Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Iraq Crisis Report August 2004

MAHDI ARMY DRAWS SUPPORTERS Fallujah fighters provide military training for Sadrist forces. By Aqil Jabbar in Najaf and Kufa  
ISLAMIC TRIBUNAL WINS APPROVAL An unofficial court imposes harsh Sentences on Iraqis who work for the Americans and their allies. By Zainab Naji in Ana  
KURDISH STUDENTS FACE DISCRIMINATION Many claim mounting ill treatment At the hands of their fellow students, teachers, and local residents. By Wrya Hama Tahir  
ARABS ENCOUNTER PREJUDICE IN KURDISTAN Visitors from the south of the country increasingly viewed with suspicion. By Sarhang Hama Salih in Sulaimaniyah

MAHDI ARMY DRAWS SUPPORTERS   Fallujah fighters provide military training for Sadrist forces.   By Aqil Jabbar in Najaf and Kufa   On the road leading to Najaf, six black-clad members of the Mahdi Army scrambled to set up three light-gauge mortars along the edge of a palm grove.  
  Aiming at a walled compound they said was a US military base, they fired off 11 rounds at leisure - until two American helicopters appeared and sent them scrambling for cover.   This type of hit-and-run attack is typical of fighting in the streets, suburbs, and cemeteries of Najaf between US troops and Iraqi paramilitaries on one side, and the Mahdi Army militia of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr on the other.
But this time there was a key difference - the presence of Col Rifaat al-Janabi.   Dressed in the uniform of Saddam Hussein's Special Republican Guards, Janabi had come from his home in Fallujah to show Najaf's poorly-trained Mahdi militiamen how to use their weapons.
"The Fallujah Consultancy Council of Mujahedin holy warriors sent me with nine other officers and forty soldiers who are well trained in using mortar and the RPG-7 grenade launcher," said Janabi, who unlike many Iraqi insurgents had no qualms about giving his name.
"We had to stand by our Shia brothers in Najaf, who stood by us in Fallujah," he said, referring to the long-running battle in that town With US troops.   "It is an honourable stance of Fallujah people who sent us experts in using weapons," said one Mahdi militiaman, who added that "we are in need of military training".
Meanwhile, outside the Mahdi Army's base in the main mosque in Kufa, Najaf's twin city, other officers and soldiers from Fallujah could be seen drilling the Sadrist fighters in the use of RPG-7 grenade launchers.
"We welcomed the mujahedin of Fallujah who came, without being asked to come, to help us out in training the fighters who lack experiences in using weapons," said Sheikh Kudair al-Ansari, in charge of Sadr's office in Kufa.
While he spoke, militiamen offloaded AK-47 assault rifles from trucks, Where they had been smuggled into the city under a load of watermelons.   Volunteers got out of minibuses recently arrived from the southern towns of Amara, Kut, and Diwaniya, gathering outside the mosque and chanting,
"By our blood and souls, we sacrifice for you, Muqtada."   "I left a wife and three children to come and defend Muqtada," said one volunteer from Diwaniya who refused to give his name.
"We could not protect his father Mohammed al-Sadr from Saddam, but now we can protect his son from the Americans and the Jews," he said, referring to the charismatic ayatollah killed in 1999 by alleged agents of the regime.   Kufa appeared to be under full Mahdi Army control.   Checkpoints, spaced about 200 metres apart, were manned by black-clad fighters, their foreheads wrapped in green cloths emblazoned with the name of the seventh-century Imam Ali.
"I am not a kid ... I can kill many Americans," said 13-year-old Hassan Kamel, a preparatory school student who stood guard with his rifle at one of the checkpoints.   Not far away, fire engulfed the local police station.   In addition to their forces in Kufa, Mahdi Army officials said they had troops fighting the Americans in Sahla, in the centre of Najaf near the shrine of Imam Ali, and in the cemeteries outside the holy city.
In central Najaf, Sadrist fighters hid in the alleys behind the hotels formerly used by pilgrims. The sky was hidden by a pall of wind-borne dust and smoke from burning buildings.   In the al-Ameer neighbourhood, four uniformed policemen stood with Three Mahdi Army fighters beside their car.
Hidden behind a building, they were listening to their radios and Informing the militiamen of their fellow officers' movements.   "I have four cousins in the al-Mahdi army," one of the officers said.   He went on to explain, "According to the proverb, 'my brother and I are against my cousin, but my cousin and I are against the foreigner. Thus, I can't fight against my cousins and stand beside the Americans."
