Out-of-work father protests occupation
Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer Tuesday, October 7, 2003
Deshah, Iraq -- Last of three parts.
Every day, he tries to kill American soldiers.
Sometimes, from a hideout in the rattling reeds and bulrushes of the fertile Euphrates valley, 28-year-old Mohammed and a small group of fellow guerrilla fighters launch rocket-propelled grenades at passing American vehicles. Other days, they hide in the shadowy grid of dusty date-palm forests, firing mortars at improvised U.S. checkpoints.
On the day of this interview, Mohammed, who did not give his real name, said he and his friends had fired RPGs at a convoy of two U.S. Bradley vehicles on Highway 10 outside the town of Habbaniyah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad.
"We saw their vehicles burning. We think we killed some of them," Mohammed said matter-of-factly as he sat in a white Formica chair in a friend's fragrant periwinkle garden in Deshah, a village on the outskirts of the volatile city of Ramadi, some 60 miles west of the capital.
Mohammed's damage assessment was a bit off. Lt. Kate Noble, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition force in Baghdad, confirmed an attack that day on a convoy of 82nd Airborne Division vehicles along Highway 10, known to American soldiers as "Ambush Alley." But she said that only one American soldier had been wounded.
DANGER PRESENT AND GROWING
But for the Americans, the danger is ever present and growing, as more and more Mohammeds decide that they are willing to give up their lives if necessary to protest the takeover of their country.
The restive valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates have for months been the staging grounds of relentless guerrilla warfare against the U.S. occupation. Every day, rebels stage an average of 15 attacks on coalition troops -- lobbing mortars at the soldiers, firing from semiautomatic rifles, machine guns and RPG launchers, and blowing them up with remote-controlled explosive devises, said Lt. Col. George Krivo, a U.S. military spokesman.
Contrary to assertions by American officials, including President Bush, Mohammed said neither he nor the rebels he operates with were either foreign militants or supporters of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. He said he wanted to kill American soldiers simply because "they occupied our country."
"They are Satan," he said. "They became our enemy."
TIGHTLY KNIT TRIBAL FAMILIES
Frustration and anger with the occupation runs deep in this part of the so- called Sunni Triangle, a part of Iraq west and north of Baghdad where most of the country's Sunni Muslim minority reside in large, tightly knit tribal families.
In stuffy roadside cafes, in smoky living rooms, at funerals and weddings, ordinary Iraqis mull over the fate of their country and extol the resistance fighters, whom they refer to as mujahedin, or holy warriors.
For Mohammed, the turning point came when American soldiers killed 15 Iraqi demonstrators in Fallujah in April, two weeks after Hussein's regime fell.
'KILLING OUR RELATIVES'
"We didn't start fighting against Americans until they started fighting against our people," Mohammed said. "First we were so happy because we thought they would get rid of Saddam and leave immediately.
"Then they showed their real face. They started killing our relatives and friends and our brothers, and of course we had to start to give it back. We started after the demonstration."
Every man and woman interviewed for this story said they knew of or were related to someone who had been killed or wounded by U.S. soldiers during raids in the area.
Mohammed said he is a member of a clandestine group of several fighters who use weapons they looted right after the war from abandoned military bases "just in case" they were needed.
A man who had manned a mortar during his mandatory service in the Iraqi army helps Mohammed and other guerrillas aim their weapons, he said.
His group has no name, he said. It does not communicate with other guerrilla groups, of which, Mohammed believes, there are many. It does not accept any new members out of fear of "American spies" --Iraqi informers who might report rebel activity to U.S. troops. Coalition forces promise a $2,500 bounty for any information leading to arrests of rebels who had attacked coalition fighters.
NO LOSSES SO FAR
So far, he says, Mohammed's group has taken no losses, and no one has been arrested. They attack American soldiers wherever they can, often having to wait for hours for the troops to show up.
"We have no intelligence, just patience," he said. "When we find them at a checkpoint, we shoot."
Krivo said the structure of the resistance movement Mohammed described matched the information he had.
"There are no large-scale conventional organizations," he said. "Attackers work in individual groups of one to three attackers, usually no more than that. "
When he is not fighting, Mohammed helps his wife raise their two children, aged 2 and 3, and looks for work. Before the war, he was a construction worker,
but now, he says, jobs are scarce.
Mohammed does not know how many Americans he has killed, because checking for casualties right after an attack is too risky. "When we attack, they start shooting like blind people, in all directions," he said.
That often means more Iraqi civilian deaths, but Mohammed said he was willing to sacrifice a few of his compatriots for the cause.
"This is also psychological, because then the Americans make enemies," Mohammed said. "People will not like them again."
Wearing a white long dishdasha shirt and a pair of ripped rubber flip-flops,
Mohammed could have been just another Iraqi man drinking orange soda. He looked around at the beautiful country he wants to make his own again. In the afternoon sun, mourning doves perched daintily on palm trees heavy with sweet dates. Two cows brushed their way through a small cornfield. An egret flew toward the Euphrates.
Then, Mohammed looked at his watch.
"I have an appointment," he said, rising to his feet and walking away.
Half an hour later, a thump of mortar fire sounded from Highway 10, a mile away.
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The second meeting of the Sheffield Grassroots Antiwar Network is on Friday at 7pm upstairs in the Rutland on Brown Street.