News from Iraq: Under siege in Baghdad's Mahdi army stronghold
- Under siege in Baghdad's Mahdi army strongholdThe
violence that began in Basra and spread to the capital
continues as fears of a new civil war grow
Sudarsan Raghavan The Observer, Sunday March 30 2008
The gunfire built to a steady rhythm. American
soldiers in a Stryker armoured vehicle fired from one
end of the block. At the other end, two groups of Shia
militiamen pounded back with machine guns and
rocket-propelled grenades. US helicopters circled
above in the blue afternoon sky.
As a barrage erupted outside his parents' house, Abu
Mustafa al-Thahabi, adviser to the Mahdi army of Shia
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, rushed through the gate to
take shelter. He had just spoken with a fighter by
mobile phone. 'I told him not to use that weapon. It's
not effective,' he said, talking of the
rocket-propelled grenade. 'I told him to use the IED,
the Iranian one,' he added, referring to an improvised
explosive device. 'This is more effective.'
After nearly a year of relative calm, US troops and
Shia militia engaged in pitched battles last week,
underscoring how quickly order can give way to chaos
in Iraq. On this block in Sadr City, the cleric's
sprawling stronghold, armed men and boys came out from
nearly every house to fight. From Thursday afternoon
to Friday morning, this correspondent spent 19 hours
here, at times trapped by intense crossfire inside the
house of Thahabi's parents. Fighters engaged US forces
for seven hours. They lost a comrade. They launched
rockets into the Green Zone. Around the same time,
rockets killed a US government employee, the second
American killed there last week.
Between battles, fighters spoke about politics and
war. There was no sign of grief or fear. Death was a
short cut to some divine place. As the two sides
exchanged fire, Thahabi's mother, Um Falah, clutched a
Koran and began to pray to Imam Ali, Shia Islam's most
revered saint. Her eldest son, Abu Hassan, is a Mahdi
Earlier that morning, Sadr City had been eerily quiet.
Cars moved slowly. Residents ferried food and water,
preparing for the worst. Rubbish littered the charred
streets. On one road, two green Stryker vehicles were
Outside Um Falah's house, Mahdi fighters gathered,
standing against the walls, peering down the street.
Clashes were unfolding on an adjacent road. One group
joined the fighting, but the others remained in place.
Their job was to protect their end of the block. Um
Falah continued her chores: 'I have got used to war,
to all the battles in our lives.' It was not the first
time her son had gone to fight US troops and in her
heart, she said, she knew it would not be the last. 'I
have sent my son on the right path,' she said.
In their living room, her husband and Abu Mustafa sat
on red carpets set with colourful pillows. The room
was prepared for battle, with plastic windowpanes and
drawn curtains. On the wall hung tapestries depicting
Imam Ali and other saints.
Thahabi, slim and gaunt-faced, said the Mahdi were not
fighting only the Americans but also their Shia rivals
- the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the ruling
Dawa party. Thahabi believes the government launched
an offensive in Basra last Monday to weaken the
Sadrist forces ahead of provincial elections scheduled
for this year. He thought Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, who leads the Dawa party, was taking
advantage of a ceasefire imposed by Sadr last August.
Iraq's government said it began the offensive to wipe
out Basra's Shia militias and criminal gangs. 'They
know the Sadrists will win the elections,' Thahabi
said. 'So they are using the Americans against the
Mahdi army. People have reached a point that they will
sell their refrigerator to buy a rocket launcher to
At around 2pm, three solemn-faced fighters entered the
room, fresh from battle. 'Akeel, son of Riad, just got
killed,' said Abu Zainab al-Kabi. The room fell
silent. Kabi, 34, said Akeel had been planting a
roadside bomb when he was shot several times by a US
soldier. Akeel was 22 and had followed his father and
uncle into the Mahdi army when he was 17. The fighters
took his body to the hospital mortuary. If they could
break away from the battle, they planned to carry it
on Friday to the southern holy city of Najaf, where
the Mahdi has built a cemetery for their dead, their
'We are proud that he died,' said Abu Moussa al-Sadr,
31. 'Whenever one of us dies, it raises our morale.'
'It intensifies our fighting. If we defeat them, we
win,' Kabi said. 'If we die, we win.'
