DAMASCUS - Refugees from Baquba, Iraq, who have now found shelter in Damascus
describe their hometown as a "dead city" where armed men roam the
streets and al-Qaeda reigns.
Baquba, capital of Iraq's Diyala province, is located 50 km northeast of Baghdad
on the Diyala River. In 2002 the estimated population was 280,000. The city
has been inhabited continuously since pre-Islamic times and is the trade center
for Iraq's commercial orange groves.
The city become a hot spot of resistance from early on in the occupation. It
has been torn apart in fighting between occupation forces and the Iraqi resistance
– and also between various militia groups and al-Qaeda, its fleeing residents
Al-Qaeda has emerged as a distinct new group, refugees from the city say.
By the end of 2006 the city was largely under the control of Sunni resistance
groups, but by early 2007 residents report that al-Qaeda has formed a larger
presence in the city.
As a result, more than half the people in the city have fled, refugees say.
"Life in Baquba nowadays is unbearable," Aziz Abdulla, an unemployed
university professor from Baquba who arrived in Damascus last week, told IPS.
"There is no security at all. Violence is increasing day after day because
there is no control from the government and no real existence of coalition forces
there. Terrorists and other fighters rule the city. Baquba is a city of terror."
Abdulla said that killing and kidnapping are rampant. "We have all become
used to seeing dead bodies in the streets. I've seen too many. When we see them,
nobody touches the body, because if you do you are killed by gunmen. They watch
for who touches the body and kill that person right then or later."
No Western journalist dares go to Baquba.
"I think well over half of our city has left, and those who remain never
leave their homes," Abdulla said. "Those who are left sit in their
homes and wait for their death. They may take their fate from a terrorist entering
their house, or a car bomb, or a shooting."
Baquba General Hospital is in a state of collapse, refugees say. Dr. Ahmed
Shibad, a 30-year-old doctor from the hospital, fled Baquba a month ago and
now lives in the al-Qudsiya neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus with tens
of thousands of other Iraqi refugees.
"I left Baquba because of the terrorists and the Iraqi army. The conditions
at my hospital were very, very bad," he told IPS. "We had no supplies,
and the Iraqi forces occupied the hospital and used it as an observation post,
and use the roof as a sniper platform."
He, like Abdulla, said al-Qaeda was largely in control of the city, and that
U.S. forces were doing little to stop them. But his main complaint was the Iraqi
"The Iraqi forces determine who enters the hospital or not, and this causes
a big problem for the doctors," he said. "They take many innocent
people from the hospital. Our morgue in the hospitals can hold 12 corpses, but
it is always overfilled."
Dr. Shibad said prior to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Diyala
province had 600 doctors. The last he knew, he said, there were only 124, and
the number is decreasing each month.
One of the U.S. bases in the city is referred to as Camp Boom by the U.S. soldiers
stationed there because it takes so many attacks from armed groups, refugees
Another U.S. forward operating base (FOB) called FOB Scunion is separated from
the larger Camp Freedom I by a highway known as "RPG [rocket propelled
grenade] Alley" because of the many attacks against Coalition forces there.
"Americans only control one kilometer of road, which is the main road
where the governor's office and court building are in central Baquba, and they
rarely run patrols in the city because they are attacked every time," a
refugee who just arrived from Baquba told IPS.
He asked to be referred to as "Haida" for fear of reprisal attacks
from armed groups, al-Qaeda, or the U.S. forces. "Every day, we see attacks
against the Americans. This is because the coalition forces created their own
enemies by being so rough on the people of Baquba since the beginning of the
Haida said that control of the city is shared between Iraqi resistance groups
who are fighting coalition forces, and "the other group is al-Qaeda."
Either way, he said, "men carrying guns control the majority of Baquba."
Despite its small size, Diyala province has seen the sixth largest number of
U.S. troops killed in Iraq among the 18 provinces in the country. According
to the U.S. Department of Defense, at least 144 troops have been killed there,
44 of them this year.
Haida and Abdulla, who come from different areas of Baquba, told IPS separately
that the city has almost completely shut down now. There are no markets open,
and those who remain live on locally grown vegetables and fruit.
"There is nothing transported from Baghdad because there is no way to
travel there due to the unofficial checkpoints controlled by militias,"
said Haida. "If you pass through one and you are the wrong sect of Islam,
you are killed immediately. People have stopped going to Baghdad. We are cut
Abdulla said petrol is too expensive for most people, and inflation is "out
of control." Petrol is in any case rarely available since "tankers
can no longer reach the city from Baghdad."
Money counts for little, he said. "There is no money at the banks, because
bringing the money from Baghdad to Baquba is too dangerous. The government cannot
control it, and the money will be stolen by so many different groups of people.
Our city has become a dead city."
(Inter Press Service)