IRAQ

"The Sahwa militia has brought peace to my district"

19 March 08 during the prophet's birthday celebrations. Our Observer in Baghdad, Last of Iraqis, took the same street scene and filmed it once in June 2007 and then in March 2008. In the first video nobody dared set foot outside; the street is deserted. But now, it seems to have come back to life. Thanks to the American Army? Apparently not. According to Last of Iraqis it's the al Sahwa militia to be thankful to.

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Our Observer in Baghdad, Last of Iraqis, took the same street scene and filmed it once in June 2007 and then in March 2008. In the first video nobody dared set foot outside; the street is deserted. But now, it seems to have come back to life. Thanks to the American Army? Apparently not. According to Last of Iraqis it's the al Sahwa militia to be thankful to.

The Sahwa (meaning 'awakening councils') are a Sunni-based Iraqi military funded by the American army to fight against al Qaeda. Many of its 80,000 members are former insurgents. The movement has its stronghold in the district of Adamiyah, north Baghdad, in Last of Iraqis' neighbourhood.

More info on Iraq: FRANCE 24 reporter's notebook.

Al-Ana`am street in the Adamiyah district of Baghdad June 11 last year

The same street on March 10 last week

Last of Iraqis' commentary in June 2007

A quiet avenue, very hot weather, every few minutes a car speeds past leaving a trail of dust, the silence is terrible and really horrifying, all the shops are closed and there is not a single wall without hundreds of bullet holes in it, no intact window either, even the asphalt of the road suffers under huge concrete blocks that have fallen onto it. I could only see one kid walking in the street with me, and I have to walk because no taxi will go there, the nearest place they get is to Antar Square (the gate of Adhamiya).

I only had one thing in mind; will I make it to my relatives' house? On my way I saw some of the usual; on the corner there was an al Qaeda watchman sitting on a chair. A motorbike with two teenagers on it (al Qaeda assassins) passed by and there was smoke coming from some where; an explosion is a normal thing here. When I reached the house I was sad- as usual- for what had happened to the lovely neighbourhood that I'd spent most of my life in. I can remember the day when all of this started, I can remember the day when al Qaeda and the other militias decided to make Adhamiya their stronghold and destroy everything beautiful in it, when they decided to kill its spirit, I remember the day when some of the nice people of Adhamiya were deceived by al Qaeda and thought they were for a better future, I also remembered how beautiful, peaceful and lovely this district was.

Adhamiya is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Baghdad, it's a mixture of the old alleys of Baghdad and the new civilized Baghdad and its residents are known for their gallantry and hospitality. There are huge markets there with very nice merchandise ranging from food to clothes to electric appliances. There is also the Imam Abu-Hanifa mosque and beside it is the bridge to Kathomyia (an old original Shiite district), the residents of Adhamiya are Sunni and Shiite but the majority is Sunni. They used to live side by side in peace."

 

And ten months later during the prophet's birthday celebrations on March 19

It's the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's (PBOH) birth in Adhamiya which works out as the 19th of March in 2008 and I'm so happy. I'm walking in Adhamiya with my wife and we are holding hands...there's nothing on our minds but having fun. I was thinking to myself "Am I dreaming? Is this really happening?" ...Adhmiya was always famous for the wonderful celebrations they put on for this occasion and people from all around Baghdad used to come for them. Everyone would walk to Abu-Hanifa mosque to pray and see a wisp of the Prophet's hair that was saved in the mosque for decades; it's an Iraqi tradition for both Sunnis and Shiites.

At that moment I felt safe and even if something happened and I died then I'd have died happy. The awakening members (Sahwa) were everywhere and I literally mean everywhere, you could find one in every square metre and there were also many checkpoints where everyone got searched. That's a great thing; I'm really thankful to them for providing the safety that we've been deprived for such a long time.

What I‘ve seen in Adhamiya I'd call a success and the biggest achievement since the beginning of the war. I turned to my wife and said "Can you believe this? Would you believe me if I told you last year that Adhamiay would be like this?" and she said "I hope that soon we'll be sitting in Al-Alwia (a social club) at night with you asking me the same question". I just wish the situation was like this all over Baghdad but unfortunately it's not, so far."