The past four days during which we were under siege were long and rough for Baghdadis. Anxiety and fear haunted us at our homes and a flow of horrible news made the prison feel even tighter…it was a material and psychological siege that will not be easy to forget.
Thursday began differently for me, first thing in the morning I received very troubling news that one of our friends has been kidnapped. His shocked, terrified father came to us looking for any bit of information that might be possibly helpful in the search for his son who vanished a day before. We in turn became anxious because we too would be in danger if that friend fell in the hands of very bad guys.
We decided to go home earlier than usual that day and then we were met by the terrible news about the savage massacre in Baghdad that took away hundreds of innocent lives. I avoided looking at the news after I heard of the open-ended curfew and we had to get prepared for the worse.
Terrorists and militias started an open war; the battlefield is our city and the fuel is innocent civilians as always since those criminal groups find it easier to kill civilians than to confront each other (and rid us of their evil). The big problem is that the security forces are not strong enough to stop them, worse than that, some members of these forces let themselves become partners to the criminals.
We had no choice but to rely on ourselves to protect our homes and neighborhood insurgents and militias alike. In our mixed block the elders met to assign duties and make plans in case things go wrong. They decided that people should all exchange cell-phone numbers as the fastest means to communicate at times of action, it was also decided that if someone calls to report an attack on his home, everyone else must go up to the roof and start shooting at the direction of the assailants.
More roadblocks were erected and older ones strengthened—streets and alleys were blocked in any possible way to prevent any attack with vehicles.
They also agreed that no one moves on the streets after a certain hour at night and any moving person would be dealt with as a threat.
The situation was terrifying and the rattle of machineguns broke through the tense quiet of the night several times every night but perhaps the star of the latest show was the mortar—there has been a frenzy of mortar fire, gladly none struck our neighborhood but we could hear the stupid death packages pass by each other in the air across our neighborhood.
No major incidents happened near us except some shooting at a stranger vehicle which neighbors told me carried militants who were trying to launch mortar rounds from an abandoned space but were forced to run away by the shooting.
The other star of the crisis was rumors about ugly revenge attacks and I sometimes feel that those rumors are part of the terrorists and militias propaganda campaign.
Being unable to surf the web for news, TV and radio were the main sources for news and updates about what was going on in Baghdad's vast sides but I trusted the phone more; I was making frequent calls to friends and relatives to see how they were doing.
One of my aunts lives in Adhamiya, she told me they received heavy bombardment from mortars. Another friend from the same sector relayed some odd news to me "there's a war raging between the Islamists and the Baathists…the Islamists have near full control now"
The phone brings only bad news most of the time but it's still better that to remain worried and disconnected from the surroundings.
Some news were really bad though, my uncle called on Friday to tell me that he and his family of eight were being forced to leave their neighborhood.
My Sunni uncle, his Shia wife and their children were told to leave because the head of the household is Sunni. His voice was filled with pain as he talked to me, I asked him who made the threat and he said ten cars filled with armed men came to our street shooting their guns in the air and announcing through a loudspeaker that all Sunni people must leave within 24 hours, then they went to the mosque and murdered the preacher's son.
The locals didn't like this of course since it was the first time they witness this level of violence and tension according to my uncle. Later that day the Shia in my uncle's neighborhood sent a delegation to the local Sadr office demanding the displacement order be cancelled. The guy in the office turned them down telling them these were "orders from above…we will kick them out the same way they kick the Shia out in other areas. They shall remain refugees until Shia refugees return to their homes"
Ordinary people do not approve of such atrocities but they have no power over the murderers…my other aunt who lives in the same neighborhood of my uncle's was a bit luckier because she's married to a Shia so she volunteered to hold my uncle's furniture for him while his family sought refuge at several relatives' homes.
"I'm leaving Baghdad to another city, the situation has become unbearable here…"
My uncle's words were killing me…
He said the delegation was still trying to convince the Sayyid to reconsider this decision but he (my uncle) would not wait to hear back because his feelings were deeply wounded—a teacher who spent 30 years teaching the kids of the neighborhood without any discrimination and now a bunch of thugs made him a target for their campaign of blind revenge.
A new fuel shortage complicated the situation in Baghdad and its effects were soon visible. Local 'street generators' that provide electricity for homes were also badly affected since the curfew stopped diesel fuel from reaching the consumers.
Large, main marketplaces became unreachable and people became more dependent on the smaller local store owners whose business activity spiked for a few days, but those too were anxious watching their shelves going empty.
The good thing was that bakeries didn't stop making bread.
We were having our small chitchat meeting everyday, and sometimes twice a day; friends and neighbors who can't venture outside the block but find some comfort and fun in talking to other friends and neighbors over tea or drinks…better than staying alone at home after all!
Shia and Sunni we sit together wondering if there would be a day when we too fight each other. Of course not, some would rather run away and leave Iraq for a while many will try to continue their lives here accepting the risk and praying for things to calm down.
Not everyone can run away, most people are connected to work, kids, schools and homes; people are people everywhere, they all want to live a decent life and live it in a place they call home.
Criminals are always fewer than ordinary people but those criminals are willing and capable of doing harm and they would not hesitate to do anything to get what they want. In fact they did terrify us in the most vicious ways and this terror reached Sunni and Shia alike.
No one among this majority wants this madness to continue but how long can we take this, when will we feel safe? That's the question on everyone's mind.
As usual during times of crisis, people's morale takes a steep slide down and my friends who used to say they expected Iraq to stabilize within a maximum of 5 years are now talking about 10-15 years and some have reached total frustration and are comparing Iraq's future with Somalia's present.
Rough times blur the vision and disrupt reason, I understand that. When you hear stories about people burned alive or mass public executions it makes you imagine that the streets are full of monsters coming to predate everything and makes you shout calling for merciless punishment upon even those who are only suspects.
Being stuck at home for four days with all the violence going outside and the fear that it might reach you at home was a horrible experience. When the news came that the curfew was over and people began walking on the streets again there was a strange feeling that was particularly very strong this morning in Baghdad; despite all the rumors and fear from more wide-scale revenge attacks there was a feeling among the people that they must go out on the streets and live in all possible means.
The most beautiful scene was that of students going to their schools and colleges despite all what happened in the days before.
Not everyone will absorb the lesson but I'm sure that this last dose of terror has changed the feelings of so many people here, a change in favor of denouncing and rejecting violence, I hope.