Signs of sorrow for Akeel soon vanished; they wanted
to eat lunch. Over a spartan meal of bread, tomato
paste and vegetables, they said they had woken before
dawn to make sure all their fighters were in position.
They ordered their men to check all the IEDs they had
set and shared intelligence with commanders in other
sections of Sadr City. Suddenly, they heard mortar
rounds being launched outside with a boom like the
sound of a wrecking ball.
'This is to the Green Zone,' said Kabi. 'These are
gifts to Maliki's government.' He and Abu Moussa
al-Sadr both work for Iraq's Ministry of Interior,
which runs the police and is viewed as infiltrated by
the Mahdi army. They said many police officers had
defected and were now fighting with the Mahdi army.
The fighters also said they received neither support
nor training from Iran, as American military
commanders allege. Their Iranian weapons, they said,
were bought from smugglers. They said they had been
fighting only Americans and had not engaged with any
Iraqi forces and insisted they were still obeying
Sadr's cease-fire and would stop fighting if he gave
the order. 'We are allowed to defend ourselves,' said
fighter Abu Nargis.
Around 3pm, it was time to leave. 'We're going to the
hospital to see Akeel's body,' Abu Moussa al-Sadr
said. 'Then we are going back to fight.' An hour
later, another group were fighting US troops.
Militiamen jumped into the street, then quickly
vanished. The quick movements were a tactic. Outside
his parents' house, Thahabi explained that fighters
would direct a barrage of bullets at the Stryker to
distract the soldiers while another group tried to
slip a bomb under the vehicle.
A father of four who studied psychology in college,
Thahabi looked more like a professor than a militia
adviser. He clutched three mobile phones, each using a
different network. When the Americans drive by, they
jam the signals of the main network provider to
neutralise the use of phones as detonators.
The fighters' larger strategy, Thahabi said, was to
draw pressure away from the Mahdi army in Basra. Many
Iraqi soldiers fighting in Basra had families in Sadr
City. 'They will be worried for their families. They
will fear what will happen to them. It's about
Thahabi received a phone call. 'The whole block has
been surrounded by the Americans,' he said.
Targeting the Green Zone, at 5.25pm, the Mahdi army
fired at least 10 rockets from near the house. Within
20 minutes, four more were launched. The rocket
launches were followed by heavy gunfire at the
'We have to keep the Americans nervous, on their
edge,' Thahabi said. 'We can't make it easy for them.'
Someone told him that there was a sniper on a nearby
roof. After a silent pause, fighters sprayed a burst
of gunfire at a roof; bullets tore into the wall. Then
silence again. A few minutes later, gunfire was
returned in the direction of the fighters. The
Americans were still around.
'They are facing heavy resistance," said Abu Nargis.
He carried his baby daughter. 'They will raid the area
tonight.' By 7pm, the Stryker had left.
At 9.05pm, Abu Nargis received a phone call. He said
he had been told that a police commander with 500 men
would stop working with the government and join the
At 9.09pm, screams tore through the street. A woman in
a black abaya was walking toward the hospital wailing:
'My mother! My mother!' Her house had been hit, it was
not clear by whom. Ambulances and police vehicles
drove past the house as an unmanned US drone flew by.
The vehicles drove back, carrying dead and injured.
At 10:35pm, Abu Nargis received another phone call.
'The Americans are gone. Even the snipers,' he said.
'I have to go and check on my daughter. She's afraid
of the gunfire.'
Next morning, Kabi was standing on a nearby street
with a group of fighters, including two boys who
looked no older than 13. They were getting
instructions from an older fighter, who clutched an
AK-47 assault rifle. They looked weary.
At the edge of Sadr City, four Strykers rolled by. A
white car waited patiently for the convoy to pass,
then drove out, a wooden coffin strapped to the top.
British and US forces drawn into battle for Basra
As the Iraqi army's assault on Shia militias in the
city falters, the government's strategy is looking to
be a dangerous gamble
Iraq's Collapsing Education
Wed. Mar. 26, 2008
BAGHDAD Iraq's once high-caliber educational system
is now on the verge of collapse with schools and
universities lacking essential materials such as books
and labs, and students and teachers terrorized by
"A class can have nearly 100 students and the result
is insufficient attention to students," said Hanan
Youssef, a teacher at Mansour Primary School in
"Especially for those sitting in the back, it is
nearly impossible even to hear what the teacher has to
say," he added.
