Saturday, February 11, 2006

Terror in Baghdad

Riverbend has a new post up at Baghdad Burning, describing a raid by the new Iraqi security forces, with help from the U.S. military. She was at her aunt's house, celebrating her cousin's 16th birthday. It's not hard to understand why Iraqis resent and fear these raids so much, after reading River's description of her family's experience.

The raid was conducted by the Iraqi security forces, but with the active cooperation of the U.S. military, who sealed off the entire neighborhood. River and her family had to sit for hours, hearing sounds of other houses being raided, until they got to her aunt's house. Her aunt unlocked all the doors as soon as she knew what was happening, and all the women in the house got dressed because she knew the men would break down the doors if they weren't opened immediately. River's 3-year-old cousin was up in bed, and he was brought downstairs so he would not have to experience the terror of having the security forces storm into his room to search it. Then they all sat in the living room, waiting, waiting, waiting, while their anxiety and fear got stronger.

Here is River's description of what happened when the raiders finally got to the house:

I could feel my heart pounding in my ears and I got closer to the kerosene heater in an attempt to dispel the cold that seemed to have permanently taken over my fingers and toes. T. was trembling, wrapped in her blanket. I waved her over to the heater but she shook her head and answered, "I.... mmmm... n-n-not... c-c-cold..."

It came ten minutes later. A big clanging sound on the garden gate and voices yelling "Ifta7u [OPEN UP]." I heard my uncle outside, calling out, "We're opening the gate, we're opening..." It was moments and they were inside the house. Suddenly, the house was filled with strange men, yelling out orders and stomping into rooms. It was chaotic. We could see flashing lights in the garden and lights coming from the hallways. I could hear Ammoo S. talking loudly outside, telling them his wife and the 'children' were the only ones in the house. What were they looking for? Was there something wrong? he asked.

Suddenly, two of them were in the living room. We were all sitting on the sofa, near my aunt. My cousin B. was by then awake, eyes wide with fear. They were holding large lights or 'torches' and one of them pointed a Kalashnikov at us. "Is there anyone here but you and them?" one of them barked at my aunt. "No- it's only us and my husband outside with you -- you can check the house." T.'s hands went up to block the glaring light of the torch and one of the men yelled at her to put her hands down, they fell limply in her lap. I squinted in the strong light and as my sight adjusted, I noticed they were wearing masks, only their eyes and mouths showing. I glanced at my cousins and noted that T. was barely breathing. J. was sitting perfectly still, eyes focused on nothing in particular, I vaguely noted that her sweater was on backwards.

One of them stood with the Klashnikov pointed at us, and the other one began opening cabinets and checking behind doors. We were silent. The only sounds came from my aunt, who was praying in a tremulous whisper and little B., who was sucking away at his thumb, eyes wide with fear. I could hear the rest of the troops walking around the house, opening closets, doors and cabinets.

I listened for Ammoo S., hoping to hear him outside but I could only distinguish the harsh voices of the troops. The minutes we sat in the living room seemed to last forever. I didn't know where to look exactly. My eyes kept wandering to the man with the weapon and yet I knew staring at him wasn't a good idea. I stared down at a newspaper at my feet and tried to read the upside-down headlines. I glanced at J. again -- her heart was beating so hard, the small silver pendant that my mother had given her just that day was throbbing on her chest in time to her heartbeat.

Suddenly, someone called out something from outside and it was over. They began rushing to leave the house, almost as fast as they'd invaded it. Doors slamming, lights dimming. We were left in the dark once more, not daring to move from the sofa we were sitting on, listening as the men disappeared, leaving only a couple to stand at our gate.

"Where's baba?" J. asked, panicking for a moment before we heard his slippered feet in the driveway. "Did they take him?" Her voice was getting higher. Ammoo S. finally walked into the house, looking weary and drained. I could tell his face was pale even in the relative dark of the house. My aunt sat sobbing quietly in the living room, T. comforting her. "Houses are no longer sacred... We can't sleep... We can't live... If you can't be safe in your own house, where can you be safe? The animals... the bastards..."

We found out a few hours later that one of our neighbors, two houses down, had died. Abu Salih was a man in his seventies and as the Iraqi mercenaries raided his house, he had a heart-attack. His grandson couldn't get him to the hospital on time because the troops wouldn't let him leave the house until they'd finished with it. His grandson told us later that day that the Iraqis were checking the houses, but the American troops had the area surrounded and secured. It was a coordinated raid.

They took at least a dozen men from my aunt's area alone -- their ages between 19 and 40. The street behind us doesn't have a single house with a male under the age of 50 -- lawyers, engineers, students, ordinary laborers -- all hauled away by the 'security forces' of the New Iraq. The only thing they share in common is the fact that they come from Sunni families (with the exception of two who I'm not sure about).

We spent the day putting clothes back into closets, taking stock of anything missing (a watch, a brass letter opener, and a walkman), and cleaning dirt and mud off of carpets. My aunt was fanatic about cleansing and disinfecting everything saying it was all "Dirty, dirty, dirty..." J. has sworn never to celebrate her birthday again.

It's almost funny -- only a month ago, we were watching a commercial on some Arabic satellite channel -- Arabiya perhaps. They were showing a commercial for Iraqi security forces and giving a list of numbers Iraqis were supposed to dial in the case of a terrorist attack... You call THIS number if you need the police to protect you from burglars or abductors... You call THAT number if you need the National Guard or special forces to protect you from terrorists... But...

Who do you call to protect you from the New Iraq's security forces?

And just think -- my taxes are paying for this.

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