Soon after, one of the fighters emerged into the street, and shouting "Ali!" he fired his RPG at a concrete barrier erected up the road by the Americans.     Then he ran back into the alley, climbed into the police car, and was Driven away.
Aqil Jabbar is an IWPR trainee.  
An unofficial court imposes harsh sentences on Iraqis who work for the Americans and their allies.   By Zainab Naji in Ana
An "Islamic resistance" court based in western Iraq has begun to order Harsh punishments against Iraqis accused of collaborating with so-called foreign occupiers, inhabitants in the region said.   The court, they said, originated in late 2003 as one of a number of Islamic clerical committees that locals have been using to arbitrate personal and family disputes.
The committees are used in lieu of tribal leaders, considered by many As tainted through their dealings with the US-led Coalition, and it has Passed sentence on drug sellers and peddlers of supposedly immoral CDs.   But in recent months, the inhabitants said, this particular court has Become more political, passing sentence on translators, truck drivers, informers, and others who allegedly work with the foreigners.
It has also certified lists of so-called collaborators that have been circulated by the insurgents.   Witnesses said the court is presided over by a senior Sunni sheikh knowledgeable in Islamic Sharia law, with another cleric acting as lawyer for defendants.   IWPR spoke to several people who claimed to have testified before the court, while details of some of its more celebrated cases are widely circulated among the region's inhabitants.
Probably the most famous case was the late November trial of "Mohammed The Spy" - one Mohammed Abed, who reportedly invited Americans to his house in the district of al-Qaem, on the Euphrates border.   "It made the neighbours angry because they hate the Occupation" said Adel Abdullah, 42, a resident of al-Qaem who said he was a witness in the trial.
"They informed the Iraqi resistance, who started to watch the house to verify the information.   "We warned Mohammed not to continue in this path but he didn't comply and kept holding parties and meetings in the house.   "Afterwards, the resistance fighters surrounded and raided the house."   Abdullah added somewhat ominously that
"he became an example for others".   "I still remember this incident as if it happened yesterday," said Kamel Abd al-Qader, 38, a mechanic. "He was sentenced to death by the resistance court."   Qader added that "this was the fate of every spy and traitor who betray their country and people".   Abed is said to have been beheaded after he was convicted by the court.
The beheading took place in Ana, on the upper Euphrates River about 100 Km from the Syrian border and, Qader said, "His head was given to a man From [the tribe of] al-Jumailaat to deliver to Mohammed's family in al-Karbala."   Salah Ahmed, 45, a storeowner in Ana, said he recalled an incident in The bus station outside his shop.
He said a grim middle-aged man gave an elderly man from the Jumailaat Tribe a plastic bag and an old 100-dinar note that still bore the picture of Saddam Hussein.   The old man was told to take the bag and the note to the family of Mohammed Abed in al-Qaem.
A second celebrated case was the early July 2004 trial of two truck drivers, who were accused of using their vehicles to smuggle alcohol hidden in shipments of mineral water.   Omar Mobdir, 25, a waiter at the al-Mafrag al-Kabeer restaurant on the highway near the Syrian border, claimed that he saw the two men being seized.   The drivers, along with several helpers, had come into the restaurant For lunch when three masked men entered and surrounded them.
"Stand up!" they said. "You are under arrest."   Six more men searched the trucks, and uncovered 10 cases of alcohol Hidden beneath the mineral water.   "We gave the court all the evidence including the identifications of those arrested," said one prosecution witness, who identified himself as Abu Ahmed.   "The court ordered the burning of the trucks and the goods," the witness said.   "They warned the drivers and workers not to work with the Americans or transport anything to them."   "Four hours after the arrest, a group of armed men came and burned the trucks," said Hamid Abdul Jabbar, 19, a mechanic working near the restaurant.
Despite the unofficial nature of the court, many residents of the area respect its judgments.   "We trust this court because it bases its judgment on the Quran and the Sunna [the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed]," said Abdullah Saleem, 40, a public servant at the electricity directorate in al-Ramadi.
"We shouldn't keep silent about traitors and collaborators. They caused us great harm and pain," added Mahmoud Abd al-Nabi al-Anai, 42, an engineer and Baghdad resident who followed the Mohammed Abed case.   "The court's decision is wise and strict," he said.
Zainab Naji is and IWPR trainee.  
