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Archive: April 2008
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RUMOR MILL
Iraqi Websites Blame Militias, MNF for Destructive Baghdad Blazes
04/25/2008 3:32 PM ET
Smoke rises over Sadr City April 6 as the Jamila market burns.
Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP.
Smoke rises over Sadr City April 6 as the Jamila market burns.

Politically charged rumors are circulating in Iraqi cyberspace over the origins of recent fires that ravaged two eastern Baghdad markets earlier this month. Generally anti-Mahdi Army websites have spread accounts that attempt to link an alleged extortion ploy by the Sadrist militia to the fire in the Jamila market on April 6, while a pro-Sadrist account points a finger at Coalition and Iraqi forces for last week's blaze that destroyed shops in Baghdad al-Jadida.

“The market was exposed to mortar shells which caused the fire. And the question is: Can mortar shells cause such a huge fire?" asks a report on the al-Ra'id website about the recent fire in the major Jamila market.

The al-Ra'id report appeared last week but has been picked up this week by the Iraqi Rabita site, another Sunni Arab-oriented anti-government outlet. The report cites a source identified as a former Iraqi Army staff general, who is reported to have said anonymously that “mortar shells cannot cause such a big fire. Besides, they make huge explosions and according to the information we have, no loud explosion was heard before or after the fire." The general continues: "So, the fire was started intentionally, but who is behind this? Certainly a saboteur. And I don’t agree at all with what one of the security system officials said that the fires were caused by projectiles.”

Al-Ra'id continues to cite "eyewitnesses, most of whom are local residents of Sadr City," who reportedly said that “Powerful militia elements which control the city, referring to the Mahdi Army militia that is related to Muqtada al-Sadr, were the perpetrators of this incident" saying that the militia had "threatened the Jamila market traders with this explosion" when demanding that the traders pay them protection funds in amounts estimated at more than 30,000 ID for each store. The militia was seeking the payments in order to replace weapons lost in the continuing violence, the al-Ra'id report claims.

Mahdi Army elements have been involved in continual clashes with Iraqi and MNF forces since late March.

Because the traders refused to grant the militia’s request, the report says, "the militia ignited the fires in the market claiming that American helicopters executed random shelling in Sadr City during military confrontations.”

Al-Ra'id continues: "If the fires were caused by explosive projectiles, where is the shrapnel . . . And if the fires were because of American helicopters' random shelling, why do local residents who live close to the market deny this possibility?" The report also cites a source identified as a firefighter who combated the blaze: “As soon as we were notified that there were fires in Jamila market, we headed to the market to extinguish the fire. Unexpectedly, on our way to the fire location we faced intensive gun fire by elements wearing black clothes and using rifles and PKC machine guns. We know that certain groups of militias are related to the Mahdi Army that controls the city and they tried to prevent us from reaching the incident location by all means.”

The firefighter added: “if the Iraqi army and American occupation forces had not been there because of the recent clashes, we wouldn’t be able to extinguish the intense fire, given that there are many commercial stores, and some of them sell combustible goods."

The firefighter added: “after extinguishing the fire, experts started to survey and investigate the burning market and they did not find any proof that the market was exposed to mortar shells or any other kind of rockets.” The report says that this proves that the Mahdi Army had perpetrated an arson attack at the major market, in retaliation against shop owners who refused to pay the militia.

The al-Ra'id report closes to suggest that there must be an arrangement between the Iraqi security forces and the Mahdi Army to cover up the militia's alleged role in the fire, since al-Ra'id's alleged version of the militia's involvement in starting the blaze was not publicized by Iraqi security agencies.

However, if the generally anti-government anti-Mahdi Army al-Ra'id report blames the Mahdi Army for the blaze in the Jamila market, another pro-Mahdi Army website attempts to blame Coalition forces for a second fire in another eastern Baghdad Market. The Sadrist Nahrain Net website carries its own rumors about the source of a fire on April 14 in the al-Samara'i market in Baghdad al-Jadida, blaming MNF forces "and their collaborators" for that fire, which destroyed at least 40 shops.

