I have spent time in the "Triangle of Death" and have suffered great personal tragedy there. I cannot express how deeply I am opposed to the deployment of British troops to that area. I hope that the following piece will enlighten people to some Iraqi's opinions, as well as my own. In my view it is a political deployment, and it's about time our military "boys" acted like the big "men" that they claim to be, and stop getting pushed around by our politicians.
So Tony Blair's democratically elected government has decided to accede to the Bush Administration's request to send British troops to Iskendaria, 50 km south of Bagdad.
Once again, this decision taken by our government flies in the face of the wishes of the majority of the British people who are opposed to such a troop redeployment.
Just like when we stood 'should to shoulder' with America to pay a 'blood price' during the Invasion and Bombardment of Iraq in March 2003, this decision to move soldiers north is more about pleasing Bush and his cronies than about listening to the views of the British electorate.
The decision was made by Hoon and Co. before the voting public were even told of the request - the troops are already on the move and some are already in place following orders that could take them to Hell.
So why doesn't Tony Blair listen to the electorate, to public opinion? Why should he? There is no viable alternative to elect in our country, his majority is huge and can do nothing but suceed in 2005's General Election. So if he doesn't need to please or listen to us, why not please and listen to Bush and stay buddies with the USA? Why not help George W win his election? After all, that's what this is all about. Far too may US troops have been killed or injured and it is time for us to pay our price in terms of casualties as part of the 'coalition of the willing'.
The 850 or so troops that are sent north will free up American soldiers for the final assault on Fallujah, a city of some 250,000 people, whose daily diminishing population will never tolerate an American presence in their city. The final push/slaughter in Fallujah could begin in days before the 2nd November US election. Bush probably wants to see the rebel city 'pacified' before he goes to the polls and who knows, if Kerry was to win, maybe the final slaughter would not happen in such a grotesque way. Maybe Kerry will care about US soldier casualties, even if he also is not too concerned about the spiralling number of Iraqi civilian deaths. Maybe, just maybe ....
(But one thing is for sure, I just want to say it here. America might kill every man, woman, child and baby in Fallujah and thereby physically crush the resistance in this noble city, but the spirit of Fallujah's struggle will live on in future history in the hearts of all Iraqis.)
The record of American atrocities committed in Fallujah is astounding - how they get away with it is beyond me. When I was there in April this year there was supposed to be a ceasefire. But in the clinic where I was, I watched a 10 year old boy die in front of me - he was hit in the head by a bullet from an American sniper. His family had left their home, believing it to be safe. Then two middle aged women who thought it was safe to go out to the shop were killed, again by American snipers, even though they were waving a white flag. During this false ceasefire, cluster bombs were dropped on homes and we saw victims, burnt all over their bodies, rushed to the clinic in any car available. I say any car available because the clinic, by this time, no longer had an ambulance. Before we had arrived in Fallujah in the morning, the last ambulance had been shot at and damaged badly, but was still drivable. The driver had been seriously injured. And then in the afternoon the snipers had finished it off as some friends were trying to reach a woman in labour to bring her to the clinic. Only Ghareeb's quick thinking and driving had managed to get the ambulance away from the snipers' sights before any of them were killed as bullets flew all around them, as the American soldiers committed yet another atrocity - actually firing on a clearly marked ambulance. Twelve people in that clinic alone, that we know of, were killed that night, during a ceasefire!
So when the British troops move to Iskendaria to free up US soldiers to attack Fallujah, they will be complicit in the atrocities and human rights abuses that the Americans continue to commit in Fallujah.
And soon they will, no doubt, be looked upon in the same way as the American soldiers - despised and feared as violent overlords all over Iraq. At the moment, amongst many Iraqis, the British soldiers enjoy a better reputation than their American counterparts. I am constantly told "the British troops understand us - our way of life, our tribal system and our traditions" and I am assured that British soldiers are more polite, less abusive and more sympathetic to the plight of the ordinary Iraqi.
