Roving in the Red Zone

Baghdad up close and personal
By Pepe Escobar

There must be some way to get out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief
– Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower

BAGHDAD – It’s noon on Sunday right in front of the Adhamiyah wall – the now infamous symbol of the Pentagon-devised Baghdad gulag. On Muhamad al-Kasem highway, a few battered cars and vans stop, their occupants curious to examine this prime stretch of “ghettoization”.

Behind lies Adhamiyah, one the key arteries of the Red Zone and privileged heartland of Sunni Arab guerrillas. The streets are littered with all sorts of debris, some blocked by tanks, some blocked by the usual blast wall slalom. The road to Abu Hanifa Mosque – where the Sunni Arab resistance was born on April 8, 2003, a little over a week after the “liberation” of Baghdad – is also blocked. It was in Abu Hanifa that a 3,000-strong demonstration assembled last week to protest against the wall. Adhamiyah is virtually encircled by US forces, but their checkpoints are always mobile.

A few minutes later we are still close to the heart of Adhamiyah, on al-Mashatil Road, one of its main streets. We are unembedded, non-Hummer convoy-transported, non-Kevlar protected, and not surrounded by 100 soldiers and circled overhead by three Black Hawks and two Apaches, like US presidential candidate John MacCain in his recent visit (“Hello, habibi!”) to Shorja market (the next day 21 merchants and workers at the market were ambushed and murdered). We are just three journalists – two Iraqis, Abdel and Fatima (their real identities should be protected) and one foreigner, his head in a keffiah, all aboard a civilian Toyota stuck in traffic.

There’s a checkpoint ahead. Incoming traffic has to slow down in front of a Hummer of the Iraqi Defense Forces. A soldier is talking to the driver of a van. Suddenly there is a shot. The soldier falls to the ground, right before our eyes, screaming in pain. He is not dead instantly. His companion, by the Hummer, takes some time to react, then also starts shooting. People duck in their cars; general wisdom is that if these were US troops, they would be shooting at random and every car would be sprayed with bullets.

Some cars hit reverse and join our traffic flow. Chador-clad women pedestrians speed across the boulevard in panic. At first we thought the shot came from a sniper on the roof of a house on our side of the boulevard. But sniper shots are silent. Soon we realize the Iraqi soldier was shot from a passing car. Abdel quips, “If we had this image, AP [Associated Press] would buy it for US$100,000.” Welcome to Adhamiyah.

Ten minutes later, we are arrested.

Life under surge

The day had already started under high tension, as US jets around 9:00am bombed positions supposedly held by Islamic Emirate of Iraq guerrillas in explosive Dora, south Baghdad. We stop by the recently bombed Sarafiya bridge over the Tigris, which links the al-Qasra side of Sunni Adhamiyah to Shi’ite al-Altafiyah.

Residents are adamant: the bomb was planted “by the Americans”; one of them says, “The night before the bombing, the Americans were surrounding the bridge, and right after the bomb exploded, we heard the noise of a jet.” If this is true, it would fit a perceived – by a overwhelming majority of Sunnis and Shi’ites alike – American strategy of inciting sectarian war: Shi’ites are now forced to pass through turbulent Adhamiyah if they want to go, for instance, to al-Mustansariyah University (also recently bombed), which is considered in Baghdad as a “Shi’ite” university.

Read the rest here.

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