Many claim mounting ill treatment at the hands of their fellow students, teachers, and local residents.   By Wrya Hama Tahir
Kurdish student Karwan Muhammed was heading to his rented flat in the Sunni Arab town of Baquba , 90 kilometres north of Baghdad , after a tiresome day of classes when he noticed a large gathering in a nearby tea room.   As he moved toward the shop, Muhammed saw a familiar face on the Television screen: the ageing, bearded face of Saddam Hussein - in the custody of the Americans.
But instead of celebrating the moment like his fellow Kurds back home on the streets of northern Iraq , Muhammed rushed back to his apartment and locked the door.   An Arab student, who'd been watching the broadcast, later pounded on The door and yelled.
"We will kill you, if Jalal Talabani expresses his congratulations [for the capture of Saddam]," the Arab said, referring to the head of the one of the two main Kurdish parties.   Muhammed did not sleep that night as other students and even the owner Of the flat gathered outside his door and threatened to kill him.   He is one of the several hundred Kurdish students who began studying in The universities of Arab majority cities in Iraq this past academic year.
Many claim mounting ill treatment at the hands of their fellow students, teachers, and local residents.   Several students even have refused to return next year, opting instead To continue studies in Kurdish universities.   This past academic year, Iraqi universities reserved 5 per cent of Enrolment for "non-local" students.   That allowed for Kurdish students to study in Baghdad and other Iraqi institutions outside the Kurdish area.
But Kurdish students say they are increasingly discriminated against by Arab university administrators and teachers, and harassed by fellow students.   Although all students were accepted to the universities through a Central processing system, the dean of the college denied them access to specific departments.   Instead, the Kurds were placed in less prestigious faculties.
Sabah Hassan had the grades needed to enrol in the computer science department, the highest ranked in the college of science. But instead he was placed in the lowest ranked one, mathematics.   Hassan claims that Baathist deans and teachers blocked his higher Placement and that of other Kurds. "I was accepted in a low-ranking department because I was a Kurd," he said.
Such treatment escalated following rumours printed in the Arab media And spread on the street, claiming that Kurdish peshmerga fighters Participated in the April attacks against the Sunni and Shia insurgents in Fallujah and Najaf respectively.
Karzan Hameed, 23, a first-year student in the college of medicine at The University of Kufa , could not return to his university campus for 45 days during the height of the fighting in April and May because roads were blocked and unsafe.   When he finally went back to school, he says he was too afraid to admit He was a Kurd to his Arab colleagues. They claimed that all the snipers Who targeted the insurgents were Kurds.
Hameed also believes that he and two of his colleagues were purposely Failed in a computer exam because they were Kurds.   "The Arab students say dirty words to us every day, while the teachers ask why we [Kurds] demand federalism," Hameed said.   The spring violence appears to have been the starting point for Wholesale intimidation of Kurdish students.
"After the Fallujah fighting, some of the Arab students considered us American agents and taunted us," said Dler Habeeb, a graduate student in the Arabic department of the University of Baghdad at the time the regime fell.   Nabard Ghafoor, a student in the computer department of the college of education at the university, rented a single room for himself because he no longer felt comfortable sharing a room with Arab students.
Muhammed, Ghafoor and Hameed said they will return to the safety of Northern Iraq to complete their university training if they can be placed in equivalent departments in Kurdish colleges.   Muhammed Issa, 22, from Kalar, a town on the border with the Arab area Of Iraq , visited Baghdad for the first time after the fall of the former regime when he was accepted at Baghdad university.
He speaks fluent Arabic but says it was of little help. "The Arabs hate us," he said, because the Kurds have demanded a federal structure in Iraq .
Wrya Hama Tahir is an editor with the youth-oriented Liberal Education newspaper in Sulaimaniyah.  
Visitors from the south of the country increasingly viewed with suspicion.   By Sarhang Hama Salih in Sulaimaniyah
The sight of Iraqi Arabs in their traditional dishdash and cars with License plates from central and southern governorates like Baghdad , Dyala and Anbar has become commonplace on the streets of Sulaimaniyah since the war.   Some Arabs visit Kurdistan as tourists; some come seeking jobs; others Just want respite from the often dangerous conditions in the rest of the country.  
Three Kurdish governorates have been semi-independent since 1992 when central government withdrew from the area and left the Kurds to govern themselves under the protection of US and UK warplanes.   But Iraqi Arabs who visit Iraqi Kurdistan increasingly claim they Experience hostility and unfair treatment at the hands of their Kurdish hosts.
