An Unknown City Erupts

BAQUBA — The little known city of Baquba is emerging as one of the hotbeds of resistance in Iraq, with clashes breaking out every day.

The violence in this city 50km northeast of Baghdad is also now spreading elsewhere around Diyala province.

“The new waves of terror are now forming a variety that we predicted long ago,” a political leader in the city told IPS. “The Iraqi people have complained to everyone, but naturally no one will do anything about it. We know who is in charge and who is responsible and eventually who is to be dammed. It is the government of the United States of America.”

The local leader, speaking from his home in Baquba, said the situation in the area was becoming dire in the face of the recent violence.

“The worst is the direct participation of the national security forces in criminal acts, and the U.S. Army’s sudden disappearance from the scene as soon as those murderers show up,” he said. Many have been killed, and hundreds arrested in the province, he said.

The al-Tawafuq Sunni party has demanded a full investigation into the violence in Baquba, and immediate release of the detained civilians. “We are sure the arrests were made under sectarian flags and those detainees are innocent farmers captured in their own plantations,” the group said in a statement.

An Iraqi army colonel told reporters in Diyala last week that that U.S. troops had arrested 10 Iraqi soldiers suspected of sectarian killings. There was no official U.S. comment.

Iraqi MP Muhammad al-Dayni appeared on al-Jazeera television to say that Brigadier al-Kaabi, leader of the fifth division in charge of Diyala province security, had led the arrest of 400 civilians. Hundreds of houses had been looted, he said. Al-Dayni accused the parties in power of supporting such acts, referring to the Shia parties in parliament.

The fighting has intensified now, but Baquba has long been a city of fierce resistance to the occupation. Resistance groups have often frustrated the efforts of the Multi-National Forces (MNF) and Iraqi security forces to bring the city under their control.

Residents of Baquba told IPS that an Iraqi police brigadier-general had used loudspeakers to announce dire warnings to residents.

“We were used to hearing our own government calling us terrorists, Saddamists and Zarqawis before, but this man added new words to the vocabulary like bastards and expressions of that sort,” Abu Omar, a law student at Diyala University told IPS. “Yet we were not surprised because we know he was just repeating what his green zone masters have always said.”

Mazin al-Zaidy, a resident of Baquba, told IPS that the situation in Diyala province could be the worst in Iraq because people of many ethnicities live in the area. “The MNF and militias concentrate on clearing it of the Arab Sunnis prior to any federalism plan.”

Al-Zaidy said “there are Kurds, Shias and Sunnis who share the province, and that has to be altered for the benefit of the first two groups.” Al-Zaidy was referring to the towns Mendily, Jalowlaa and surrounding areas that are marked Kurdish on the Kurdistan map.

The influence of each group changes often. “Each day I wake up I don’t know who is in control of my city,” said a religious sheikh in Baquba who asked to be referred to as Sheikh Ahmed. “One day it is the Americans, the next day a militia, the next day a resistance group.”

Diyala province gets little media attention “because of the journalists’ fear of going in,” said al-Zaidy.

The new violence has ripped apart old traditions, he said. “The people of the province do not understand how these powers could turn it into a sectarian city from a wonderful 1,400 years of community peace and intermarriages.”

The U.S. military has announced meanwhile that bomb attacks in Baghdad have hit an all-time high. The number of U.S. soldiers killed is now approaching the 3,000 mark.

The number of Iraqi casualties runs into hundreds of thousands.