The Nahrain Net report takes issue with an MNF press release on the matter, which reports that the April 14 fire was ignited by an IED that targeted a Coalition forces patrol, and that Iraqi fire crews responded to the blaze.

Citing residents of the area, Nahrain Net's account agrees with the MNF announcement that the fire was caused by a bomb, but adds that fire crews could do little to stop the burning, and says that Iraqi police and American forces " surrounded the market to prevent the press, news reporters and journalists from talking with the owners who were very angry because their stores were damaged and they lost all that they had invested."

The Sadrist website continues:

Some of the market’s store owners told different story, according to some of the area residents who said: “American motorized forces and infantry soldiers who were performing their daily patrol were in front of the market half an hour before hearing two explosions, not only one. Eyewitnesses saw a damaged vehicle, but no injured people and huge fires were destroying the market’s stores and goods."

According to this story, which contradicts the American forces’ story, the American forces and their collaborators were the perpetrators of these incidents to incite hatred among people who work in the market – shop owners, small business owners, their families, and all the market workers – against the Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army.

Not to mention, most of the workers (in the market) belong to the Sadrist movement and for years the Mahdi army, who have already been attacked by the American and Iraqi Forces, who protect the market from continuing theft and destruction.

The report closes saying that the fire in Jamila Market makes the al-Samara'i blaze the second mysterious blaze in eastern Baghdad markets, saying that this adds credence to the idea that the American Forces and their collaborators lie behind these incidents and are trying to pin blame on the Mahdi Army and Sadrist movement.

The Nahrain Net account also appeared last week, but has been picked up recently by other sites, including the self-identified Shi'a Ebaa site and al-Badil al-Iraqi, a secular-oriented news site with an editorial line that opposes the presence of foreign forces in the country.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm the accuracy of any of the above accounts of the two Baghdad fires.

Only on Slogger
Locals Attribute Assassinations over Last Week to al-Qa'ida in Iraq
04/24/2008 7:09 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Residents of the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, have told IraqSlogger that they the return of extremists related to al-Qa'ida in Iraq to the local area.

Locals say that the last week has seen an increase of assassinations in the city, which residents attribute to the al-Qa'ida organization.

Some residents told IraqSlogger that the area is less secure than other predominantly Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq since the Iraqi security authorities have not agreed to the formation of a "Sahwa council" in the area.

Sahwa (Arabic for "Awakening") is the term used by Iraqis to refer to the pro-US paramilitary forces usually formed in Sunni Arab areas, often on the payroll of the American forces, and nominally opposed to the al-Qa'ida in Iraq movement that controlled much of the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq through much of last year.

While the American military has referred to the locally organized groups as "Sons of Iraq" or previously as "Concerned Local Citizens," Iraqis typically use the term Sahwa for such forces.

Locals say that the Iraqi Army's Muthanna Brigade, responsible for the security in the Abu Ghraib area, has refused the formation of Sahwa councils in the city.

Video
Leader Claims to Be "Muhammad of Our Time"; Followers Were Targeted by Police
04/18/2008 09:34 AM ET
The religous leader known as Imam al-Rabbani, in an undated photo on the religious leader's website.
Image: www.alrabbany.com.
The religous leader known as Imam al-Rabbani, in an undated photo on the religious leader's website.

Claiming to be the "Muhammad of our time," a controversial religious leader based north of Baghdad has attracted the attention of Iraqi security forces, who made arrests earlier in the year targeting followers of the man calling himself "the Imam al-Rabbani."

In a report from February, Aswat al-Iraq describes the cult-like organization that surrounds al-Rabbani as "an extremist religious group."

At least 28 of al-Rabbani's followers were arrested in January and February by Iraqi security forces in Diyala Province, according to statements by local police carried in the Arabic-language media at the time.

