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Dispatch #2 from David Martinez
Dispatch #2: Local independent reporter David Martinez writes from Baghdad.
Thank You Paul Bremer
Seven weeks away and Baghdad has changed dramatically. Our old hotel, scene of alternative journalism and Iranian pilgrims, no longer allows Westerners out of safety concerns, both for us and for them. The Iranians stopped visiting after
the bombings of the Shia mosques in early March, plus the border was closed or curtailed on the Iraqi side. And the Mount Lebanon Hotel bombing, which blew out windows all over the neighborhood, sent the foreign journos scurrying back
to walled compounds or guarded apartments. And I can hardly blame them. I am writing from inside one myself.
I am warned not to walk the streets alone, even during the day. There is now a significant anti-foreigner sentiment in the city that did not exist as strongly before. In any Shia neighborhood, pictures of Mukhtadar Al Sadr hang on every
doorway, where before they did not. Overnight, the son of the Shia martyr is the new hero of the resistance.
I believe it is similar to the response we noticed in some of our Iraqi friends after the U.S. invasion. People who had formerly hated Saddam Hussein now claimed to love him, as he had become a symbol of Iraqi pride, and they wept
when he was captured.
Mukhtadar Al Sadr is saying what a lot of people want to hear. He is outspokenly anti-occupation and anti-American, and is arguably the loudest voice with that slant. As it daily becomes more and more obvious that America had no intention of delivering democracy to Iraq, or even of letting Iraqis rule their own country, it is no wonder the young Al Sadr, who is not even a cleric like his father, has achieved such popularity.
We attended two demonstrations yesterday, one of them a funeral procession in Thawra, formerly known as Saddam City, then Sadr City, now called by its original name. Every night for the past week there has been fighting there, and
the funeral was for two men killed the previous evening by the Americans. The crowd was angry and energetic, and nervously observing the proceedings with field glasses from a hundred yards away were American soldiers perched on heavy
I was asked multiple times what country I was from. “Mexico”, I replied, and they left me alone. Americans, even journalists, are now persona non grata in many parts of the city.
The fighting is not restricted solely to the Shia areas. Al Adamiyah neighborhood, heavily Sunna and strongly anti-occupation, has seen nightly firefights as well, with funerals every morning that lead to more clashes. And of course, there are those two old thorns in the Americans’ side, Fallujah and
Ramadi, the first surrounded by troops and the second beginning a fresh round of assaults on the occupiers. Last night twelve Marines were killed there.
It also seems that every country in the “coalition” is seeing casualties: the Italians, Ukrainians, El Salvadorans, etc. No one will escape unscathed from signing on to this insane venture.
The question on everyone’s lips is: will this offensive last? Are we seeing the beginning of the Iraqi intifada, or the last gasp of armed resistance? I hate people who try and predict the future, so I won’t try and do that here. My feeling though, is the former. At the very least, there will continue to be
bloody attacks, car bombs, and random anti-foreigner violence in Iraq.
The worst is the rumors. Baghdad is already a city of lies, and now it’s ten times worse. Journalists nervously yammer on in the restaurants about waves of suicide bombers swarming the hotels, horrible atrocities committed by the
resistance, and how we are all going to die. Everyone is on edge, you can feel it in the air, and it further clouds the already evasive truth about the situation here.
For now, all we can do is watch the situation unfold. I just witnessed an Al Jazeera reporter on television, live from Fallujah, ducking and dodging as he tried to describe the action there, while American helicopters traded fire with
fighters on the ground nearby him. Al Sadr’s people say that Sistani has pledged his support for them, though what this will mean is unclear, like everything else here.
Earlier today I watched Paul Bremer on television. He said, ”This is not a Shia uprising.” He is right about that: it is a nationwide, across the board resistance. We just heard that the most prominent Sunna cleric issued a statement in support of the uprising in Fallujah. Then the Ukrainian troops
abandoned Kut, driven out by fierce fighting.
Today we returned to Sadr City, where the headquarters of Al Sadr’s party was attacked the night before. It had been hit with guided missles, and tanks had knocked through the outer walls. The building was heavily damaged, but people
were gathered and were rebuilding it with a vengeance. Everyone was helping, passing bricks and mortar, singing, waving flags. Masked Mahdi militants stood on the roof with Kalashnikovs. The spirit was incredible. We asked some of the people if the Shia and the Sunna will fight together against the Americans. “We want to thank Paul Bremer”, said one man, “for uniting Iraq against America!”
Then we drove across the neighborhood to a mosque that is collecting blood donations for the people of Fallujah. That’s right, the Shia are helping the Sunna with medical aid. This is a full-on counteroffensive, I do not believe it will end soon, and Al Sadr, to my observation, is only its most visible pundit.
The resistance is much bigger than him.
Stay tuned for more details.