The news on Iraq in the Arab media has been dominated by the killing of 20 American soldiers in the past 24 hours, after a slump in US army casualties during the month of January. Some commentators in the Arab media have been expecting an increased activity against the occupational forces by Ba`thi fighters after the execution of their leader. Others predicted that the death of Saddam may have played a demoralizing effect on Ba`this, who make up an important part of the resistance in Iraq.
Aljazeera.net reported that in addition to the 13 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash (al-jazeera said that the chopper received a direct hit from machine-gun fire), five soldiers were killed in the city of Karbala while they were holding a meeting with Iraqi officials. Al-jazeera said that, according to the governor of Karbala, the American Army raided the governorate building in search of suspects, but none were found.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat added that a regiment commander in the Iraqi army was assassinated in the province of Nineveh and that a journalist –from the official television channel- was killed in the city of Mosul, the last in a string of murders that have targeted Iraqi journalists in the past weeks.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat also quoted a ‘high-level shi`a official’ who claimed that Abu Dar` is in hiding in Iran at the moment, and not in Sadr City as the Iraqi and American forces think. The official, who spoke under anonymity, said that ‘Iranian officials’ have spoken ‘off the record’ of the presence of Abu Dar` in Iran after the intensification of American and government raids in Sadr City.
Abu Dar` has become a widely-feared name in Baghdad, a quasi-mythical character, accused of carrying out horrifying kidnappings and assassinations against Sunnis in the capital with an unbounded sectarian zeal. When the name of Abu Dar` started appearing in the media and street rumors, some believed that he was a made-up personality that amalgamates several murderers, but Iraqi officials have started citing him as a major suspect in the violence in Baghdad, even though his real identity has not yet been verified, nor are there trusted photos of his face. Abu Dar` is the nom de guerre of a man believed to originate from Sadr City, a zealous member of the Mahdi Army -even though the Sadr Current publicly denies having any connections to him- he represents the most violent and sadistic face of sectarian conflict in Iraq -a reflection of the Zarqawi phenomenon among Wahhabis-. He is claimed to be responsible for thousands of sectarian killings, and he is supposed to have introduced the use of electric drills to torture and kill his victims.
On a related topic, pan-Arab al-Hayat published a report by Husain `ali on the ‘business’ of kidnappings in Iraq, which cited some staggering figures. According to the article, a UN report claimed that one out of every thousand Iraqis gets kidnapped on a yearly basis. `Ali said that since the American invasion, professional ‘kidnapping teams’ have sprung up to apprehend civilians and ‘sell’ them to armed militias or trade them for a ransom. An Iraqi police chief told al-Hayat that most of the kidnappers are ex-convicts who were freed from prisons after the American invasion. The kidnapping problem was compounded, the report said, with a dangerous new phenomenon in recent months: kidnappers wearing official uniforms and using government vehicles and equipment.
Al-Arabiya also published a report on kidnappings in Baghdad that noted the emergence of a new profession in the city: the `allas (private spy). Al-`Arabiya said that a `allas is a ‘spy for hire’ who gathers information on ‘suitable’ individuals and then sells the information to death squads or kidnapping gangs. Al-Arabiya claimed that these individuals can receive very large sums for their ‘services’.
Lastly, Arab satellite channels have been playing a song on Iraq by the famous Iraqi artist, Kathim al-Sahir. Al-Sahir, one of the most popular singers in the Arab world, has performed several songs on Iraq, especially during the period of the sanctions, but his new song has been seemingly written by Sheikh Muhammad Rashid al-Maktum, Dubai’s governor. Al-Sharq al-Awsat wrote about the song, whose lyrics decry the human tragedy that befell Iraq, al-Sahir told the newspaper: “This is tragic...what is happening to Iraq and Iraqis, this people that loves life and culture...is becoming a victim for daily senseless killing”.