Indeed, just last night I met eleven young men from Basra, living right by me here in Amman. All had left their homes and families for economic/employment reasons and all missed Basra and their beloved Iraq. Most of them had left pre-war, but one of them had left just six months ago. I asked him how the British troops behaved in Basra and he told me "very good, no problems", although he did not like the occupation.
Of course, the British soldiers do not enjoy a completely squeaky clean reputation everywhere. Just ask the residents of Amara what they think of the British soldiers who continually humiliate them and grind them down on a daily basis - you will get a completely different response then. Or you could ask the prisoners and their families murdered and abused by British troops if they think that they are any better behaved than American soldiers. Or you could try asking the families of victims gunned down in error on the streets of Basra what they think of 'our boys'. Or what about asking any member of the 28 families detemined enough, to have the chance to take our own Ministry of Defence to court for injuries and killings. By June the MOD had been forced to admit to 120 cases where they had paid out compensation to prevent a court case. But if this "good" reputation is not as good as it should be now, just wait until 850 British troops come under the command of the brutal Americans in a place like Iskendaria. The soldiers, obeying their new American commanders are sure to be put in very uncomfortble situations and be made to carry out orders that they are not really happy with. I wonder if they will be ordered to fire on ambulances, children or women carrying white flags.
Why do I say 'in a place like Iskendaria'?
Iskendaria is situated 50 km south of Bagdad on the way to Hilla (Babylon). Between Bagdad and Iskendaria lies Mahmoudya, 30 km south of Bagdad and 20 km north of Iskendaria. Lattifya, another town, is just 15 km south west of Mahmoudya. This whole area has recently gained a reputation for 'bad' resistance.
Unlike the Mujahadeen in Fallujah, Ramadi or Samarra or the Mahdi Army all over Iraq, but mainly in the south, the resistance here seems to have lost its way. While the Mujahadeen and Mahdi Army remain focussd in their brave efforts to rid Iraq of this heinous occupation and try only to attack coalition forces, the resistance in the Mahmoudya area attack anything associated with America, the West or indeed anything/anybody foreign to Iraq, even other Arabs, and even Iraqis assumed to be working with anything foreign from NGO's to soldiers.
I did not realise this fact for many months, passing safely and happily on buses back and fro to Hilla.
It was not until I was sitting in the back of an Italian Red Cross ambulance with Wejdy, my translator, on the way to Najaf to deliver medical aid, that I was rudely woken up to this fact. As we passed Lattifya there was a huge explosion which hit the water lorry in front of us and the ambulance that we were in. (See report: Iraq: Aid work in Najaf). It was either a roadside bomb or RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and it was definitely aimed at our convoy - clearly Red Cross, clearly humanitarian. We were lucky to survive the attack - 10 or so metres nearer and we would be dead now. And we were fortunate that the drivers of the lorry and ambulance were so calm and skilful in the circumstances, managing to control their smashed vehicles after the attack, keeping them on the road and avoiding crashing.
I say this about the drivers because on the way back from Najaf and Kufa we were hit again, about 5 km from the same spot as the day before in Lattifya. This time the explosion caught Ghareeb's car and engulfed it making control of the vehicle impossible. We could not even see his car in the middle of the dust and mud thrown up all around it - it was horrible. We still do not know the full facts of what happened, but Ghareeb and his passenger, Enzo Baldoni, ended up being killed. And this shows how off-track the insurgents are in this area.
Ghareeb was one of the best people in Iraq, in my opinion (see report: Ghareeb) - brave, kind and compassionate. He made endless trips into beseiged Fallujah, for example, taking in much needed medical supplies and other aid and bringing out women, children and injured victims of American voilence. He took medical aid to Najaf and Kufa and helped children and adults get the medical attention they needed. He helped countless people who now, like us, miss him so deeply.
Enzo Baldoni, the Italian journalist, killed by the Islamic Army in Iraq in this area, was an anti-war, anti-occupation, left-wing journalist. He was trying to tell the truth about the continuing occupation.
