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IRAQ: My Baghdad field trip

“Fifteen kidnapped people released, 238 raids, 14,008 searches, 227 arrests (including 126 without warrants), 18 mortars found, 213 weapons found, eight explosive belts found, four terrorists killed, 167 IEDs dismantled, 18 sticky IEDs dismantled and one car bomb dismantled.”  

I was reading the achievements of an Iraqi army division in the four months leading up to June.

I went on reading: “The enemy activities: 24 clashes, 46 IEDs, 38 sticky IEDs, nine car bombs, 10 bodies found, 15 assassinations, nine houses exploded, three grenade attacks, three explosive belts.”

We were spending our day with a general, who  narrated his achievements before Western and Iraqi reporters. “We were honored by the killing of the heads of terrorism Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayoub al Masri,” he said. 

He went on:  “We managed to make the Iraqi youth sport teams: Shiite and Sunnis agree to play together.”

I couldn’t stop myself from thinking: “What a great achievement! Iraqi neighborhoods’ teams will play together!”

That is what is left to us after seven years of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It is considered an achievement that Iraqis play sports together.

Then the commander shared some video footage of his activities. Most of the video showed him visiting orphanages: Children were singing to him and competing to kiss him after he gave them all gifts. The general shouted at the lieutenant managing the video show:  “I want the photo when I was feeding the kids! Hurry up!”

I felt sick. For 24 years under Saddam Hussein, we saw the former president greeted by children in song. I didn’t really know if the general was aware of this or not, but he had just reminded me of all the Hussein- era propaganda.

The general explained his strategy “activating intelligence, improving the division performance, mutual security and developing preemptive work … ”

I was thinking of his words later when I passed by my former neighborhood, where I spent 25 years of my life before I was forced to leave after the murder of my father there four years ago, during the sectarian violence.

This was the first time I had seen my former neighborhood.  I tried hard to see my street and my house but I couldn’t. The blast walls blocked me from going inside. Three years after the successful U.S. surge, I am incapable of seeing my home.

Many stories and articles have been written about the blast walls that have divided Baghdad’s neighborhoods into sectarian cantons. These walls are a physical expression of the dramatic change in the Iraqi people’s mentality toward sectarianism.

Before the war, sectarianism was an unspoken feeling among extremists and some parts of society; now it shapes the life of the entire nation.

Hours later,  news broke that four Al Qaeda leaders had managed to escape from the prison,  formerly known as Camp Cropper, that the Americans handed over earlier this month. I thought of how I had just read from the Iraqi general’s achievement book describing all the terrorist cells captured by his men. 

-- Riyadh Mohammed in Baghdad

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