On Wednesday, Florence Aubenas of Libération (Paris) described the eerie atmosphere in Baghdad. -- Most of the districts stay silent, schools are half full, stores are closed. A curfew seems already to have been imposed on official buildings, the protected ministers residence, the headquarters of political parties, and the commissariats. Yet its the middle of the day. In the immobile city, theres only one question worth asking: where will violence break out next? -- Le Figaro reported that "the American forces, for their part, do not much leave their bases, which have been transformed into entrenched camps. This has the advantage of limiting American losses, but the disadvantage of allowing the creation of an atmosphere of insecurity that is apt to cause massive absenteeism when the Jan. 30 vote takes place." ...
BAGHDAD: GOVERNOR KILLED AND JANUARY 30 VOTE UNDERMINED
By Florence Aubenas
January 5, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Things are calm -- too calm. In the center of Baghdad, not a single car -- almost -- honks on the streets, their asphalt broken by tanks. Most of the districts stay silent, schools are half full, stores are closed. A curfew seems already to have been imposed on official buildings, the protected ministers residence, the headquarters of political parties, and the commissariats. Yet its the middle of the day. In the immobile city, theres only one question worth asking: where will violence break out next? Parliamentary elections are planned for Jan. 30 in Iraq and attacks mark every day of the campaign.
Around 8 a.m. yesterday, a first explosion caused the capitals window panes to shake. Its a car bomb near a police station: 12 dead. A few mortars are fired from the southern districts, keeping up the tension. One hour later, in the northern part of the city this time, armed men in hiding open fire on an official convoy. Next to cars consumed in smoke, the few passers-by ask, almost as a courtesy: Who was it? A cigarette seller, two guards, and the citys governor have just died. A neighbor maintains that the cigarette sellers name was Hamid, but no one remembers the name of the governor. It was Ali Radi al-Haidari; only a few days ago, on one of his rare public appearances, he complained about this lack of memory. He had come back from exile in London, had been named governor by the Americans barely five months ago, and had promised to strike acts of sabotage with an iron fist. He was a Shiite, like 60% of the inhabitants of the country, till recently kept out of power by Saddam Hussein. He said of the elections: Were finally going to win. The attack was claimed by the Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. The owner of an Internet café sighs. These new politicians, you dont have time to learn their names and theyve already been killed. He knows that if the shooting calms down the kids in the neighborhood will come check out the Islamist web sites to know which of the three or four groups active in Iraq is claiming responsibility for the strike. The kids only look at that and at porno.
The debate over a possible delay in the vote, which follows each attack like a funeral ceremony, has been transferred into the political sphere -- the circle of ministers and deputies that appeared, for the most part, with the arrival of the Americans, and whom people have trouble identifying. Were more mistrustful of the ones we know: they were part of Saddams clan, says a professor. This time, the jousting was between the minister of defense, Hazem al Shaalan, and the minister of foreign affairs, Hoshyar Zebari. The former asked Arab brothers in Egypt and the Gulf states to intervene with the Sunnis so theyll participate in the elections. The armed groups -- all of which come from the minority community in Iraq that was favored by Saddams regime -- are threatening those who participate in the vote. The Iraqi Islamic Party, the principal Sunni formation, has just withdrawn and only two slates remain in competition in some of that communitys regions, compared to more than 150 in Baghdad. A boycott of these proportions means that half of society will be absent from the election, argued the minister of defense. If Sunni participation requires a delay, that would be possible.
Hoshyar Zebari clutches at the fact that there will be no delay. We have no guarantee that the situation will be better in three months, his entourage explains. The United States, too, has reaffirmed its insistence on the Jan. 30 date, since its what the Iraqis want. A little later, around 6 p.m., a new explosion shook Baghdad.
GOVERNOR OF BAGHDAD ASSASSINATED IN AMBUSH
By Renaud Girard
** Threats from terrorist groups are weighing more and more heavily on elections planned for the end of the month **
Le Figaro (Paris)
January 5, 2004
With general elections slated for Jan. 30, the security situation continues to worsen in Iraq. The governor of Baghdad, Ali Radi al-Haidari, and two of his bodyguards were assassinated yesterday morning in an ambush in the northern part of the capital. An Iraqi civilian was also killed in the attack.
The Islamist terrorist group led by Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi -- on whose head the Pentagon has place a $25 million price -- claimed responsibility for the assassination of the governor of Baghdad, in a communiqué posted on the Internet.
In a florid style that recalls the style of Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, the Egyptian lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, the communiqué states, among other things: Two young mujahideen from the Organization of al-Qaeda in the land of Rafidain (Mesopotamia) have assassinated a tyrant among the agents of the Americans (Ali al-Haidari), the governor of Baghdad, may God liberate her (Baghdad) and liberate all of Iraq.
We say to every traitor, to every partisan of the Jews and the Christians: such will be your fate, here below and in the beyond! adds the text.
The group also published a video clip on the Internet that was supposed to show the Baghdad governors assassination. It shows a convoy of cars, then an individual who approaches them, then blood on the seat of one of the cars.
The video clip images are fragmentary, but they do not contradict the Iraqi minister of the interiors version. A group of armed men opened fire on the governors convoy as he went from the al-Hurreya district to the al-Adl district, in the northern part of Baghdad, said a ministry spokesman.
At one of his rare press conferences on Dec. 27, the governor had called for taking a hard line toward the insurgents, accusing them of blocking the reconstruction of the capital. He claimed that the rebels had fled the Sunni city of Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, following the American offensive in November, and had fallen back into the capital.
After the attack, which took place around 9 a.m., the sector was closed off by the American army and Iraqi forces, while American helicopters flew over the site. This security procedure only slightly reassures the population and has never succeeded in capturing killer commandos, who always succeed in melting into the crowd.
The attack against the governor was not the only one yesterday in the Baghdad region. In two bomb attacks, five American soldiers were killed. In addition, fifteen Iraqis -- nine of whom were members of the security forces -- were killed in other attacks that occurred in Baghdad and Samarra, another bastion of the Sunni resistance.
It seems that the anti-American insurgents, who are principally recruited from the Sunni community (20% of the population), have considerably increased their military efforts in an effort to derail the electoral process.
Insecurity in Baghdad has now reached such a level that it is not apparent how U.N. observers will be able to accomplish their task of monitoring the elections.
The Iraqi police and army, who lack motivation, are poorly trained, and in addition are often infiltrated by the Islamist terrorist organizations, are not up to the task of bringing security to the Iraqi capital.
The American forces, for their part, do not much leave their bases, which have been transformed into entrenched camps. This has the advantage of limiting American losses, but the disadvantage of allowing the creation of an atmosphere of insecurity that is apt to cause massive absenteeism when the Jan. 30 vote takes place.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/