"Many students prefer stay at home."
The Ministry of Education says all institutions are
lacking essentials such as books and lab materials.
Many schools suffer from overcrowding and are forced
to operate multiple shifts.
Most schools do not finish the curricula and displaced
children are less likely to stay or complete the
According to the Ministry of Education, just 28
percent of 17-year-olds sat their graduation exams in
UNICEF estimates up to 600,000 Iraqi children have
been displaced since early 2006.
"School enrolment and attendance rates are dropping,"
says Claire Hajaj, Chief of External Relations for
"Initial data also shows that primary school net
enrolment rates may have fallen from 86 percent in
2004 to as low as 46 percent in 2006."
The Ministry of Education, together with the Ministry
of Higher Education, get the smallest share of
investments and depend mostly on UNICEF to support
Iraqis enjoyed a high standard educational level under
the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.
Until the 1980s, Iraq was regarded as the center of
academia in the Arab world.
The educational system suffers a serious shortage of
teachers and professors.
"Thousands of teachers have fled the country because
of threats from sectarian death squads," said Leila
Abdallah of the Higher Education Ministry's studies
"Some were evicted from their areas and moved to
others inside Iraq for sectarian reasons," she added.
"There are no exact numbers of teachers killed since
the US-led invasion in 2003 but we believe it is
nearly a thousand," Abdallah said.
"The situation has deteriorated severely since then."
In 2003, the US Coalition Provisional Authority
instituted de-Baathification, under which party
members including at least 1,000 lecturers and
professors - were fired from their jobs, many of who
were forced to be party members.
Available teachers are sometimes forced to give good
marks to failing students under threats of violence
from parents or relatives.
Such threats have led to the killing of many teachers,
mostly in Baghdad.
"My husband was killed with four bullets at his chest
after he refused giving a good mark to one student at
Economy College," said Tahirah Mohammad, 37.
"He had received a letter telling him to change the
students mark from 3,0 to 9,0 but he refused and they
did what they threatened to do," added the mother of
five shocking at the memory.
"My husband was a honest man and he would have never
accepted such threats but the price he had to pay for
this was his own life."
Students are the main victim of the deteriorating
The low lessoning quality has caused students to fail
or have marks under medium levels at an average of 62
percent of countrywide.
"Many arent able to take their exams because security
issues prevented them of leaving their homes," said
Professor Ibrahim Ayad, specialist in educational and
social affairs at Mustansiriyah University.
"The lack of power also affects their concentration,"
Whole sections of the capital Baghdad remain without
electricity, while the lucky neighborhoods get power
"But the main reason is still the bad educational
quality," maintains the professor.
"School enrolment and attendance rates are dropping,"
recognizes Claire Hajaj, Chief of External Relations
"Initial data also shows that primary school net
enrolment rates may have fallen from 86 percent in
2004 to as low as 46 percent in 2006, although
outdated population figures and large numbers of
children fleeing the country may be contributing to
According to UNICEF, up to 600,000 children have been
displaced since early 2006.
"A child out of school is much more exposed to harm
than one learning in the classroom," warns Hajaj.
Manal, a 9-year-old primary school student, fears a
gloomy educational future.
"I love my school and it is the only place I can go to
have some rest from all violence in Iraq," she said.
"My father told me that he will take me out from
school if my marks arent good and Im sure it wont be
especially with my teacher coming two days per week
and nearly 100 students in one class."
Farik, 11, has another problem.
"Mum told me that it is my last year at school and I
will have to leave it to help with familys income,"
"She always tell me that Im not learning anything and
despite knowing that it is true, I would like to keep
trying and be someone in the future."
American warplanes join Iraqi troops in taking the
fight to Shia militia· Sadr stronghold in capital
comes under attack
· British army holds fire as battles intensify
We're fighting for survival, says Mahdi army commander
Stalled assault on Basra exposes the Iraqi
government's shaky authority
The Iraqi army's offensive against the Shia militia of
the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra is failing
to make significant headway despite a pledge by the
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight "to the
Instead of being a show of strength, the government's
stalled assault is demonstrating its shaky authority
over much of Baghdad and southern Iraq. As the
situation spins out of Mr Maliki's control, saboteurs
blew up one of the two main oil export pipelines near
Basra, cutting by a third crude exports from the
oilfields around the city. The international price of
oil jumped immediately by $1 a barrel before falling
In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of Mr
Sadr, whose base of support is the Shia poor, marched
through the streets shouting slogans demanding that Mr
Maliki's government be overthrown. "We demand the
downfall of the Maliki government," said one of the
marchers, Hussein Abu Ali. "It does not represent the
people. It represents Bush and Cheney."
