BAQUBA, Jul 10 (IPS) – Ongoing U.S. military operations in Diyala province have brought normal life to an end, and fuelled support for the national resistance.
Baquba, 50km northeast of Baghdad, and capital city of the volatile Diyala province, has born the brunt of violence during the U.S. military Operation ‘Arrowhead Ripper’.
Conflicting reports are on offer on the number of houses destroyed and numbers of civilians killed, but everyone agrees that the destruction is vast and the casualties numerous.
The operation was launched Jun. 18 “to destroy the al-Qaeda influences in this province and eliminate their threat against the people,” according to Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding officer of the 25th Infantry Division.
But most Iraqis IPS interviewed in the area say the operation seeks more to break the national Iraqi resistance and those who support it. Adding credibility to this belief is the fact that the U.S. operational commander of troops involved in the operation told reporters Jun. 22 that 80 percent of the top al-Qaeda leaders in Baquba fled before the offensive began.
“Americans want Sunni people to leave Diyala or else they face death,” Salman Shakir from the Gatoon district in Baquba told IPS outside the U.S. military cordon around the besieged city. “They warned al-Qaeda days or maybe weeks before they attacked the province and so only us, the citizens, stayed to face the massacre.”
Shakir said many of his relatives and neighbours were killed by the military while attempting to leave the area. “I cannot tell you how many people were killed, but bodies of civilians were left in the streets.”
“We all know now that the U.S. military is using the name of al-Qaeda to cover attacks against our national resistance fighters and civilians who wish immediate or scheduled withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq,” Hilmi Saed, an Iraqi journalist from Baghdad told IPS on the outskirts of Baquba.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group in the Iraqi cabinet, issued a statement Jul. 1 alleging that more than 350 people had been killed in the U.S. military operation in Baquba.
The group called the operation “collective punishment” and said “neighbourhoods in western Baquba have witnessed, since last week, fierce attacks by occupation forces within Operation Arrowhead Ripper.”
The statement added, “The forces shelled these neighbourhoods with helicopters, destroying more than 150 houses and killing more than 350 citizens. Their bodies are still under the wreckage. And they have arrested scores of citizens.”
The U.S. military does not keep count of the number of civilian casualties caused by their operations.
Animosity towards the United States appears to be rising throughout the area as a result of the military action.
“Americans are pushing us to the corner of extremity by these massive crimes,” Abbas al-Zaydi, a teacher from Baquba told IPS. “They simply want us to sell cheap our religion, history, tradition and faith or else they would call us terrorists.”
Al-Zaydi added, “My son was not a fighter, but he was killed by a militia leader who is at the same time an Iraqi army division commander. Our great fault is only that we are Sunnis, and Americans do not like that.”
“It is clear now that any Iraqi who refuses to serve the American plan is considered an enemy of the United States,” a community leader in the city who did not want to give his name told IPS.
He said some people are angrier with other leaders supporting the U.S. forces. “The whole world is responsible for these murders, and a day will come that we say to the world, ‘you supported Americans who killed us’.”
A man wearing a mask, who appeared to be a resistance fighter, spoke with IPS just outside Baquba on condition of anonymity.
“Hundreds were killed and thousands evicted from the city while the so-called al-Qaeda fighters survived,” he said. “Americans must be told that we will never stop killing their sons who came to kill us unless they leave our country in peace.”
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)