On Tuesday, June 13th, while Mr. Bush spent a brave five hours in the “green zone” of Baghdad with puppet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, at least 36 people were killed across Iraq amidst a wave of bombings. 18 of those died in a spasm of bombings in the oil city of Kirkuk in the Kurdish north.
The minute word hit the streets in Baghdad of Bush’s visit, over 2,000 supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets in protest. The protestors chanted “Iraq is for the Iraqis,” and Sadr aide Hazem al-Araji publicly condemned the peek-a-boo visit of who he referred to as “the leader of the occupation.”
The very next day, not coincidentally, Maliki instituted the biggest security crackdown in the capital city since the US invaded Iraq, dubbed “Operation Forward Together.” An estimated 75,000 US and Iraqi soldiers clogged the already seriously congested streets of Baghdad, using tanks and armored vehicles to man checkpoints, impose a more strict curfew in liberated Baghdad (9 p.m. – 6 a.m. as opposed to the more generous 11 p.m. – 6 a.m.) and attempt to impose a weapons ban.
Just after “The Operation” began, a car bomb detonated, killing one person while wounding five others. Major General Mahdi al-Gharrawi who commands “public order forces” under the deadly umbrella of the controversial Interior Ministry, made a statement for which George Orwell would have been proud: “Baghdad is divided according to geographical area, and we know the al-Qaeda leaders in each area,” he told reporters. “We are expecting clashes will erupt in the predominantly Sunni areas.” So Sunnis in Iraq, according to Gharrawi, are tied to al-Qaeda.
Lest we forget, the Iraqi “army” ran a similar draconian security crackdown in Baghdad in May 2005 called “Operation Lightning.” That one, too, was tens of thousands of Iraqi “police” and “soldiers” backed by American troops and air support. That operation, rather than quell violence in the capital, effectively alienated the Sunni populations in the city due to rampant death squad activities, mass detentions and heavy-handed tactics. Civilians across Baghdad complained about the mass detentions, random violence and torture meted out by the death squads during that “operation.” And we see how well that operation managed to improve security in Baghdad over the last year.
So here we go again – only this time with even more troops, raiding even more homes, manning more checkpoints, and of course more death squads operating – with backup support from American soldiers, and of course their air strikes.
Iraq’s puppet prime minister, in an effort to sooth the fear in the hearts of Baghdad’s residents who are concerned about more detentions, random violence and “torture by electric drill” which the US-backed Shia death squads prefer with their victims, told reporters of the operation, “The raids during this plan will be very tough … because there will be no mercy towards those who show no mercy to our people.”
The same day “Operation Forward Together” began and the day after Bush bid farewell to Baghdad, he dismissed calls for a US withdrawal as “election-year” politics. Refusing to give a timetable for withdrawal or some kind of benchmark with which to measure success that may allow troops to be brought home, Bush said simply, “It’s bad policy,” at a news conference in the Rose Garden. He thought it would “endanger our country” to pull out of Iraq before we “accomplish the mission.” Of his visit to Baghdad, Bush said, “I sense something different happening in Iraq.”
While pounding his fist on the podium set up for him at the press conference, Bush proudly repeated his mantra of propaganda: “If the United States of America leaves before this Iraqi government can defend itself and sustain itself and govern itself, it will be a major blow in the war on terror.”
That morning the Pentagon announced the death of the 2,500th US soldier in Iraq.
Meanwhile, back in liberated Baghdad, also on that same day, I received an email from a very close friend of mine. It is a sobering glimpse into “Operation Forward Together” and what Bush alluded to when he said, “I sense something different happening in Iraq.”
â€œHabibi, we are divided in three houses today. I am at our home in Adhamiya. My wife and two youngest boys are at her sister’s house in Bab Al-Moudam because it’s safer for them. It’s a mixed Sunni and Shia area, so there are no detentions. Our daughter is with her husband in their home, and my oldest son is at his house with his wife and baby, although he is not in a safe area. There is often fighting there, but not too many detentions. Today Adhamiya is totally under occupation since early morning. None of the shops are open, the soldiers are holding up all cars and searching them, and home raids are happening. The city is a city of ghosts. This situation is the same in all the Sunni areas. Checkpoints are all over Baghdad, the highways between Baghdad and the other cities are all closed and nobody can go on them. The airports are closed, and no flights are coming in or out of Baghdad.