Iraq implodes as Shia fights Shia
Another tragedy as the Shia majority turn on each
By Patrick Cockburn
Thursday, 27 March 2008
A new civil war is threatening to explode in Iraq as
American-backed Iraqi government forces fight Shia
militiamen for control of Basra and parts of Baghdad.
Heavy fighting engulfed Iraq's two largest cities and
spread to other towns yesterday as the Iraqi Prime
Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gave fighters of the Mehdi
Army, led by the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, 72
hours to surrender their weapons.
The gun battles between soldiers and militiamen, who
are all Shia Muslims, show that Iraq's majority Shia
community which replaced Saddam Hussein's Sunni
regime is splitting apart for the first time.
Mr Sadr's followers believe the government is trying
to eliminate them before elections in southern Iraq
later this year, which they are expected to win.
Mortars and rockets launched from Mehdi
Army-controlled districts of Baghdad struck the Green
Zone, the seat of American power in Iraq, for the
third day yesterday, seriously wounding three
Americans. Two rockets hit the parking lot of the
Iraqi cabinet. The mixed area of al-Mansur in west
Baghdad, where shops had begun to reopen in recent
months, was deserted yesterday as Mehdi Army fighters
were rumoured among local people to be moving in from
the nearby Shia stronghold of Washash. "We expect an
attack by the Shia in spite of the Americans being
spread over Sunni districts to defend them," said a
Forty people have been killed and at least 200 injured
in Basra in the last two days of violence. In the town
of Hilla, south of Baghdad, 11 people were killed and
18 injured yesterday by a US air strike called in
support of Iraqi forces following street battles with
Shia militia members in the city's Thawra
neighbourhood. In Baghdad, 14 have been killed and 140
The supporters of Mr Sadr, who form the largest
political movement in Iraq, blame the Americans for
giving the go-ahead for Mr Maliki's offensive against
them and supporting it with helicopters and bomber
aircraft. US troops have sealed off Sadr City, the
close-packed slum in the capital with a population
that is the main bastion of the Sadrists, while the
Mehdi Army has taken over its streets, establishing
checkpoints, each manned by about 20 heavily armed
men. It is unlikely that the militiamen in Basra will
surrender as demanded by the government. Sadiq
al-Rikabi, an adviser to Mr Maliki, said those who
kept their weapons would be arrested. "Any gunman who
does not do that within three days will be an outlaw."
Streets were empty in Basra and Baghdad as people
stayed at home to avoid the fighting. The Mehdi Army
is enforcing a strike in Baghdad with mosques calling
for the closure of shops, businesses and schools.
In the Shia city of Kut, on the Tigris south of
Baghdad, local residents say that black-clad Mehdi
Army militiamen have taken over five districts and
expelled the police.
At the same time, Mr Sadr is clearly eager to continue
the truce which he declared on 29 August last year
after bloody clashes in Kerbala with Iraqi police
controlled by the rival Shia political movement, the
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and their
well-organised militia, the Badr organisation.
He renewed this ceasefire in February, saying he
wanted to purge its ranks of criminals. "The freeze
that Sadr has ordered is still ongoing," said one of
his chief lieutenants, Luwaa Smaism.
Mr Sadr has sought to avoid an all-out military
confrontation with American troops or Badr backed by
American forces since he fought two ferocious battles
for Najaf against US marines in 2004.
Mr Sadr has sent emissaries to Mr Maliki asking him to
remove his troops, numbering some 15,000 men from
Basra, and to resolve problems peacefully. But his
aides say there will be no talks until the Iraqi army
reinforcements are withdrawn. The offer of talks is in
keeping with Mr Sadr's past behaviour, which is to
appear conciliatory but in practice to make few real
concessions. The US is claiming that the Sadrists are
not being singled out, only Iran-supported militia
factions, but this will find few believers in Iraq.