Further details about the arrests have not emerged, but they number as another in a series of confrontations between cult-like religious movements and Iraqi security forces after 2003.

Rabbani claims in his preaching that in each era there is "a new Muhammad," and that he is in fact the "Muhammad" of the present era. Such claims will be regarded as heretical by the mainline interpretations of both Shi'a and Sunni Islam.

The religious leader also instructs his followers, known as the Ansar al-Imam al-Rabbani, or "Adherents of the Imam al-Rabbani," to give up reading and other forms of study, and instead to refer to his teaching alone, Aswat al-Iraq writes, citing Qasim Jabbar, a researcher in Islamic studies.

Jabbar says that the group's leader, known to his followers as "Imam al-Rabbani" is a man named Fadhil Abd al-Husayn al-Marsoumi. The preacher's website, www.alrabbany.com, also identifies him by this name. The site also claims that Rabbani is descended from the prophet Muhammad, although Slogger contacts in Khalis report that the man's family and clan are not known to boast such lineage.

The researcher said that al-Marsoumi "began his claim of prophetic powers in early 2003, which brought him into dispute with many high-level clerics who denounced his claim."

Rabbani studied in the village of Jadidat al-Aghwat in Khalis, along with proselytizing in the Khalis public market, Jabbar told the news agency. His followers organized many demonstrations, and are recognized for wearing a particular garb known as the "Bayji dishdasha" during their demonstrations.

Rabbani's message gradually spread, according to Jabbar, and the movement opened offices in across Iraq, as well as publishing an official newspaper and a website. His followers also seek to establish a satellite channel based in Cairo on the Egyptian NileSat network, the researcher said.

The preacher directs his message against the Shi'a branch of Islam, Jabbar said, adding that al-Rabbani views Shi'ism as resting on erroneous foundations. Some observers say that they see parallels with the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, said Jabbar.

The movement remains strongest in the majority-Shi'a town of Khalis in Diyala province.

Videos

Below are two undated videos, in Arabic, of al-Rabbani preaching. Both show recordings of the preacher apparently addressing followers during a sermon.

Arabic speakers may view the preacher's remarks as somewhat disjointed or even incoherent, as several commenters on the video-sharing site YouTube have also written in Arabic and English.

Some of the preacher's remarks from th video above are translated below:

I ask for the help from God against the strong, the strong devil, and we always hear this phrase, and without any intent, but we don’t see who asks the devil to help us against the devil, we say I ask God help against the devil. The devil said I ask God's help against the devil except the one who remembers the essence of divinity -- the realty of the devil -- the essence of godhood and the realty of the devil, his time and the time of his existence, and then the idea of asking God's help against he who stalks us appears, then we say God help us against the accursed devil. The right way. (The devil) says God I will to make people forget about you and turn their attention from the right way.

Rabbani continues:

The devil's enmity, there is no enmity in the world, no enmity in morals and no enmity in any other thing. The only enmity is the enmity in knowing God, the enmity exists in what comes to one’s mind when he remembers that he is in a gloomy world and he wants to enter the door to the light to take God, to take the knowledge that God is there, and to take the existence of God to improve his appearance. Here he meets with the devil, and then it would be the right time to take the basmala (i.e. to say "in the name of the merciful God").

The speech continues in this manner and then concludes:

Thank God that when we joined the straight path, when we joined the unseen, when we joined the religion, when we associated with al-Imam al-Rabbani and when we associated the believers in the straight path. They are Muhammad's community, and Muhammad's community has the certainty, has roots in certainty, it has the light, and there is no nation but this nation. This current Islamic community has nothing to do with Muhammad's community. Mohamed has nothing to do with the immoral community and the Quran has nothing to do with the disbelievers.

