Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Securing the death road.

Ten days ago, and just before I was heading to my work station in Samawa, I got a phone call from my colleagues warning me from tacking the road the passes through Latifriyah and at that time the news coming from that spot was indicating a close military operation to put an end for the domination of the criminals over that segment of the road to the south.

The significant piece of news at that day was blowing up a small bridge over a small canal near Latifiyah, the small town that turned into a junk yard for burnt vehicles and a slaughter house for Iraqis; officials, IP and ING members and even civilians. Not to mention that all governmental offices were destroyed there.

So, I decided to take the other road that passes along the Tigris River and it wasn't surprising to find that most taxis and buses have switched to that longer but safer road (takes two extra hours) and of course doubled the fees for each passenger but we were all satisfied and we didn't mind paying more money to have a safer ride.
During the days I spent in Samawa I was following the news closely and they were kind of encouraging after the news came telling stories about busting a number of terrorists' networks there.

Finally we heard that the "road is now clear and secure" and yesterday I had the chance to check this statement myself, as I decided to go back to Baghdad using this particular road. At the town garage I talked to some cab drivers who confirmed that the road is safe enough. So the trip began and I was still having some worries and I could see the same on the faces of the other passengers who were with me in the same car. They were telling each other some horrible stories that took place on this road and the closer we were getting to Latifiyah the more disturbed and worried we became. Cell phones rang many times with calls from families trying to check on their sons, brothers or fathers and to see if they passed the danger zone or not.

We reached the segment that is called "the death road" and the bus got wraped in a heavy silence. The 1st checkpoint was for the IP; they were scanning the coming vehicles and ordering some of them to stop, checking Id's and making sure that no one is carrying guns.

We went through this checkpoint and after several kilometers we reached an ING checkpoint. The soldiers were all wearing black masks to avoid exposing their identities. Anyway, we found that the road was blocked by this checkpoint and we had to go for several kilometers off-road in the farms to by pass this block and to get to the main road again.

Here, our fears reached a peak because we all knew that similar paths are the ones used by the terrorists as they're hidden by dense orchards.
I became even more anxious when the guy sitting next to me took out his Id (which says that he works for one of the ministries) and passed it to the driver without saying a word and in what looked like an undeclared agreement, all the other passengers did the same adding their cell phones in some cases (the terrorists think that anyone carrying a cell phone in this area is a spy collecting intelligence for the government or the MNF).

The driver calmly took the Id's and phones and started hiding them in a small secret drawer underneath his seat. The guy next to me looked at me with a question in his eyes "and you?"
I took out my Id and handed it over to the driver because I didn't want to violate this silent security agreement and I felt hurt because I had to hide what should be an honor of being a dentist serving the people, because the "resistance" consider serving the people a crime.

One of the passengers said whispering "where are the Americans? Where are the ING?"
One replied saying "and who dares to enter these territories?!"
We were overwhelmed with fear and anxiety until the guy sitting next to me said "look there" and pointed with his finger to the right.

We all turned to see what he was pointing to, and we regained some of our confidence as we saw a convoy of several Hummer vehicles patrolling the area.
"They're not as cautious and afraid as we thought they would be. Here are they moving confidently" the driver said. "I don't think they'll stay here after sunset. The terrorists will take over the area at night" another passenger added.
I smiled and thought "we fear our countrymen while we feel safe when the foreigners are moving around! Who's the occupier? Who are the bad guys here?"

We were done moving in the farms and we got back to the main road to find ourselves in the center of Latifiyah. I saw something very different from what I saw last time I was there; endless patrols for the MNF and the ING, yet the place was so quiet.
We were ordered to stop at an ING checkpoint and the soldier who dealt with us seemed different from the others I met before; he was very confident and acting in a highly professional way using only signals without the usual verbal communication that is still being used in many checkpoints in Iraq which is a waste of time and fruitless.

He searched the passengers and checked the registration papers of the car and he talked for the first time when he finished his job saying "sorry to disturb you, you can move on".
We moved forward to the bridge that got recently repaired as the news told and there we found a checkpoint for the US Marines and the ING working side by side.
We were also surprised to see that they took positions over the roofs of the near by buildings which made me say "they don't seem to be leaving after sunset, these are fixed stations". It was relieving also to see all the death slogans of the terrorists have been erased and replaced with the slogans of the real heroes, I saw slogans like:
"The terrorists destroyed the bridge and we have rebuilt it""
"Death to terrorism…long live the peace"
"Long live the heroes of the ING, the loyal sons of Iraq"

There was a traffic jam near the bridge and there were some posts arranged in the form of a fence to control the entrance to the bridge by two lanes only but our traditions and our natural hate for awaiting made some of the drivers try to move around the fence to form a 3rd lane and there came a single round from an ING machine gun in the air and this was enough to make everyone there realize how order is important in critical situations like this one where the terrorists use all means to kill people. Some passengers began to shout condemning the lack of discipline of those drivers and I could hear one say "yes, they've got to be tough because these heroes are risking their lives here and we all have to obey the law and not give a chance for the terrorists to take advantage on us".

We passed Latifiyah safely and driver returned our Id's and phones back and we were back to our boring chats. We finally entered Baghdad by sunset to find the city walls covered with signs and posters calling the people to do their role in building the democratic Iraq that will be an oasis for peace in the region.

Terrorism is losing the battle and in spite of tough times we're facing in this battle and in spite of the fear and worries that we carry in our minds I felt a great joy when I saw a sign on the road saying:
"Your voice is as precious as gold. No, it's more than that!"

-By Mohammed.

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