"This is not a battle against the [Mehdi Army] nor is
it a proxy war between the United States and Iran,"
said a US military spokesman, Major General Kevin
Bergner. "It is [the] government of Iraq taking the
necessary action to deal with criminals on the
The Sunni population is pleased to see the government
and the Americans attacking the Mehdi Army, which they
see as a Shia death squad. "Before, the Shia were
arresting and killing us and forcing us to leave Iraq
for Jordan and Syria where we lived in misery," said
Osama Sabr, a Sunni in west Baghdad.
The fighting is threatening to disrupt Iraq's oil
production, most of which comes from the Basra area,
because workers in the oilfields dare not leave their
The Mehdi Army
Armed wing of the Sadr movement. Muqtada al-Sadr's
militia is divided, with one wing supporting the
radical cleric's ceasefire while another has rejected
it and continued attacks on Iraqi government forces
and the British base at Basra aiport.
The Badr Brigade
Armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The
Badr Brigade has been involved in numerous clashes
with the Mehdi Army and appears not to be the target
of the current offensive by the Iraqi government
forces. The group has organised "spontaneous"
demonstrations against General Mohan and General
A political party and armed group with a localised
powerbase. The governor of Basra is a member of the
party, and it controls a significant proportion of the
region's oil supply.
Said to be armed and trained by Iran and allegedly
carrying out attacks ordered by Tehran.
Out of hiding: The engineer whose 'evidence' led to
war in Iraq
An Iraqi engineer who provided the information that
became one of the key planks in the Bush
administration's case justifying the invasion of Iraq
has been tracked down by undercover reporters to a
drab residential block in southern Germany.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan, code-named Curveball (a baseball
term for deception), has been in hiding since the
invasion five years ago, and lives under an assumed
name. He was questioned by German intelligence in the
late 1990s when seeking asylum in Germany and told
them that he had witnessed a biological weapons
programme in Iraq. His "evidence" was made public in a
compelling speech to the UN security council by US
secretary of state, Colin Powell on 5 February 2003,
when he said that Iraq possessed stockpiles of
biological weapons that threatened the world and the
mobile weapons laboratories to produce them.
Although German intelligence officials had warned the
CIA that Curveball's claims were unreliable, and UN
inspectors had failed to corroborate them, the Bush
administration promoted the existence of such mobile
labs for months after the invasion.
Now Curveball denies having made the claims in the
first place. The BBC 2 programme Newsnight broadcast
last night secretly filmed footage of the discredited
agent who was approached by Der Spiegel magazine in
his German hideout where he declined to give a formal
interview. His face was blanked out in the footage in
which a reporter asked him on his doorstep whether he
had ever spoken about Iraq's biological weapons.
Curveball replied "No."
Sunni militia strike could derail US strategy against
The success of the US "surge" strategy in Iraq may be
under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to
fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike
because they are not being paid regularly.
Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or
awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting
unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is
resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of
using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous
areas and then abandoning them.
A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News
reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more
than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening
to go on strike and two already have.
Dreams of reaching Europe grind to a halt in Beirut
ghettoRabi'a is one of two million Iraqis who have
ended up in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in the hope of
making a better life
Rabi'a, an Iraqi refugee, is cooking in the narrow,
filthy corridor that doubles as a makeshift kitchen in
his tiny apartment in eastern Beirut. There is a gas
burner, a sink, a cupboard and a small plastic bucket
overflowing with garbage and potato peelings. At one
end of the room a door leads to a reeking toilet. The
heavy smell of urine mixes with that of the months-old
oil he is pushing round the frying pan.
"I fry the best tomatoes in the world, the most
delicious dish," he tells me. "You must have some with
In Iraq they used to call this dish the "dinner of the
sanctions", after the decade-long economic blockade
imposed on the country in the 1990s.
Rabi'a lives in one of Beirut's poor Christian
neighbourhoods. He is tall and well-built, with
heavily muscled shoulders, thick wavy hair and a
fashionable trimmed goatee. A small crucifix dangles
from a silver chain around his neck.
He carries the hot frying pan, a plate of potatoes and
some yoghurt to the next room where he sits with
another refugee friend around a small table.
They have dinner and drink Iraqi tea from a kettle on
the floor. Rabi'a is one of more than 2m Iraqis who
have fled to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon since the start
of the war, making up what the UN describes as the
biggest movement of people in the Middle East since
the creation of the state of Israel.