After the war, they were initially welcomed by hotel and restaurant Managers who saw them as tourists with money to spend, but now Arabs are increasingly viewed with suspicion, especially by Kurdish security forces.   Those security forces are intent on keeping suicide bombers off their streets and they view Arab citizens as possible enemies.
"This my first visit in Kurdistan ," said Tariq Ismail, 52, from Baquba. "But I regret coming here. The Kurds think every Arab is a Saddam Hussein."   Arab visitors increasingly find they are singled out as potential Security risks.   Arabs who register at hotels must first get permission from local security, while Kurds and foreigners in Kurdistan do not have to obtain such a permit.  
In other parts of Iraq , no one is even asked for security clearance.   Ismail said that when he and his wife and children tried to park their Car in a garage, they were told they could not because as Arabs their car was suspect.   Another 25-year-old Baghdadi Arab, who shared a hotel in Sulaimaniyah With Ismail, said his experience with the Kurds was worse than under the Baath regime.
When he stopped at a security checkpoint, Sulaimaniyah officials thought his name was on a list of suspects. They took him into custody for several hours where he says he was treated "badly".   When he asked to use the toilet, he was told to urinate in his trousers. "Human beings should not be treated that way," he said.   Some Arab visitors submit to the additional scrutiny as an understandable, and even welcomed, precaution.
"Only Arabs are inspected at the checkpoints," said Ahmed Rasheed, 31, a Baghdadi, explaining that "the Kurds want to protect their security".   He surmises that the long-time Arab persecution has left the Kurds hostile. "Judging by their Baathist experience, the Kurds think all Arabs are occupiers," he said.   Not all Arab visitors feel hostility from Kurdish hosts.
"There is no discrimination," said Salah Kaduri, 35, from Baghdad , who often travels to Sulaimaniyah with his wife.   Kaduri says that Kurdish checkpoint officials are courteous, and he appreciates the safety and security in the Kurdish streets.   Some Arabs who have made Kurdistan their home think there are Kurds who harbour a deep-rooted animosity towards Arabs, and that it is increasingly articulated.
Jamal Abdul Kareem, 42, has lived in Kurdistan for 18 years and speaks Kurdish fluently.   He points to a complex of factors that leave the Kurds with a distrust Of their Arab compatriots, including "the effect of Baath, cultural differences, and the Kurdish fear of the future".
He speculates that the Kurdish claim for concern for their security is "only a cover for the old grudge they bear".   Ala Najmadeen, 37, a dentist, recently left Baghdad because of the "bad security situation" and moved to Kurdistan to set up a practice.   He tried to rent a house for his family but found that Arabs must pay An additional security deposit on top of already high rental rates.
Frustrated, he returned to Baghdad after one month.   Najmadeen is one of scores of professionals who have moved to Kurdistan seeking a safer environment.   More than 250 university professors have been killed since the fall of The regime, and another 1,000 have fled the country. Many other professionals, doctors in particular, have also been targeted.
The problems encountered by Iraqi Arabs in Kurdistan are in many ways typical of newcomers anywhere. And many Kurds welcome Arab visitors.   "I believe in living together and accepting each other," said Abdullah Ahmed, 26, a Sulaimaniyah Kurd who works for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan .   But it's not hard to find Kurdish voices who admit to a strong sense of animosity towards their compatriots.
"When I see an Arab walking in Sulaimaniyah, I cannot help hating him," said Rebaz Hama Salih, 24. He admits this feeling is not rational but said he cannot control his emotions.   All he can think about, he says, is the extensive suffering of the Kurds at the hands of Arab-majority Iraqi regimes.   But others say their antagonism is also directed towards the Arabs as a nationality.
"When Kurds were persecuted, it was the fault of the Arab nation not only the Iraqi government," said Wrya Sofi, 20, a Kurd from Kalar.   For Sofi, the recent expulsion of Kurds from several majority Arab cities in central Iraq is another reason for the Kurdish hatred towards the Arabs.   Thousands of Kurds have been forced out of cities like Fallujah and Samara simply because they are Kurds.
"When I see displaced Kurds who did not leave from fear of the Baath but rather from fear of the people of area," Sofi said, "I realise I hate Arabs, not the Baath."
Sarhang Hama Salih is editor-in-chief of Liberal Education, a youth-oriented newspaper in Sulaimaniyah.

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