A 'safe' mosque in a shaken city

US tanks and armoured personnel carriers patrol the streets of Baghdad regularly, shaking homes on both sides of the road day and night.

    The 14th Ramadan mosque has hardly any worshippers anymore

    They shake the whole of the 14th Ramadan mosque every day, but this Friday they came to a screeching halt outside.


    While about half a dozen soldiers surround the entrance, an officer jumps down and extends his hand to a mortified Abu Ali, who looks after the building.


    'Is this a safe mosque?", the officer asked in Arabic.


    'Yes, there is nothing to steal but Qurans here."


    The officer looked at his translator – it was not the kind of answer he wanted to hear.


    "No, he means does this mosque encourage fighting security forces."


    The custodian frowned in deep thought, looking for a response that might please the troops. "Since Baghdad fell, we only have about four or five regular worshippers – all of them old."


    The answer did the trick. The remarkably young sunglass-wearing gum-chewing soldiers got back into their carrier and drove off to the next mosque.


    Minding your sermons


    Abu Ali told me the mosque had nearly always been full – even the secret police had come to pray here the day before Baghdad fell.


    But in their day, no one used to sit next to the pulpit and take notes of the sermon, as happens now.


    Few feel confident even to venture out, especially in the early morning, the custodian told me.


    "This huge mosque only offers four prayers a day rather than the five – the imam doesn't feel safe walking in the street before dawn."


    Just then a group of young men pass by the courtyard. "Why on earth did you just shake hands with that American kafir (non-believer)  – I can't believe you sometimes!"


    Eviction order


    Abu Ali talked peaceful patience and perseverance in the morning, but it was a very different man I saw just three hours later.


    "The Americans told me I have to leave my house – they say it's too close to their new compound."


    The father of two was under the impression he had a good relationship with the US troops in his road, after all … they had given him bread and sweets for his children.

    US occupation forces have been
    antagonising Baghdad residents


    But now he had to go, with less than the equivalent of $3 in his possession and the clothes on his back.


    I went with him to ask the three soldiers in their humvee what was going on. I wanted to ask them if they knew who they were evicting without warning, compensation or alternative accommodation.


    "Sure", said one, "It's just too bad. But we have a job to do and that's making this place safe." The other two agreed and replied to all my following questions with the same answer, even when it was clearly no answer at all. 


    Abu Ali plans to send his wife and children back to Falluja at midday – just as he had done during the war – but he will have to stay on in the capital if he is to earn any money at all.


    His mother-in-law's house is already full to bursting with women and children who had also left Baghdad after the invasion.


    "They just don't know how to make any friends in this place. How can they treat people like this? Don't they know the misery they are causing?"


    No to Saddam


    A taxi driver knew all too well. Mustafa told me how his brother had lost an eye back in May when occupation forces shot back randomly at what must have been a sniper attack.

    "They just don't know how to make any friends in this place. How can they treat people like this? Don't they know the misery they are causing?"

    Abu Ali,
    Baghdad resident


    Another of his brothers had been shot dead in broad daylight during the orgy of looting that followed the city's capture – he had only gone to buy some groceries at the local market.


    "Don't get me wrong, no one in Baghdad is sad to see the back of the Saddam – if the Americans catch him, I hope they hand him over to the people."


    No to Americans


    But, Mustafa continued, everyone knows Saddam Hussein was "in league with the Americans from the beginning. Saddam brought troops to Kuwait, the Gulf and now to Iraq".


    "Saddam claims he is leading resistance so that the Americans won't be shy about killing these men. But everyone knows the resistance is Islamic – not that I support it, of course."


    It was clear from his huge smile that Mustafa was not unsupportive either.


    Just then we had to stop for an Abrams tank – whose commander had decided it was too much bother to drive round the central reservation like everyone else and drove straight through it – bending the metal railings flat.


    "Look, real resistance has not started yet. The guys that pop up and shoot off the odd magazine are nothing."


    Pointing to the tank, Mustafa added: "But if they don't leave soon … well, we are used to war and hardship, they aren't."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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