Archive for Monday, July 7, 2008

Baghdad residents see glimmer of hope

July 7, 2008


Whenever I am trying to get a glimpse of what's happening at street level in Baghdad, I call my friend Abbas.

He is a driver and businessman, and a member of a large Shiite clan from a Baghdad neighborhood called Hay Salaam. A man of wide girth and robust laugh, he comes from a family in which Shiites have intermarried with Sunnis. He is shrewd and tough, with a sharp sense of humor that has survived events Americans can't even imagine.

His uncle was hanged by Saddam Hussein, and a close relative was killed by militiamen after Hussein fell. He has been receiving written death threats. When I asked if he was scared, he replied: "When I get through every day I say al-hamdulillah (thanks to God), I am OK."

Yet, in three recent phone conversations, he sounded more hopeful about Iraq's future than I'd heard him in a long time.

Why hopeful? Because he finally sees some order returning to Baghdad. The Mahdi Army, the militia of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has been expelled from his neighborhood. "The Iraqi people are waking up from the Mahdi Army," he told me. "Iraqis know now that they are criminals."

The story of Hay Salaam offers a microcosm of the positive changes in Baghdad recently and the dangers that remain.

Hay Salaam is a small, predominantly Shiite neighborhood that was fairly stable after the fall of Baghdad. But, after al-Qaida in Iraq blew up a sacred Shiite shrine in February 2006, the Mahdi Army began taking revenge on Sunnis. The militia expelled tens of thousands from swaths of Baghdad; it tortured and murdered additional thousands. Members of the group shook down merchants and even controlled the sale of gasoline and cooking gas.

In Hay Salaam, Mahdi Army thugs from outside the neighborhood killed 19 Sunnis and two Shiite women who protested the slayings. Abbas was furious and looking for a way to fight back.

His opportunity came when Gen. David H. Petraeus shifted the U.S. strategy for securing Baghdad and Iraq. As Sunni attacks on Shiites lessened, the Shiites felt less need for protection from the Mahdi Army and began to chafe at its shakedowns.

Abbas and his neighbors began tipping off U.S. soldiers to the location of Mahdi Army killers. That's when Abbas started getting threats. He never leaves home without being surrounded by armed relatives.

Another turning point came in April. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent the Iraqi army to attack Shiite militias who controlled Iraq's second-largest city, Basra. Although the attack initially foundered, U.S. and British support enabled al-Maliki to recover, and al-Sadr's forces faded away. "After the battle of Basra, everything is changed," Abbas told me. "Now Iraqi citizens believe in the Iraqi army, not like before."

But despite Basra, Hay Salaam was still in danger. So, in May, Abbas organized 300 people in his neighborhood, 70 percent Sunnis and 30 percent Shiites, who asked the government if they could form a neighborhood militia. Instead, Abbas was introduced to Maj. Gen. Mizher al-Azawi, commander of the 11th Iraqi Army Division, which had just pushed the Mahdi Army out of much of its stronghold in Sadr City, a huge Shiite slum in Baghdad.

"Azawi sent 100 men to our neighborhood," Abbas told me. Tipped by locals, the Iraqi soldiers arrested many Mahdi Army members and seized thousands of guns. Last week, Iraqi army soldiers visited houses in Hay Salaam from which Sunnis had been driven out; they gave Shiite squatters a week to vacate. Sunni families will be invited to return.

It is important not to get carried away by this good news.

Hay Salaam may be special, a tight neighborhood where a local leader like Abbas has made good things happen. The Mahdi Army retains support among the poor. In an adjacent Shiite neighborhood called Hurriyah, Shiite militiamen last week exploded a car bomb and tried to blame Sunnis for the carnage; their aim was to prevent expelled Sunnis from returning home.

The Iraqi government may not be capable of building on its new popularity. It has no overall plan to resettle four million Iraqis displaced by sectarian violence. Abbas is still in danger; he wanted me to use his full name, but I wouldn't dare.

Yet the Hay Salaam story does reflect the weariness of Baghdadis - both Sunnis and Shiites - with militia violence. Perhaps the civil war is almost over. "People have woken up," Abbas told me. Let's hope.

- Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

To squeeze a story like this out of Ms. Rubin, who begrudgingly acknowledges what is in actuality remarkable nationwide progress in the Iraqi government's ever more successful pacification efforts, is no mean feat. She will be vilified by the moronic leftist websites for writing this piece, although in truth it could have been even more positive than it was. Perhaps she will consider writing another truthful piece, and again be vilified by leftists who do not deal in truth, on the fact that our government has just successfully completed the secret shipment of 550 metric tons of Saddam's yellowcake uranium out of Iraq (J-W, 6-6-08), a key ingredient in his nuclear weapons program that we interdicted as part of our liberation of the country.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

The "success" you want to claim is nothing more than a standoff because of the ethnic cleansing that has created at least 4 million refugees (relatively speaking, this would be the equivalent of 50 million refugees in this country if we had been invaded and occupied.) Until refugees can returned home, there will be no peace, no normal life, and both the Iraqi government and the US have conceded that there is no conceivable way that those refugees can return in any significant numbers."a key ingredient in his nuclear weapons program that we interdicted "A weapons program that hasn't been doing anything since at least 1991, and probably much longer than that.

