BAQUBA - The much touted "surge" of US troops in Baquba has caused
more problems that it has solved, residents say.
Baquba, capital city of Iraq's Diyala province located 65 km northeast of Baghdad,
has long been a volatile city plagued by rampant violence and administrative
In January this year, the Bush administration announced a "surge"
of 20,000 additional US troops to be sent into Baghdad, Diyala and al-Anbar
province (to the west of Baghdad) to increase security.
The total number of US troops in Iraq is now 169,000, the highest through
the occupation. This is augmented by at least 180,000 private personnel through
contracts paid for by the US government. Estimates of the total number of
mercenaries in Iraq vary between 50,000 and 70,000.
But despite such numbers, Diyala is controlled by criminal gangs, militias,
al-Qaeda like forces, and only on occasion – as at present – by US forces.
Between all of these, normal life has come to a halt.
Amidst the fear and violence, streets remain empty, even of Iraqi army or police.
"All of my neighbors initially hailed the US surge in the city,"
Jabbar Kadhim, a local grocer told IPS. "We see no hope in the (Iraqi)
government. US forces took over the entire city and blocked all roads."
Given the high presence of the US military, security seems better for now.
But facing restrictions of movement, in the middle of high unemployment, people
also fear the greater violence that could return once the troops withdraw.
"We felt safer seeing the US army, but we know, and the Americans know
that militants come back to the city once the US army retreats," said a
resident who would not give his name. Others say that the US "surge' has
brought its own problems – and is motivated.
Residents have become suspicious of all moves. "In order to create a reason
for the coalition forces to stay in Iraq, they create an enemy and fight him,"
said Mudhafer Razaq, who has lost his trading business. "They direct the
militants to destroy the city, and then they come to fight the militants. This
way, people will ask for the help of the coalition forces."
Such suspicion is common. One resident said he saw a group of militants kill
a taxi driver at a fake checkpoint they had set up "while a US helicopter
was flying right over them."
Mohammed Jabur, a lorry driver, told IPS a similar story. "I passed by
a false checkpoint set up by militants; all of them had covered their faces
and were carrying weapons. I saw a helicopter flying over them; is it difficult
for the pilot to see them? Everybody knows that militants are supported by the
coalition forces one way or another."
Not even the relative improvement in security is reassuring. "People are
still worried that the militants may return, and second, there is no normal
life with this huge surge of the US army," Bashir Mutasher, a political
analyst in the city told IPS. "People are allowed to move only in the main
street in the city, which is full of checkpoints. All other streets are closed."
Mutasher added, "Every car is inspected at each checkpoint. It is not
practical to inspect thousands of cars a day. For this reason, people are obliged
to walk to their jobs or homes."
"We are unable to move, or get to our jobs," Tariq Bidaa, a local
electrician, told IPS. "We were forced to keep to our homes for more than
a month. My family was in need of so many things, but there was no money."
Such difficulties continue. "In Baquba, there are three small bridges
which connect the two sides of the city; two of them are used by the US army
and all the other people are obliged to use the third, so one may have to spend
an hour to cross the bridge," Sadeq Hazber, a 44-year-old primary school
teacher told IPS. "The one bridge has a large number of checkpoints; there
is one every 500 meters or less."
All this is bad enough; but it could get worse if the militants return.
(Inter Press Service)