From Baghdad to Falluja, Mosul to Kirkuk, and from Basra to Najaf, intense fighting has engulfed much of the country as the followers of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr join the resistance against occupying forces.

 

The capital itself has turned into a ghost town during the day, and a cacophony of explosions and gunfire at night.

 

Fear is etched into people's faces and informs their every move. Afraid of what may be around the corner, Baghdadis race to their destinations.

 

"The war is back, the war is back," yells one woman as she runs back to her car.

 

Ashura

 

Indiscriminate bombings, random acts of violence, fear of trigger-happy US soldiers, and the upcoming Shia commemoration of "Arba'een" have kept many Iraqis at home.

 

After the Karbala bombings more than six weeks ago, many are fearful of what may occur on 10 April when the Shia commemorate the 40th day of mourning following the day of Ashura.

 

In seems like a sad twist of fate – or extremely bad luck – that the upcoming Ashura will fall one day after the anniversary of the so-called fall of Baghdad.

 

Iraqi cars try to keep a safe
distance from US tanks

But with fighting spreading throughout the capital it is questionable if Baghdad ever did fall.

 

Driving along one of the many motorways through the city is dangerous on a good day. There is no speed limit in Iraq but my driver, who normally races at 120km an hour along the lawless streets, has now slowed down to 50km.

 

A convoy of eight US tanks and Humvees about 200m in front has halted the traffic to a snail's pace with motorists scared to venture any closer.

 

Resistance fighters continue to strike US soldiers wherever they can, including motorways, and Iraqis are staying clear of the targets.

 

Secondly, US soldiers increase the tension by aiming their weapons at the Iraqis behind them. Iraqis have learned during the year-long occupation that Americans like to shoot first and ask questions later.

 

Any vehicle that gets too close to the military convoy becomes the latest addition to the Iraqi scrap metal industry.

 

One political science professor at Baghdad University dubs it, "mutual assured fear".

 

Schools closed

 

Many residents have stopped going to work unless they have to, and schools and universities have cancelled classes until next week.

 

Only two days ago did it become safe to go to the Mansur district and sit at a café or restaurant for dinner. There was a sense of life to the area and apart from the chaotic streets, it looked like "normal" nightlife in Baghdad.

 

Life for Baghdadis has gone from
bad to worse in recent days

But not any more. Number 14 Ramada street was virtually empty last night as shops and businesses closed early for fear of a US raid in the area.

 

As evening turned to night, the attacks began. It started with at least four Black Hawk helicopters flying into the area.

 

Then one explosion, followed by another, and another. Gunfire could be heard well into the early morning.

 

Oddly though, this doesn't prevent a few Iraqi men in the neighbourhood from inviting me out for a late night dinner.

 

We drive along the virtually empty streets but are unable to find any restaurant or cafés open.

 

But there is one ice cream parlour.

 

So there we stood, eating ice cream on a sidewalk, only a few kilometres away from an intense firefight talking about the situation facing the country.

 

"Aren’t you scared to be out?" I asked.

 

"Yes," said Said, a 24-year-old student at the University of Baghdad. "But if God deems it is your time to leave, then it is your time to leave, and God willing you will go to heaven."

 

Attitude

 

His attitude reflects what many in this war-torn country feel.

 

There is an overwhelming look of exhaustion in people's faces. After three wars, 13-years of sanctions, and the humiliation of having foreign troops on their land, Iraqis are exhausted.

 

"Look at the people in Falluja, they, like all Iraqis, are a proud people"

Hatim, Baghdad resident

They are tired of war, tired of the crippled economy, tired of being afraid.

 

But they are also fed up with the US occupation of their country.

 

"What America doesn’t understand is that they cannot take over our mosques, our institutions, our cities, and think that Iraqis will just sit by and watch," says Hatim, a 28-year-old newly-wed.

 

"Look at the people in Falluja, they, like all Iraqis, are a proud people. They do not like having foreigners invading their land and forcing them into their homes. That is our new democracy? That is our new freedom?" he adds.

 

Two US tanks drive by as we are talking, and Abd al-Razak, a 26-year-old engineer, jumps into the conversation.

 

"Look at them. They drive around our streets like they own the country; they have no respect for us, no respect for our culture, no respect for our traditions, or our religion," he says.

 

The conversation ends abruptly as another blast punctures the quiet night sky. This time it is much closer, a signal that it's time to go home