With Arkan Hamed
BAGHDAD - The new clashes between Shia militiamen dressed in Iraqi military
and police uniforms and resistance fighters and residents from the Sunni Adhamiya
district of Baghdad have convinced many that what Baghdad is witnessing is no
less than a civil war.
For long now, some leaders from both Shia and Sunni communities have been making
peace moves, but this has done little to check escalating sectarian violence
following the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra.
Over several weeks before new clashes Monday and Tuesday this week, Adhamiya
residents had been barricading streets with tires and the trunks of date palm
trees to keep kidnappers and "death squads" away. But clashes broke out about
12:30 a.m. Sunday night following a "police" raid on the area.
"We'd had sporadic fighting for several nights before, but nothing like this,"
a man who asked to be referred to as Abu Aziz told IPS. "My family and I thought
a war was happening because so many heavy guns, mortars, and rocket propelled
grenades were being used."
IPS saw the sky over the area glow red through the night, as U.S. military helicopters
Residents said the attack was clearly carried out by Shia militia.
"I have seen these members of the Badr militia and Mehdi Army wearing Iraqi
police [IP] uniforms and using IP pickup trucks roaming our streets," said Abu
Aziz, "They tried to reach our sacred Abu Hanifa mosque, but they were stopped
before they could do so, thanks to God. Some were just wearing civilian clothes
with black face masks, others were definitely commandos from the ministry of
Last month Iraq's Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr told reporters that "the
deaths squads that we have captured are in the Defense and Interior Ministries.
There are people who have infiltrated the army and the Interior."
The Badr Organization is the armed wing of the Shia Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, and the Mehdi Army is the militia of the fiery Shia cleric
Through the attack, in which scores of "IP" men drove up to attack
the district, at least six IP vehicles were burned, and at least one of the
Shia militia members was killed, local residents told IPS.
They also reported that at least 10 residents, including a woman, were killed
in the clashes. This round of fighting continued until 12:30 p.m. Monday.
One resident wrote to IPS to say: "Men in police uniforms attacked the neighborhood.
The ministry of interior claimed the uniformed men don't belong to the puppet
(Iraqi government) forces, but local residents are quite sure they are special
forces from the ministry of interior, probably Badr brigades. The neighborhood
was sealed off and the mobile phone network was disconnected until 10:45 p.m.
Electricity was cut off from 10 a.m."
Resistance fighters with sniper rifles, Kalashnikov machine guns, and rocket-propelled
grenade launchers lined rooftops to thwart the onslaught by the Shia militiamen,
His note added: "When the uniformed forces entered the neighborhood, the National
Guards that are usually patrolling the streets left. Young armed men from the
neighborhood fought side by side with mujahedin against the attacking forces
to protect al-Adhamiya. Several residents have been killed in the streets, but
there are currently no figures available. U.S. troops also entered the neighborhood.
At first, they only stood by and watched; later on they too fired at the locals,
who tried to repel the attacks."
No independent confirmation of the account was available. Shia groups officially
deny that they have been attacking Sunni targets in the guise of the army and
police. And while the minister of the interior acknowledged earlier that these
groups and infiltrated the police and army, it is rarely possibly to obtain
independent or official views on every clash.
But U.S. forces were clearly involved in the fighting. The Associated Press
reported that "Army officials said they had suffered no casualties, and planned
to raid homes to search for the gunmen." Residents said the U.S. forces arrived
to provide backup support to the Shia militiamen wearing Iraqi police uniforms
and army fatigues.
The U.S. military spokesperson in Baghdad did not respond to phone calls and
e-mail messages from IPS requesting comment on the clashes.
The clashes have continued. Scores of men wearing white robes and carrying
guns, in a manner of suicide martyrs, arrived in Adhamiya Tuesday morning and
moved to attack the Sunni Jalal mosque. Witnesses said the men fired at the
mosque, and this led to clashes that lasted until 1 p.m. before the men were
forced to retreat.
Other armed groups approached Adhamiya from three directions, but were repelled
before they could reach the Abu Hanifa mosque. Clashes erupted near the al-Anbia
mosque in the area. Fierce fighting broke out on one of the two main thoroughfares
into Adhamiya, the Omar Abdul Aziz Avenue.
Tension has remained high in the area. Just across the Tigris River from the
Adhamiya neighborhood is the predominantly Shia Khadimiya area. Sporadic gunfire
was heard Tuesday across various locations in Adhamiya.
(Inter Press Service)