Page 1 of 2 ROVING
IN THE RED ZONE The true heart of
darkness By Pepe Escobar
BAGHDAD - There's a graffiti war going on
in Baghdad. In Sunni neighborhoods the champions
are "Saddam Hussein is a martyr" and "Muqtada
[al-Sadr] is the leader of the thieves". In
Shi'ite neighborhoods the favorite used to be
"From Fallujah to Kufa Iraq won't be beaten down";
now "Fallujah" has been erased from the script. In
Sadr City the favorite is "Down with the
The Adhamiyah wall - the
symbol of the Baghdad gulag, rejected
more than 70% of Iraqis - is not yet finished, but
the neighborhood is already isolated by a cluster
of checkpoints, with all major streets blocked by
blast walls and barbed wire. Walls are planned to
expand to Dora, Ghazaliyah, Amiriya, al-Amel,
al-Adl - a replication of gulag practices in
Fallujah, Tal Afar, Haditha, Samarra.
Residents confirm that Adhamiyah is also
internally divided. The old area of al-Safina,
near a cemetery, is now populated only by hardcore
Sunni Arab families and Salafi-jihadis. The area
known as Camp, between the Nida Mosque and
Officers Street, is now infested with ferocious
gangs bent on killing and kidnapping.
local market has been virtually abandoned by
civilians. Shops are open only two hours a day at
most. House trading will continue to boom. Scouts
search abandoned houses that they subsequently
rent to guerrillas or displaced Sunni families.
Some houses become prime weapons depots. The
motorcycle rules as the only available method of
transport. No taxi drivers dare to go to
Adhamiyah. US soldiers will continue to raid
houses no matter what.
But life somehow
goes on. An educated Adhamiyah resident with a
good sense of humor tells the story of how "the
Americans are every day on patrol. They search
houses with their dogs. But one day one of their
expensive dogs ran away" - along with his new,
"local", non-pedigreed friends. In five minutes, a
kid in the neighborhood self-described as "The
Prince of Dogs" got the picture. "In 30 minutes he
found the expensive American dog."
liked him, and they are still together - to the
despair of the Americans, who are still searching.
Everybody apparently knows this story in
Adhamiyah. They call the kid "Iraqi Ali Baba".
"But the kid will have to sell the dog in the
market," adds the resident, because of the high
maintenance. So this Gucci dog's destiny will turn
out to be shabby Souq (market) al-Ghazil, already
bombed several times.
The words of Sheikh
al-Kobaisi, the assistant secretary general of the
powerful Sunni Arab Association of Muslim
Scholars, to a crowd united to protest the
Adhamiyah wall, will continue to resonate with
most of Iraq's 5 million Sunnis. These were the
sheikh's greatest hits: "Who has the power to bomb
tanks will bomb this wall"; "Security does not
come with tanks and missiles. It will come with
the American departure"; "We have not attacked
people who are inside the Green Zone. It's because
of their deeds that we have become slaves."
Blood on the tracks An Iraqi
government ad oozing Madison Avenue-style
production values is shown incessantly on
Al-Iraqiya state TV, depicting a black-veiled
suicide bomber about to blow up a street market.
The punch line: "There is no religion in
terrorism." It's not altering Salafi-jihadis'
hearts and minds. And no matter where the US surge
leads, Baghdad - the former prosperous capital of
the eastern flank of the Arab nation - will
continue to disintegrate into a cluster of
decomposing urban tissues at war with one another.
The Mehdi Army will continue to balance
the excesses of strands of the Sunni
muqawama (resistance) and the
Salafi-jihadists, in a bloody operatic crescendo
that would make Martin Scorsese green with envy.
Karada is now virtually the only open market, with
shops open during the day, in all of Baghdad - at
least until the next bombing. For their part, US
convoys - moving at 5 km/h maximum with their
"Danger" and "Stay back 100 meters" messages in
large English and minuscule Arabic lettering -
will continue to exasperate Baghdadi motorists and
bring the city to a halt, not to mention being
prime sitting ducks to improvised explosive
devices (IEDs), car-bombers and snipers.
Attacks similar to the one on independent
Radio Digla will be replicated. The radio station
is in Adjamiah - a Sunni neighborhood. A couple
who managed the station, parents of a little girl,
tell how the attackers, presumably Salafi-jihadis,
threw a bomb in the garden. "No police showed up,
although there are two checkpoints nearby." Then
the attackers started shooting. The employees
didn't leave the small two-story building, and
responded with their own Kalashnikov fire. The
couple finally managed to escape. "But later the
attackers stole a computer with information on all
our employees. We're afraid they could be
persecuted one by one."
In Heiten, another
Sunni district, according to residents, the number
of houses "inundated with weapons" and "perfect
places to hide kidnapped people" is bound to
increase. The muqawama in the area even
told locals to evacuate a clinic because it could
be bombed. In Amiriya, a hardcore Sunni district
in west Baghdad, no woman in the streets can
afford not to be wearing the niqqab,
completely veiling her face.
There will be
more and more deadly clashes in Baya'a, in Karkh,
on the eastern side of the Tigris, once an area
that was a haven of Baghdad culture, now a Mad Max
Snipers will continue to do brisk
business. There was the Yemeni sniper of
al-Shurta, who was on a steady killing diet of at