at the American base.
Karzai has repeatedly pleaded for Western troops to show more restraint amid concern that civilian deaths shake domestic support for the foreign military involvement that the president needs to prop up his government, increasingly under threat from a resurgent Taliban.
"These incidents will make people unhappy and upset with the international forces as well as the government of Afghanistan," said Zalmai Mujadedi, head of a parliamentary committee on domestic security. "The incidents in Nangarhar and Kapisa will make the people's confidence in the Afghan and international security forces even lower than before."
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said coalition forces will always respond in self-defense when fired upon: "It is often the enemy that is putting innocent peoples' lives in danger by where they're conducting these attacks on our forces."
The political fallout could resonate widely among Afghans, analysts said.
Civilian deaths "encourage people toward the Taliban and give the Taliban a chance to turn the situation to their advantage," said Mohammad Qasim Akhgar, an Afghan political analyst and spokesman for the non-governmental Freedom of Expression Association.
Human Rights Watch said neither side was taking enough precautions to prevent human casualties and accused the U.S. and international troops of using excessive force.
"International forces don't have carte blanche to shoot anything they want in response to insurgent attacks," said John Sifton, a New York-based researcher for the group.
In the Kapisa province violence, the U.S. military said a rocket was fired at a hilltop U.S. base, prompting return fire by the coalition forces and the airstrike.
Two men with automatic rifles were seen leaving the site of the rocket attack and heading into a compound that was then hit by two 2,000-pound bombs, a military statement said. Rural homes in Afghanistan are built in a compound style with one large outer wall often encasing several small rooms; many families tend to share the same compound.
"These men knowingly endangered civilians by retreating into a populated area while conducting attacks against coalition forces," said Lt. Col. David Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman. "We observed the men entering a compound and that compound was targeted and hit by an airstrike."
The bombs left a large crater of twisted lumber and chunks of mud and killed four women, four children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and an 80-year-old man, said Gulam Nabi, a relative of the victims.
Sayad Mohammad Dawood Hashimmi, Kapisa deputy governor, confirmed the nine deaths.
Among those killed were Gulam Nabi's parents, his sister, two female relatives by marriage and four of the extended family's youngest children.
Mohammad Akbar, a resident, said he heard a rocket fired from a mountain behind his village toward a hilltop U.S. base. After that, U.S. mortars were fired on the village, two helicopters flew overhead, and then a warplane dropped the two bombs, destroying one home and damaging another nearby, he said.
In Sunday's violence in Nangahar, an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines that U.S. officials said also came under fire from gunmen. As many as 10 people were killed and 34 wounded as the convoy made a frenzied escape, and injured Afghans said the Americans fired on civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.
Hundreds of Afghan men held an anti-U.S. demonstration afterward.
A U.S. official called The Associated Press on Monday to say military authorities believe Sunday's suicide bombing was a "clearly planned, orchestrated attack" that included enemy fire on the convoy.
The official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said authorities believed that criminal elements orchestrated the attack because of eradication efforts against the region's profitable opium poppy crop.
He said there was "no doubt in the minds of Marines on the ground that they were being fired on." The official said Afghan casualties could have been caused by militants or by U.S. gunfire.
However, two senior provincial Afghan officials who also asked not to be named said they had found no evidence to corroborate the U.S. military's claim that militants fired on the Americans. An AP reporter who spoke with more than a dozen witnesses could not find anyone who said they saw or heard incoming militant gunfire.
Akhtyar Gul, who ran outside after the suicide bombing, said he saw Americans firing in all directions.
"There was nobody on the street, nobody on the road to fire on the Americans," said Gul. "The only firing that came toward us was from these American vehicles."
The U.S. official also questioned how a large demonstration could develop so quickly, suggesting it was planned. But witnesses said the demonstration took place more than three miles west of the bombing and only after the U.S. convoy had driven by shooting at civilian cars and pedestrians.
Gul Batikoti, 25, said no one encouraged the Afghans to demonstrate.
"Ten minutes after the vehicles left, all the angry people who were collecting the injured people and also carrying the dead bodies, they were shouting, they were very angry," he said.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez contributed to this story from Nangarhar province, Amir Shah from Jabar and Jason Straziuso from Kabul.


Confessions of A US Torturer


Spray and Pray Only Tactics the US Has Left

US troops kill 16 Afghans after attack
By Reuters, Sun Mar 4, 12:22 GMT
After a suicide bomber attacked an American military convoy in Afghanistan on Sunday, US troops opened fire and killed eight civilians and wounded more than 30, Afghan police said.
In a separate incident, two NATO soldiers were killed during combat operations in the south on Saturday. Their nationalities were not given.

The civilians were killed on a main road outside the city of Jalalabad in the east of the country after a suicide car-bomber attacked the US convoy.
There were no reports of casualties among the US troops and it was unclear why they opened fire on civilians.
“We have eight confirmed killed and more than 30 wounded, some of whom are in critical condition,” said provincial police spokesman Abdul Ghafour.
He said US troops from a US-led coalition force were responsible. Spokesmen for the coalition were not available.
Officials from a separate NATO-led force, which has US troops in the area, referred queries to the coalition force.
After the shooting, hundreds of people staged a protest and blocked the road, residents and officials said.

Bombing and accidental shootings by Western forces feeds resentment of the government of President Hamid Karzai and its allies and even bolsters support for the Taliban guerrillas.
More than 45,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban who have threatened a spring offensive after the bloodiest year since their ouster by US forces in 2001.