In one way at least, Rabi'a and his friend are lucky.
They have a bedroom, albeit a tiny one, where Rabi'a
shows me his cracked leather bag.
"I keep it packed ready to leave," he says. Next-door
there are more than 12 Iraqi refugees living in a
Rabi'a and his friend spend most of their time in
Lebanon indoors. Like most Iraqi refugees they have no
genuine papers, and if they are arrested they will end
up in a Kafkaesque cycle of jail and police cells and
fines which will eventually lead them back to Iraq.
He is too scared to go out except for work. "When I go
to work I walk, so that if there is a police
checkpoint I can see it from a distance and take a
Rabi'a now works in a supermarket loading crates of
beer. Before that he had a job as a barman in a smart
beach resort in the south of Lebanon, and before that,
he was an electrician. Now, he says, he gets $250
(£126) a month, out of which he pays $50 for the
apartment and tries to save as much as $150 to send
back to his family in northern Iraq.
Rabi'a was a student in the Institute of Technology in
the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. As a Christian, he
and his family experienced the sectarian violence of
Iraq two years before it reached Baghdad and became an
open civil war. They were targeted by al-Qaida in Iraq
and Sunni extremist groups.
The first signs that they were being targeted were the
letters that came to their Christian quarter. "They
posted them to everyone in the street," he said. "They
called us infidels.
"My father and I and our friends would stay awake all
night, waiting and guarding the street," he says.
'We live in a nightmare. Death and carnage is
everywhere' Ali, Baghdad resident
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Baghdad The Guardian, Thursday
March 20 2008
In most cities of the world a person might expect to
be feted for surviving a single bomb attack. In
Baghdad, survival stories can be found on every street
Ali is a painter and a student at the academy of art
in north Baghdad. A few years ago he moved to the
Baghdad suburb of Karrada, where many artists live
because of its art market.
When I meet him, Ali is limping slightly. A white
bandage protrudes from the sleeve of his striped
jumper, and he frequently drops his left shoulder so
that his arm rests on his thigh. These are the only
outward signs of the injuries he sustained in the
In a shy, soft voice Ali tells me how he had been
standing with a friend in Karrada when a bomb went off
at the side of the road. "I heard an explosion very
close by," he says. "I saw smoke and chaos and people
screaming. I saw my friend Hassan, who was running and
carrying a child who had lost an arm. I saw a
nice-looking girl - the Karrada girls, you know how
beautiful they are. She was dead. And I saw a girl who
had only one eye.
"I couldn't bear it," he tells me. "I started to
scream and cry.
From Baghdad to Britain
They come to Britain fearing for their lives back
home, hoping for a new beginning. But for thousands of
Iraqi asylum seekers there is no welcome and instead
they face misery and destitution before they are
deported. Hannah Godfrey hears their stories
Trade in stolen Iraqi treasures 'fuels al-Qaida'
The flourishing underground trade in Iraqi antiquities
is helping fund insurgents in the war-torn country,
the man credited with saving thousands of treasures
plundered from the National Museum of Iraq said
Nearly five years after looters ransacked the museum
in Baghdad, al-Qaida and Shia militias are using the
spoils to finance terror operations.
"Trafficking in Iraqi antiquities is funding
individuals who are killing people in the streets and
detonating the bombs," said Colonel Matthew Bogdanos,
the US marine who was in charge of recovering stolen
works in the six months after the fall of Saddam
Robert Fisk: The only lesson we ever learn is that we
Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each
anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the
stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five
years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill,
who in the end called Palestine a "hell-disaster".
But we have used these parallels before and they have
drifted away in the Tigris breeze. Iraq is swamped in
blood. Yet what is the state of our remorse? Why, we
will have a public inquiry but not yet! If only
inadequacy was our only sin.
Today, we are engaged in a fruitless debate. What went
wrong? How did the people the senatus populusque
Romanus of our modern world not rise up in rebellion
when told the lies about weapons of mass destruction,
about Saddam's links with Osama bin Laden and 11
September? How did we let it happen? And how come we
didn't plan for the aftermath of war?