We cannot leave the country until the beginning of next month. By the way, three of my son’s friends were killed by explosions two days ago while they were having fruits in the market. He came home crying because of that. The situation is very bad. The son of Abdul Sattar Al Kubaisy, who is in the Ministry of Interior, has been kidnapped from inside the Ministry. He was found in one of the trash cans outside the Ministry of Interior building … so even the offices of the government are no longer safe!!!
God is with us insh’allah [God willing].â€
On Friday, the second day of “Operation Forward Together,” a hospital source in Fallujah reported that 8 Iraqis, some of whom were women and children from the same family, were killed and six wounded when US warplanes bombed a home in the northeastern Ibrahim Bin Ali district of the city.
That same day, a story titled “Shiite Militias Control Prisons, Officials Say,” was released by the Washington Post Foreign Service.
The story reads, “Iraq’s prison system is overrun with Shiite Muslim militiamen who have freed fellow militia members convicted of major crimes and executed Sunni Arab inmates, the country’s deputy justice minister said in an interview.” We cannot control the prisons. It’s as simple as that, said the deputy minister, Pusho Ibrahim Ali Daza Yei, an ethnic Kurd. “Our jails are infiltrated by the militias from top to bottom, from Basra to Baghdad.”
The story continued, “In an interview this week, Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobaie, the top Sunni Arab in Iraq’s new government, showed photographs taken from one recent inspection of an Interior Ministry detention center.
An inmate in one of the photos held out his misshapen, limp hands for the camera. The man’s hands had been broken in a beating, Zobaie said. Other inmates showed massive, dark bruises on their skin; one bore a large, open infected sore. Inmates in another photo clustered around chains hung from the middle of one of the crowded cells. The chains were used to hoist prisoners by their bound hands, Zobaie said. The practice, noted frequently in inspection reports of Interior Ministry detention centers, often results in the dislocation of prisoners’ shoulders.
Ninety percent of the men crowded into Interior Ministry detention centers are Sunni Arabs, Zobaie said.
On Saturday, according to the same Washington Post story, “A group of parliament members paid a surprise visit to a detention facility run by the Interior Ministry in Baqubah, north of Baghdad. “We have found terrible violations of the law,” said Muhammed al-Dayni, a Sunni parliament member, who said as many as 120 detainees were packed into a 35-by-20-foot cell. “They told us that they’ve been raped,” Dayni said. “Their families were called in and tortured to force the detainees to testify against other people.”
“The detention facilities of the ministries of Defense and Interior are places for the most brutal human rights abuse,” he added.
Despite broad US efforts to encourage the Iraqi government to improve conditions in prisons, the problem of militia control could prove particularly intractable. Shiite militias such as the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are backed by dozens of members of parliament whose political parties run the armed groups.
“You can’t even talk to the militias, because they are the government,” Yei said. “They have ministers on their side.”
The evening of Day Three, two US soldiers were detained by resistance fighters just south of Baghdad. With a Bush administration that openly advocates the use of torture and props up a Shia Prime Minister in Iraq who says things like “there will be no mercy” when referencing his new “security operation,” their fate is indeed a dark one.
On Saturday, the third day of “Operation Forward Together,” at least 40 people were killed, and over 80 wounded amidst a rash of bomb and mortar attacks, most of which took place in Baghdad. The deadliest attack occurred at an Iraqi police checkpoint, while another car bomb targeting the Iraqi army and police killed another 11 people. Meanwhile, 15 others were wounded at a joint Iraqi army and police checkpoint, also in Baghdad.
Gunmen kidnap 10 bakery workers from a predominantly Shia neighborhood in Baghdad. 10 bullet-riddled bodies of men who had apparently been tortured were also found in Baghdad. A mortar round hit al-Sadiq University on Palestine Street in the capital city – five students and one teacher are wounded. The US military continues to search in vain for its two missing soldiers. Residents continue to stream out of the capital city of al-Anbar province, Ramadi, due to the threat of an all-out US assault on the city. Thousands of the refugees are wandering around the province with nowhere to go.
Coming Days, Weeks, Months, Years?
With Operation Forward Together off to a dazzling beginning, how long will the occupation be allowed to continue? Each passing day only brings the people of Iraq and soldiers serving in the US military deeper into the quagmire that the brutal, despicable, tortured occupation has become.
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service, Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.