Execution of Iraqi Women Resumes

From IPS.

BAGHDAD, Mar 2 (IPS) - Three young women accused of joining the Iraqi insurgency movement and engaging in "terrorism" have been sentenced to death, provoking protest from rights organisations fearing that this could be the start of more executions of women in post-Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The execution of the three -- Wassan Talib, Zaineb Fadhil and Liqa Omar Muhammad -- and a fourth, Samar Sa'ad 'Abdullah, found guilty of murdering five members of her family, are scheduled to begin Mar. 3, according a member of the BRussells Tribunal. All four are being held in the Khadamiya female prison in northern Baghdad. One of the three alleged "terrorists", Muhammad, 25, gave birth to a daughter after her arrest and is still nursing the child in prison. A second, Talib, 31, is also in prison with her three-year-old child, according to Amnesty International. Talib and Fadhil, 25, were sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) on 31 August 2006 for the 2005 murder of several members of Iraqi security forces in the Baghdad district of Hay al-Furat. Both women denied any involvement. Fadhil reportedly claimed that she was abroad at the time of the alleged killings, according to Amnesty International. Muhammad was sentenced to death on 6 February 2006 by the CCCI, for kidnapping an official from the 'Green Zone' in 2005, according to sources in the Iraqi Lawyers' Union. Her husband is said to have been detained and accused of the same crime. It is not known whether the three alleged "terrorists" will lodge appeals. But while this is possible, it is unlikely they will be successful without their own legal representation, according to sources. An appeal by Abdullah was earlier rejected and she faces imminent execution, according to Amnesty International. Many lawyers here are interpreting the death sentences on the three alleged "terrorists" as an attempt by the Iraqi regime to intimidate insurgents. Two of those sentenced to death -- Fadhil and Mohammad -- were accused of joining their husbands and two members of their families in their alleged crimes, according to the Iraqi Lawyers' Union. Some Iraqis here have openly expressed surprise and disbelief that these women could have been involved in any insurgency. It was a question of honour for Iraqi men that their women did not participate in any form of violence, they told IPS. Independent lawyers have expressed strong criticism of the trials, saying they were "unfair" and violated international conventions. The accused were denied the right of legal defence, Walid Hayali, a lawyer, said. He was barred from representing the three in court, he added. "No lawyer was given the opportunity to do his job," a close friend of Talib confirmed to IPS. But the right to independent legal representation was guaranteed under international law, lawyers here said. The passing of a death sentence on the mother of a newly born child was also in violation of a specific UN safeguard, they added. Iraqis questioned here said they believed the executions, if allowed to take place, would raise the level of violence across Iraq. "This won't go unpunished," Fadhil Aziz, 40, from the Amiriya district in Baghdad told IPS. "The U.S. and their Iraqi collaborators must pay for the crimes they are committing against our honour," he warned. The impending executions are likely to increase the exodus of Iraqis out of the country. "I am taking my family anywhere in the world rather than staying here and facing this," Abi Muhannad, an Iraqi teacher from the Kadhamiya district in Baghdad told IPS. The UN estimates that some two million Iraqis have already fled the country. Approximately 50,000 are leaving every month, threatening to overwhelm other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Approximately one million are today living in Syria and up to 750,000 in Jordan, according to the UN High Commission of Refugees. Roughly 40 percent of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled the country since the U.S. invasion in 2003, according to the UN. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, the American occupation authorities suspended the death penalty. But in August 2004, the new interim Iraqi government reinstated it for crimes including murder, kidnapping and threats to national security. In October 2005 a tough new anti-terrorism law was introduced, setting capital punishment for "proving, planning, financing and enabling" terrorism. Last year Iraqi courts sentenced 235 people to death and over 6,000 to life imprisonment, according to the London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. There are over 2,000 women classified as "security detainees", according to Mohamed Khorshid, quoted by the newspaper. It is not known for certain how many have been executed since August 2004, but it is believed the figure is between 50 and 100. During 2006 at least 65 men and women were executed by the Iraqi government, including former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. (Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.) (END/2007)

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US Criticised for Detainees' Treatment


UNITED NATIONS Mar 1, 2007 (AP)— The U.N. human rights chief expressed concern Wednesday at recent U.S. legislative and judicial actions that she said leave hundreds of detainees without any way to challenge their indefinite imprisonment.
Louise Arbour referred to the Military Commissions Act approved by Congress last year and last month's federal appeals court ruling that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot use the U.S. court system to challenge their detention. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court.
Arbour was critical of the ruling, calling on the judicial system to "rise to its long-standing reputation as a guardian of fundamental human rights and civil liberties and provide the protection to all that are under the authority, control, and therefore in my view jurisdiction of the United States."
Twice before, the Supreme Court issued ruling giving Guantanamo detainees full access to courts. But last June, the justices suggested President Bush could ask Congress for more anti-terrorism authority, prompting passage of the commissions act that in part stripped federal court review.
The act grants suspects at Guantanamo Bay the right to confront the evidence against them and have a lawyer present at specially created "military commissions." But it does not require that any of them be granted legal counsel and specifically bars detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions challenging their detentions in federal courts.
"I am very concerned that we continue to see detention without trial and with, in my opinion, insufficient judicial supervision," Arbour told a news conference after meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"I thought there had been progress in that direction. There's been a legislative setback now recently in my view, a judicial decision," she said. These people have "no credible mechanism to ascertain the validity of these … suspicious or allegations."