Oh, the British tried to get the Americans to listen,
Downing Street now tells us. We really, honestly did
try, before we absolutely and completely knew it was
right to embark on this illegal war. There is now a
vast literature on the Iraq debacle and there are
precedents for post-war planning of which more later
but this is not the point. Our predicament in Iraq
is on an infinitely more terrible scale.
As the Americans came storming up Iraq in 2003, their
cruise missiles hissing through the sandstorm towards
a hundred Iraqi towns and cities, I would sit in my
filthy room in the Baghdad Palestine Hotel, unable to
sleep for the thunder of explosions, and root through
the books I'd brought to fill the dark, dangerous
hours. Tolstoy's War and Peace reminded me how
conflict can be described with sensitivity and grace
and horror I recommend the Battle of Borodino
along with a file of newspaper clippings. In this
little folder, there was a long rant by Pat Buchanan,
written five months earlier; and still, today I feel
its power and its prescience and its absolute
historical honesty: "With our MacArthur Regency in
Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the
tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic
people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or
Patrick Cockburn: This is the war that started with
lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie
It has been a war of lies from the start. All
governments lie in wartime but American and British
propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been
more untruthful than in any conflict since the First
The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin
to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes
because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet
the war began with just such a mistake. Five years
ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George
Bush appeared on American television to say that
military action had started against Iraq.
This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill
Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and
firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura
farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was
supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker.
The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14
wounded, including nine women and a child.
Death, destruction and fear on the streets of cafes,
poets and booksellersTo mark the fifth anniversary of
the Iraq war, the award-winning journalist returns to
the city where he was born and lived for 30 years
Baghdad was never a beautiful city. A sprawling sea of
low rise, dusty concrete cubes with few green spaces,
it is a typical Middle Eastern architectural disaster,
expanding without any real urban planning from the
1950s. But if you knew the city you could find your
corners: a narrow, zigzagging alleyway, an Ottoman
courtyard, the shade of a lemon tree in spring.
One of my favourites was the Mutanabi book market. The
cafes and teahouses lining the old street had became a
hangout for journalists, poets and artists, and with
them had come the book market. It was here that I used
to buy my illegal photocopies of Marx's Communist
Manifesto - in Arabic - and Orwell's 1984.
Last week, I went back to Mutanabi. To reach it I
travelled through bullet-pocked Bab al-Mu'adham, past
countless checkpoints: Shia police commandos, some
carrying newly US-supplied M-16 guns, hunkering behind
sandbags, Sunni militiamen in khaki trousers, T-shirts
Mutanabi street itself looks like a scene from a
second world war movie, a couple of gutted buildings,
heaps of garbage in the muddy road. Before the war,
booksellers spilled into the road and you had to push
and shove to walk down the street; now there were only
half a dozen of them.
Partick Cockburn: A gross failure that ignored history
and ended with a humiliating retreat
The war in Iraq has been one of the most disastrous
wars ever fought by Britain. It has been small but we
achieved nothing. It will stand with Crimea and the
Boer War as conflicts which could have been avoided
and were demonstrations of incompetence from start to
The British failure in the Iraq war has been even more
gross because it has not ended with a costly military
victory but a humiliating scuttle. The victors in
Basra and southern Iraq have been the local Shia
militias masquerading as government security forces.
Britain should immediately hold a full inquiry into
the mistakes made before and during the war in Iraq
out of pure self-interest. Gordon Brown's suggestion
that holding such an inquiry now would somehow
threaten the stability of Iraq is either a piece of
obvious prevarication or, if taken at face value, a
sign of absurd vanity. Iraqis show not the slightest
interest in British policy and assume it will simply
be an echo of decisions made in Washington.
Iraq: Who won the war?
Not the 90,000 Iraqi civilians or the 4,200 US and UK
troops killed since 2003. The big winners are the
money men who have made billions. Raymond Whitaker and
Stephen Foley report
Iraq's Lost Children
BAGHDAD For nations the young generation always
holds the hope for a better future but with thousands
of its children forced out of school into the labor
market to make ends meet, Iraq seems to be an
"My mother told me that I had to leave school and even
knowing there isnt choice, I tried to convince by
showing my good marks in math and science but it just
made her angrier," says Waleed Saleh, 11.
One year ago his father, a waiter, was killed in a
suicide attack on his restaurant in downtown Baghdad.
Saleh, the elder of his four brothers, had to find a
job to help support the family with his house-keeper
"She found me a job as helper in a carpentry factor
near our home," he said.