Satirical 9 years, 10 months ago

Typical liberal response to good news in Iraq - How can you believe a story like this coming from individuals who actualy live in Iraq? This is just right wing neo-con propoganda. It may be getting better every single day and the violence has dropped 80% from a year ago, but people still die there, unlike in the the rest of the world where violence never occurs. Since I believe it will eventually get worse, even though all signs indicate it is getting better, we should immediately withdrawl. And if you refute that argument I will change topics and talk about how Bush got us into the war.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Screed, the bar has been moving for many months now. They're trying to hide it, but it's clearly occurred. The most entertaining piece of this is the Dems' pre-cut strategy that's waiting in place for the capture of Osama bin Laden: It will be an about face from "Why hasn't Bush caught him" to "Glad we got him, but hey, he wasn't that much of a danger anyway since no attacks against us have occurred since 9-11." Pelosi et al. have this response locked, loaded, ready and waiting - although they're going to be privately devastated should this occur before the November election.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Illogic sound, this article could have presented a considerably more complete and positive picture than it did, but the fact that it was at least partially positive is cautiously encouraging to rational thinkers who don't troll on the garbage spewed out by far-left websites all day - if you knew what you were talking about, you would know that things in Iraq are on the whole much better than is generally reported by most of the news media in America. Our servicemen and women have very deeply resented for some time the virtually non-existent or half-hearted reporting in this country about their successes - each such success constituting an arrow to the hearts of those who hate America, including those who call themselves Americans but wish for the worst in Iraq solely for partisan political gain.

chet_larock 9 years, 10 months ago

i'm excited about the progress because as soon as we're out of iraq, we can bring freedom to iran.

chet_larock 9 years, 10 months ago

whatev, logic. trudy has been pretty objective throughout, thereby making her a leftist nut. you can't take anything away from this story other than GWB is a genius. go ahead and admit it now.

Satirical 9 years, 10 months ago

Logicsound04:You should not be surprise that I did not discuss typical far-right responses because I don't pretend to be non-partisan, although I don't always agree with far-right. "optimism, yes. Celebration, no"I think, given the previous level of violence in Iraq, the amount of progress should be celebrated. That does not mean the job is done, far from it; but just like you can celebrate a good inning in baseball even if the game is not over, this too should be cause for tempered celebration because it likely means that more service men and women can continue to come home.It is not unlike bozo to always look at the negative aspects. I am aware of what needs to be done, but unlike him, I am not a pessimist simply to promote my political ideology and refuse to acknowledge facts.":you flippantly act like the events in Iraq are not terribly different from the rest of the world:"I did not state that events in Iraq are the same as the rest of the world, but it is important to note there is violence in every nation, so bozo's pessimism (which is exremely predictable) regarding the violence in Iraq, comes a grain of salt."But you can't seem to enjoy the success without also having to wallow in some perceived righteousness over the Left about your position regarding Iraq."You are absolutely right, because the left would never "wallow in some perceived righteousness over the (Right) about their position regarding Iraq" (and how they knew for sure there were no WMD's). I am of course not stating that since the left do it, I am justified. However, many left-wingers fail to recognize any news that doesn't conform with their warped point of view, so I try to show them the folly of their irrationalizations. My entire purpose of commenting is to argue I am right, and sometimes just to argue, so I see no issue in how or why I comment.

Satirical 9 years, 10 months ago

Homer Simpson: Facts, pfft, you can use facts to prove anything even remotely true.

1029 9 years, 10 months ago

It seems clear that things are looking good in Baghdad. Looks like I'll finally be able to use my timeshare there later this year. I'll be basking in the warm desert this winter while all the pessimistic liberals in Lawrence freeze their a**es of. Hopefully, McCain gets elected in November and we can continue to acquire new exotic territories.

jaywalker 9 years, 10 months ago

Always happy to hear about advances in Iraq. But I feel the best way to get this issue resolved and get the hell out of there is to get all the other Arab nations involved. I know the King of Jordan and Qatar have already jumped into the mix, initiating trade and sending ambassadors permanently. Europe also needs to get in there en masse and help bring Iraq back to the world stage, and I think Italy, Germany, and France will be key in this. And we need to extricate ourselves as smoothly as possible.I remember reading about how after decades of British rule the Viceroy complained to Gandhi that "if we leave there'll be chaos" and Gandhi replied "yes, but it'll be our chaos."

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