This is what occupation looks like

Baghdad, Iraq — Aadhamiyah. People of Baghdad, Sunni and Shia, have been undertaking a massive relief collections for besieged Fallujah, coordinated through the mosques of Baghdad and beyond, with the mosque of Abu Hanifa in Aadhamiyah as the epicenter — we saw it begin on April 7, within hours of the launching of the operation. (http://www.empirenotes.org/index.html#07apr043)

Later on, as we saw when we were in Fallujah, there was a massive exodus of refugees from Fallujah, many of whom were taken into people’s homes in Aadhamiyah.

The U.S. military has many suspicions that mujaheddin are leaving Fallujah and that guns and fighters are being smuggled in through the relief program for Fallujah. So they paid a visit to the mosque in Aadhamiyah on Sunday.

Built around the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the moderate Hanafi school of Islamist jurisprudence and one of the most important figures in the history of Sunni Islam, the mosque is 1250 years old. Although Umm al-Marek is bigger, Abu Hanifa is probably the most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and a site of pilgrimage for Muslims around the world.

We talked with Issam Rashid, the chief of security for the mosque. He told us the story. At 3:30 am on Sunday morning, 100 American troops raided the mosque. They were looking for weapons and mujaheddin. They started the raid the way they virtually always do — by smashing in the gates with tanks and then driving Hummer in. The Hummers ran over and destroyed some of the stored relief goods (the bulk of the goods had already been sent to Fallujah — over 200 tons — but the amount remaining was considerable). More was destroyed as soldiers ripped apart sacks looking for rifles. Rashid estimated maybe three tons of supplies were destroyed. We saw for ourselves some of the remains, sacks of beans ripped apart and strewn around.

The mosque was full of people, including 90 down from Kirkuk (many with the Red Crescent). They were all pushed down on the floor, with guns put to the backs of their heads. Another person associated with the mosque, Mr. Alber, who speaks very good English, told us that he repeatedly said, “Please, don’t break down doors. Please, don’t break windows. We can help you. We can have custodians unlock the doors.” (Alber, by the way, was imprisoned by Saddam for running a bakery. As he said, “Under the embargo, you could eat flour, you could eat sugar, you could eat eggs, all separately. But mix them together and bake them and you were harming the economy by raising the price of sugar and you could get 15 years in prison.)

The Americans refused to listen to Alber’s pleas. We went all around the mosque and the adjacent madrassah, the Imam Aadham Islamic College. We saw dozens of doors broken down, windows broken, ceilings ripped apart, and bullet holes in walls and ceilings. The way the soldiers searched for illicit arms in the ceiling was first to spray the ceiling with gunfire, then break out a panel and go up and search.

They even went and rifled through students’ exam papers (in Arabic), messed up offices. An old man who is a “guard” at the mosque (actually a poor man with a large family who is slightly lame and is missing several teeth) was hit in the head with a rifle butt and then kicked when he was down — all because he was a little slow in answering the door. He says he never carries a weapon — the whole mosque has only three Kalashnikovs, for security, kept in the imam’s room. The Americans took the ammunition there too. And, of course, they entered the mosque with their boots on.

The American commanders will say this was a necessary precaution to make sure no military goods got into Fallujah and that this was legal under the laws of war. But the Abu Hanifa mosque was not involved in this — they found nothing. They didn’t bother to ask. They didn’t go to the Imam and see if they could search to mosque. And, after a year of being stationed in Aadhamiyah, they didn’t know the people well enough to know there would be nothing — even though they were told repeatedly that even the resistance in that area never fired from near the mosque because they were afraid of drawing return fire that would hit the mosque.

You can guess how many hearts and minds were won by this little operation — the third time that the mosque has been raided since the war.

Abu Hanifa mosque has a tower that is being reconstructed. It was destroyed by the American attack during the war. It is only now being finished. Rashid told me why. He said, “After the war, the Americans came and offered money to rebuild the tower. We told them no. We will rebuild the tower with our own money. We will take no money from you. You can’t just destroy this and then win our goodwill with money. This is not a game.”

When I asked Rashid if we could use his full name, he said, “Why not?” It’s a response we get more and more these days, from people who would have been afraid but have lost their fears through anger. Dignity is one of the few things in Iraq that is not in short supply.

Rahul Mahajan is the publisher of the weblog www.empirenotes.org and is currently writing and blogging from Iraq. His latest book is “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond.” He can be reached at Rahul@empirenotes.org

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