New Iraq Sex for Life
BAGHDAD It was eight oclock in the morning when
Fadia (not her real name), received an unexpected
visit in her home.
Her children, who were still asleep, awoke to the
hysterical screaming of their mom.
Fadia, a recently-graduating biologist, was told by
the guest that her husband had been kidnapped by
militants and she had to pay 10,000 dollars to have
him back home.
But, he said, she had to first make a visit to someone
who would like to explain which steps she had to take
to save her husband's life.
"I wore my abaya, washed my face and took the children
to my neighbor without saying a single word," said
Iraq's Decadent Health System
BAGHDAD Iraq's health care system, once the pride of
the region, has become the worst in the Gulf and
With a lack of investments and an ever-increasing
brain drain, the decadent heath structure is putting
the lives of millions of Iraqis at risk.
"Unfortunately we arent able to cope with the
requirements countrywide," says Taha Abdel-Rahman, a
Health Ministry media officer.
"There arent investments and thousands of
professionals have fled Iraq, leaving locals without
proper assistance," he added.
The pharmaceutical factories producing basics,
including antibiotics, decreased production as
investments nearly stopped.
Rewriting Iraq Invasion History
CAIRO As the world prepares to mark the fifth
anniversary of the US and British invasion of Iraq,
the British Ministry of Defense has released an
imbalanced and erroneous guide about the war for
school pupils, whipping a storm of criticism from the
country's biggest teachers' union, the Independent
reported Friday, March 14.
"When you are dealing with something as controversial
as Iraq and different events which led up to the
invasion, teachers are under an enormous duty to
present material which is balanced," Steve Sinnott,
the secretary general of the National Union of
Teachers (NUT), said in a letter to Schools Secretary
The MoD has provided schools with a guide about the
2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to be taught during
classroom discussions in general studies or personal,
social and health education (PSE) lessons.
Robert Fisk: The cult of the suicide bomber
Few players in the 'war on terror' are more chilling,
or misunderstood, than suicide bombers. Yet the true
scale of their grisly activities has never been
properly calculated. Five years after the invasion of
Iraq, Robert Fisk details the shocking extent of the
most widespread campaign of self-liquidation in human
Iraq: teachers told to rewrite history
MoD accused of sending propaganda to schools
Oil giants are poised to move into BasraBrown's
business envoy says that investment is the next step
in bringing stability to the region
Western oil giants are poised to enter southern Iraq
to tap the country's vast reserves, despite the
ongoing threat of violence, according to Gordon
Brown's business emissary to the country.
Michael Wareing, who heads the new Basra Development
Commission, acknowledged that there would be concerns
among Iraqis about multinationals exploiting natural
Basra, where 4,000 British troops are based, has been
described as 'the lung' of Iraq by Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki. The region accounts for 90 per cent
of government revenue and 70 per cent of Iraq's proven
oil reserves. It has access to the Gulf and is
potentially one of the richest areas in the Middle
East, but continues to be plagued by rival militias.
Wareing, international chief executive of KPMG, was
asked by Brown to help kick-start business in the
Basra region in the hope that prosperity will bring
stability. On his first visit last week, he met
officials and business leaders but a sandstorm forced
him to cancel a flight to Baghdad to meet Maliki and
General David Petraeus, the US's commanding officer in
Pilgrims killed as al-Qa'ida resume Iraq attacks
A suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt in a tent
filled with Shia pilgrims walking to one of their
holiest shrines south of Baghdad, killing at least 40
of them and wounding 60.
The attack shows that al-Qa'ida has restarted its
bombings of Shia Iraqis, whom it sees as heretics, and
remains capable of launching numerous suicide attacks
on the same day in different parts of Iraq.
The claim by the US military of a significant drop in
violence in Iraq is being dented by a rise in
sectarian killings and by the Turkish invasion of
Iraqi Kurdistan last Thursday in pursuit of Turkish
Kurd PKK guerrillas.
People taking part in the traditional Arbain
procession to Kerbala, commemorating the 40th day of
mourning after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in AD680,
had stopped at a refreshment tent near the town of
Iskandariyah 30 miles south of Baghdad. As the
pilgrims ate and drank a bomb exploded, spraying metal
ball bearings in all directions.