Rebellion in Baquba
By the grace of god our friend the sheik is at home and receives us warmly; he even speaks English. He demands that we stay for lunch and tea in his diwan, or sitting room. The walls are painted blue and decorated with a beautiful Chinese print, framed Koranic verse and a small piece of thrift-store-style art of a coy little girl.
In the past four days US forces had been conducting operations just south of town. Apart from the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, it was the only real combat occurring in the past two weeks. We ask if this fighting is part of that.
"No, this time the mujahedeen attacked. The United States is on the defensive," says the sheik. "The resistance sent out fliers warning us to stay in today, and they attacked at dawn." At several points our interview is interrupted by a series of huge explosions. They sound very close.
"Mr. Christian, do not be so scared," says the sheik. "These are just for sound, to scare us. But for us, we've had so much war it is normal." He's so calm I start suspecting that he's high on Valium, which is sold over the counter in Iraq and used by millions to cope with the stress of war.
The sheik says the Americans cut power to the whole city as part of their siege, but other than that his story is similar to the one offered by the First Infantry Division: The muj attacked first, and the United States responded with tanks, helicopters and warplanes but are still stuck on the edge of town.
"The fighters here are very well armed and well prepared. They have Kalashnikovs and RPGs," says the sheik. Why this uprising? "We do not like the occupation. Look, everything is smashed--no electricity, no security, nothing gets fixed. People have no work. They are sick of waiting," says the sheik. "The Tartars occupied us, the Turks occupied us, the British. All were driven out. The West cannot win this fight."
The sheik's brother adds: "When the resistance is from inside Iraq I put my hand with them. But we do not like the foreign fighters, the Saudis or Syrians." He is simultaneously dismissing claims that Al Qaeda is running the rebellion and acknowledging the controversial presence of internationalist mujahedeen.