BAQUBA - The major U.S. military operation in Baquba city north of Baghdad
has ended, but it has left continuing suffering for residents in its wake.
The U.S. military launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba, 30 mi. northeast
of Baghdad, on June 18. Baquba is the capital city of Iraq's Diyala province.
The stated goal of the operation was to eradicate al-Qaeda from the city and
other areas in the province. The region has seen some of the highest number
of attacks on U.S. troops.
Shortly after launching the operation, the U.S. military admitted that nearly
80 percent of al-Qaeda militants had fled the area.
Residents had been looking for an end to raids and abductions by criminal gangs
and sectarian death squads, but the U.S. military operation brought no relief.
"People here feel afraid because the coalition forces always push al-Qaeda
out of the cities, but unfortunately they return when the troops retreat,"
resident Mohammed Hulail told IPS. "So the coalition forces can provide
A Baquba city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS that al-Qaeda
militants had already returned to parts of the city. "We are now sure that
Iraqi police and army cannot defeat al-Qaeda who are well fortified in the streets
Residents have learnt to fear enemies on all sides. "People are the victims
of this war because they are in the middle point between the American forces
and the fighters of al-Qaeda," Jabbar Ibrahim, a secondary school teacher
in the city, told IPS. "The fighters of al-Qaeda came to control the city,
but when the U.S. troops came to fight them, they ran away, leaving civilians
to face the shells the bombs."
Many residents complain of indiscriminate arrests through the U.S. forces'
search for al-Qaeda suspects. "Arrests are sometimes made wrongly; simple
people who have nothing to do with fighting and violence were arrested, and
those who were the real fighters ran away," a resident who declined to
give his name told IPS.
The Iraqi Islamic Party has accused the Multi-National Forces operating in
the area of killing many people in Baquba in the early weeks of the operation.
"The operations led by the U.S. forces in western Baquba led to the death
of more than 350 people, most of whom are still under the rubble," the
party said in a statement.
Many residents in this city of 300,000 say that operation Arrowhead Ripper
has made living conditions worse. "We spent 12 days without water, electricity,
and food," Hamid Shaaban, a 51-year-old retired city official, told IPS.
And U.S. forces were of little help.
"I have seven children," said Shaaban. "I went to ask U.S. troops
for food and water." All he got, he said, was some bottled water. He was
then sent away.
The shortage of water hit the city at the worst time of the year. "The
temperature was between 45 and 51 degrees C [113-123 degrees F]," an elderly
woman said. "We have had very long days; it has been terrible."
Most residents IPS spoke to said they would leave if they could, but they either
lacked funds or simply did not know where to go.
"We do not have another place to go in order to leave this miserable place,"
resident Kamil Abid told IPS. "All places are the same, and we have no
money to start again."
The U.S. military has often detained people who have stayed home during the
attacks and searches. Several residents say a decision to stay on was often
seen as a gesture of defiance.
Now almost everyone seems fed up with the violence and intimidation from all
sides. "What people want is security in order to get back again to their
jobs to earn their living," said the owner of a local food store. "Providing
this is the responsibility of the coalition forces and the Iraqi government."
Suspicions abound that the U.S. forces do not really want to solve the problem.
"U.S. governments always tend to create an enemy, and then fight him in
order to show weak governments, like this one in Iraq, that they cannot do without
the support of U.S. power," said a retired army officer.