In a Climate of Anarchy, Assault Psychosis Overtakes Baghdad
By R my Ourdan
Friday 28 August 2003
After terrorist operations against the UN headquarters and the Jordanian presence, two other projects have been foiled. Foreigners are starting to leave Iraq and embassies to reduce their personnel. From our special envoy in Baghdad.
It's certainly not the rout this country experienced in March just before the war. All the same, foreigners are starting to leave Iraq. The August 19th attack on the United Nations General Headquarters, besides the death of Sergio Vieira and a couple dozen UN employees, achieved its objective. Fear is spreading in the city. The fear of new attacks is fed daily by multiple rumors. Some organizations have received direct threats. And the American occupying force doesn't tell everything it knows.
Two bomb attacks were secretly foiled last week in downtown Baghdad, next to the Hotel Palestine. The double discoveries took place August 21 according to Western sources, at different times of the day in vehicles parked next to the Meridien-Palestine. Apparently one operation involveded a booby-trapped car with a large quantity of explosives and the other a bomb possibly intended to be taken elsewhere. No one knows whether the American army or security services have made any arrests.
The Hotel Palestine and the neighboring Sheraton shelter dozens of Westerners, diplomats, businessmen, journalists, as well as Iraqis from abroad who work with the US-led coalition. At the Sheraton, a few western customers have found messages slipped under their room doors ordering them to leave the country. The process would suggest the complicity of some of the hotel staff. In the last few days security has been further reinforced around the two principal hotels in downtown Baghdad. Streets are closed to traffic, searches are systematic, American and Iraqi guards have their fingers on the trigger.
Other spots in Baghdad are also involved in this reinforcement of security. Buildings occupied by the Americans, which already looked like bunkers or military bases, have become virtually inaccessible. The streets which encircle the Palace of the Republic, the Paul Bremer administration headquarters, are studded with guard posts, concrete blocks, and barbed wire. The Hotel Baghdad, occupied by the American secret services, is protected by dozens of armed guards on the street side, and by tanks on the river side. The British Embassy was evacuated on a bomb alert. A center city street where two British media companies rent houses and where the French embassy is also located has been closed to traffic.
In this climate of growing fear, some panic. Others take elementary precautions. British embassy personnel have been transferred either to the Palace of the Republic or to Kuwait. UN agencies and NGO offices have ordered certain employees to take vacations in Jordan or Kuwait, while others send theirs back to their home country, including the French Embassy, which has reduced its personnel and closed its cultural center. The main British NGO, Oxfam, has left Iraq.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had been the only humanitarian organization to stay in Iraq during the war, has drastically reduced its staff. Diplomats and some Anglo-Saxon journalists don't go anywhere without body guards prominently displaying their weapons. TV channels and Press Agencies have recruited ex-commandos from the American and British armies, who indicate now where their journalists must live and when they may move around in the country!
No one sees an imminent end to the crisis. Iraqis as much as foreigners seem depressed about the way the post-war has turned out. There's hardly anyone besides American President George W. Bush who finds the situation improving and his televised addresses provoke insults, mockery, and bitter laughter in Iraq. Everyone in Baghdad can see nothing but the constant harassment of American forces and their allies, galloping crime, and the continuing terrorist risk.
For the last twenty-four hours alone, one can barely count the different kinds of attacks. Two American soldiers were killed and at least five others wounded Wednesday August 27 in two incidents, a bomb attack, and convoy assaults in Baghdad and Falluja. One British soldier was also killed in light weapons fire and another wounded during the night from Wednesday to Thursday in Basra in southern Iraq.
A six person Baghdad family was executed, women and children included, and a fight near the Hotel Palestine that turned out badly resulted in four deaths. Other American convoys had been attacked the day before. One man was shot down at nightfall in front of the Al-Hamra, another hotel frequented by the international press corps, and his body promptly taken away, without anyone knowing whether the affair had a political or a criminal connotation.
The question is to know who's carrying out these attacks. If it's obvious that the population does not accept the occupation very well, it's equally clear to the Iraqis that an American departure would undoubtedly involve still more anarchy. The mid-August attacks against the Jordanian embassy and the UN General headquarters reinforce the impression that structured and professional groups are at work in Iraq.
An Iraqi intelligence officer, "Mohammed", who actively works with the American army and "services", estimates that "Iraq must face a number of groups that share the same objective-the departure of foreigners from the country-without there being any relationship between them. There's an alliance between the agents of Saddam Hussein's ex-services, foreign Arab combatants, notorious criminals, and infiltrated agents of Al-Qaeda, but these alliances often have a purely local character. Those of Ramadi do not necessarily know those of Tikrit, those of Falluja don't necessarily have a relationship with those of Baghdad".
For him, "the men of the former regime, agents of Moukhabarath - Saddam Hussein's intelligence services - or "Fedayyins" -militias-, represent only a temporary danger. We arrest some every day, discover their weapons' caches, and the population doesn't support them. We could eliminate them in a few months. The problem is the assistance they receive from abroad. Al-Qaeda agents, and more generally members of radical Islamist groups have arrived, mostly from Syria, but also some from Iran, to support them. Surveillance has been reinforced along the Syrian border, but that's not enough."
"Mohammed" further reveals that one of the authors of the attack against the Jordanian embassy was secretly arrested last week. "It's an Iraqi, a member of a little group of six from around Ramadi who got explosives and money from an Islamist network we believe to be linked to Al-Qaeda, or, in any case, to foreign Islamists recently arrived in Iraq."
American forces detain hundreds of prisoners secretly in Iraq, contrary to international conventions, organize no trials, and communicate no information on inquiries in progress. So it's difficult to sort out the true from the false and to define exactly what motivates the authors of anti-Western attacks. But psychosis is overtaking the country, especially Baghdad.
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
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