Iraqis Believe US Using Car Bombs to Promote SOFA

November 17th, 2008 - by admin

Anwar Ali / New York Times & Campbell Robertson / The New York Times – 2008-11-17 01:35:07

Anwar Ali / New York Times

BAGHDAD (November 14, 2008) — It seems to me that things are getting worse.

This week I was at the scene of a bombing, reporting a news story about three explosions in Adhamiya. They were horrible explosions, all at the same time in a very crowded Shia neighborhood. I remember the smell of the blood, the flies all around and the injured people, the broken glass and the destruction.

I still remember the face of the restaurant’s owner who was sitting in the middle of the wreckage looking at Joao, our photographer, who was taking his picture. There was nothing on his face, no expression. I noticed he was framed by the damage to his restaurant. All around him lay the shawarma meat and broken tables and awning of the building, and I don’t know how many of his workers and customers were killed in the explosion. I know one of his workers was an Egyptian, and he became a piece of ash near the shawarma machine.

The place was a very easy target for anyone who wanted to explode themselves or fire mortars, but I kept on interviewing people and then we went to the nearest hospital to meet the wounded.

It was horrible to see them all bloody and some of them said, “please don’t take photos” They thought that we were a TV channel. One man said: “I don’t want my wife and children to see me in such a
condition, lying in a hospital bed with blood on my shirt and wounds on my face.”

I do not think I am more cautious or worried than most people. In Adhamiya I was the only woman on the street while the police were clearing away the remains of the explosion, the glass, blood, clothes
and the pieces of meat left over from restaurants.

But it seems to be that things are getting worse, and I am now being more careful to avoid crowded places and bazaars.

Yesterday I went home before sunset, which means I still have an hour to take my daughter to a nearby bazaar, or to walk to a small park near our apartment. My mother refused to let us do so because she expects explosions any time and because she was so worried by the explosions in Adhamiya.

I was surprised at my mother’s reaction because I am a journalist and I am in touch with what is going on in Baghdad, with the explosions and shootings.

In The New York Times’s office I am the one who sits next to the whiteboard where we record explosions, shootings and other deaths in Iraq. Since two days before Barack Obama’s victory I started to notice the board filling up again. There are many explosions. Many of them are small, but some days we have to start a new column. It was not like this even two weeks ago.

But my mother lives in a safe, Shiite neighborhood, and always sticks to her house. The reason she thinks the situation is becoming worse is because of what she hears speaking to friends and neighbors whose relatives were killed or injured.

Some people are saying that the Americans are making the bombings to make Iraqis believe that it is very important for them to stay in Iraq, that they are still needed. The Americans say that when they withdraw from Iraq violence will increase. Is that a threat? You can read it as a threat, or you can read it as an expectation. Some Iraqis take it as a threat.

Some people are asking: “Are the Americans punishing us with bombings because Iraq has refused to sign the SOFA?” [Status of Forces Agreement]

Here that is a reality, people think it. I can see it in people’s eyes when they say it to me. Real belief in what they are saying.

Other people say that all the latest explosions are because of the provincial elections as the different political parties are conflicting with each other to win the elections. One woman, Umm Haider, said: “The victims are always the innocent poor civilians.”

Anwar J. Ali is an Iraqi journalist who works for The New York Times in Baghdad.

Spot Analysis
Campbell Robertson / The New York Times Baghdad Bureau

BAGHDAD (November 14, 2008) — It seems like more than some people think all these bombings are from the Americans. At times it seems like everyone thinks so.

Just two days ago I went to cover a car bombing in what had been a relatively peaceful part of eastern Baghdad. The bomb exploded in a parking lot surrounded by doctors’ offices and pharmacies. My colleague, Mudhafer, and I searched for one of the doctors, walking through bombed-out buildings filled with broken glass and overturned furniture. Finally, in one of the pharmacies we found Dr Daniel Khafaji, a clean-shaven man in a pin striped suit.

“It is only the SOFA,” he said casually, referring to the contentious security agreement being negotiated between the Americans and Iraqis. “This is all in the interest of the Americans. We are occupied.”

He said that American troops were seen near the bomb only 10 minutes before it went off, a line that you hear so often it has almost become a formality, and rhe epeated the usual theory: the Americans said there would be violence if the SOFA, which sets the conditions for the Americans’ continued presence in Iraq after the end of the year, didn’t pass. It hasn’t passed so here’s the violence. If it makes sense it must be true.

Once we left the pharmacy I expressed my frustration to Mudhafer. Don’t they realize it’s in the interest of the Americans for everything to be quiet right now? That all of this violence actually
makes the Americans look bad? That the Bush administration above all wants its last months to be uneventful ones?

Mudhafer astutely suggested that the insurgents are savvy enough to understand how this thinking works and could be taking advantage of it to cause chaos.

Later I brought it up to some other colleagues in the bureau and they said they had been hearing the exact same theory — word for word almost — at just about every attack they went to cover. Forget theory: this is now received knowledge.

These next few months are not going to be easy.

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