How wrong can the insurgents be to kill these two men and to attack Red Cross vehicles trying to help the Mahdi Army and citizens of Najaf?
When we were attacked the second time on the return journey to Bagdad, I saw ordinary Iraqis bloodied and cut up by the bomb aimed at us. They were trying their best to drive their damaged vehicles onwards. The ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defence Corps) that stopped us 2 km further up the road from the attack did not care, asking us what we wanted them to do about it when we told them what had happened.
Then the two French journalists disappeared, kidnapped in the same area on the same day, while travelling back from Najaf - also taken by the Islamic Army in Iraq. Now, whether or not they are good (like Enzo) or bad journalists does not really matter, they were still brave enough to leave their comfortable countries and come to Iraq and risk a trip to Najaf to report on what they witnessed there, and they did not deserve to be kidnapped.
Many others have been kidnapped in this area by various groups, including ithe Islamic Army in Iraq. And so brutal are these hostage takers, that many of the kidnappings have ended in murder and tragedy.
A week later Ayotollah Ali Al Sistani returned to Najaf and led a peace rally there. Some Western peace activists that I know went to Najaf to take part and witness events there. As they approached Mahmoudya, their driver told them all to remove their sunglasses so that they would not be too obvious as Westerners and would not let them put them on until they had cleared Iskendaria. The reason he gave them was that this was a very bad and violent area with high levels of roadside bomb and RPG attacks and indeed they saw many burnt out vehicles littering the roadside.
Just after this, the Americans with Iraqi National Guards and Iraqi Police raided the Lattifya/Mahmoudya/Iskendaria area arresting 500 so called resistance, which resulted in the deaths of 12 Iraqi Police.
But the troubles did not stop there.
Just before we left Bagdad we were arranging our transport out of Iraq along the highway to Jordan. It was essential that we went with someone we trusted completely in the circumstances - no good getting into a taxi/GMC with a kidnapper, when that is the reason you are leaving. So we decided we would use a company that we had used in January to leave Iraq situated up on Saduun Street, owned by Mahdi who also worked with Italian TV. During my time in Bagdad we had sat with him several times for chai and a chat in his office when we had been walking past. He seemed like an obvious, trustworthy choice. Imagine our disappointment when the night before we were due to leave, Mahdi called to say that he could not take us. The next day he had to go to a funeral in Najaf for 2 of his uncles. They had been shot dead earlier that evening in Mahmoudya. The level of violence there is so high.
And even here in Amman we met a man from Basra, now living in Mahmoudya. He sells chai on the main square here and misses and worries about his family so much in Mahmoudya. He told us that whenever he rings them, they always tell him of American airstrikes or other violence in the area.
So, the area where the British soldiers are to be redeployed is not a safe, peaceful one at all. It is just an area that does not feature too often in the Western media. Vicious, brutal kidnappers operate there and misguided, violent insurgents attack anything they can. And this is where America is ordering British troops to be stationed.
British troops are not used to these levels of hostility down in Basra. They will not be ready for it and British soldier deaths and injuries are sure to esculate sharply.
I am not one to be particularly worried about 'our boys' - after all they signed up to take orders and kill on demand. It was their choice. You may think this a little callous of me, but I am much more saddened, upset and concerned about innocent, unnamed Iraqi lives that are ended brutally every day because of the war and ongoing occupation and because of American and coalition violence. Once the American election is over, the US forces will hit Fallujah with everything. Fallujah is the size of Cardiff, my Capital city. Hundreds more civilians are sure to die.
I think the British people should stop sleeping and start shouting louder and louder and they should get onto the streets daily. If the illegal war was not bad enough for us to be involved in, if the occupation does not disgust your very soul, then surely British troops being sent to such a dangerous place to appease a war-hungry US Administration should get you going, should make you do something - a letter to your MP, anything.
Maybe 'our' soldiers did sign up to take orders and kill on demand, but I don't think they signed up to help Bush get re-elected, do you?
All for now