Rebellion in Baquba
In the heart of the city, the streets are empty and all shops are shuttered. The few cars we see are usually taxis full of young men cruising around--probably mujahedeen patrols. Some of them eye us suspiciously.
Overhead we hear drones, and from our left the occasional clatter of the Apache choppers, but there is no gunfire in the streets, no armed fighters in sight. As the numb fear from the close call with the Bradley fades, I begin to feel trapped and sick with dread. Even Abu Talat seems nervous.
"Boys, we are in a bad situation. Yes, very bad," he says, as if commenting on the intense heat. The goal now is to find a certain religious sheik we know before running into any mujahedeen checkpoints--the local fighters might be cool, or they might kill us.
The sheik's store is closed, but we interview two men out front. They tell us of the dawn attacks, that the muj hold the city and that US forces have been driven out. We keep looking for the sheik, asking questions of the few men we see on the streets. They tell us the chief of police has had his home burned down by mujahedeen.
We visit one mosque, then another. At the second mosque, an old man, Haji Feissal, agrees to take us to the sheik's home by a circuitous drive through the empty market. He says there have been sporadic firefights and some tank incursions all morning.
We head deeper still into Baquba's narrow side streets, closer to the Apaches. As we cross each intersection, our nerves are taut with anxiety, not knowing who or what is down the next street. But we have to find the sheik. That's how things are done in Iraq: If you know an important local your chances of survival go up dramatically. If you wander around alone without contacts, you find trouble.