A second video is embedded below:

Rabbani says, in part:

I am the mercy of Islam, the mercy for the people on the earth, the guidance. I don’t claim that I am the people's lord; I am a simple man, from a simple village, God resembles me. Frankly, I say God resembled me. It is possible that God can resemble a man. Frankly I say this to the educated person, he will understand it. I say God resembled me, God chose me and took me from a peaceful soul and put me in another peaceful soul using an extended rope. And I came to this time and I want to extend the blessing and I want to save my companions the Shi'a from the Shi'a scholar. I want to unite everybody in one soul . . .

The religious leader continues:

God is the light, and God’s words are the light. And the light is related to the light, it can’t be seen and it can’t be seen. But the light is brightness and I am the brightness. The brightness I have is the mind which is here and there. Wherever I go, God is with me and around me.

Other commenters on the YouTube pages where these videos are hosted have seemed to disparagingly associate the Imam al-Rabbani movement with Shi'ism, but other posters point out, correctly, that the group is not Shi'a in the religious sense.

Further comments spin off into even more fantastic conspiracies regarding the origin of the videos and the cult-like movement that surrounds the so-called Imam al-Rabbani.

RUMOR MILL
Are Militias and Sahwa Preparing to Clash in Former No-go Zone?
04/17/2008 09:45 AM ET
Southwestern Baghdad near the Baghdad International Airport.
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.
Southwestern Baghdad near the Baghdad International Airport.

Tensions appear to be rising again in areas of southwestern Baghdad between elements of the Mahdi Army militia and local tribal elements organized into pro-US fighting forces known as Sahwa or "Awakening," locals tell IraqSlogger.

The mixed areas of southwestern Baghdad were sites of frequent clashes between rurally based Sunni Arab tribesmen outside the city and the Mahdi Army, which draws much of its support from the poor urban Shi'a population. For much of 2007, areas southwest of the airport road were considered no-go zones for Iraqi and even American forces, as rival sectarian militias fought a smoldering turf war for control of the area.

That situation has eased in late 2007 and early 2008, on the basis of several factors, including the consolidation of sectarian cleansing, a cease-fire order to the Mahdi Army militia, the incorporation of the area's tribesmen into a Sahwa council, and greater Iraqi and American troop presence.

However, over the last weekend old tensions seemed to be renewing, locals tell IraqSlogger. Beginning on Saturday residents of the areas of Shurta, and Shuhada and Risala say that tensions appeared palpable between Mahdi Army elements and the Sahwa forces drawn from the rural tribal areas nearby.

Some say that tensions were escalated by the rumored murder, in the I'lam area, of a prominent tribal leader from the rural Duwanim area who was involved in the Sahwa council, leading some of the tribal members of the Sahwa to speak of taking "revenge."

Others say that Mahdi Army fighters, nominally loyal to the Sadrist Current, were furious over the murder of Riyad al-Nuri, a prominent Sadrist cleric and brother-in-law to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Current's ostensible leader, heightening tensions with other armed groups.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm the rumors referred to in this report.

RUMOR MILL
Unconfirmed Talk of Unreliable Regular Troops, US Redeployment
04/16/2008 06:21 AM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Rumors are circulating in Sadr City claiming that Kurdish militia forces will take up security duties in the eastern Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia, residents tell IraqSlogger.

The unconfirmed buzz holds that high-level Iraqi officials, wary of the reliability of regular Iraqi troops after at least 1,300 deserted or refused to fight during recent fighting in Basra, have turned instead to asking the Kurdish Pesh Merga militias, controlled by Iraq's two largest Kurdish parties, to take up positions in Sadr City.

The rumor suggests that Kurdish troops could be incorporated into regular units with the Iraqi security forces for the Baghdad deployment.

More Iraqi reinforcements, Kurdish or otherwise, are said to be required as American forces are said to be slowly and quietly shifting ground troops away from Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad flashpoints.

Incidentally, another unconfirmed rumor circulating in Baghdad holds that a secret deal is under negotiation between the Iraqi government and the Sadrist bloc to allow the 1,300 soldiers who were reportedly dismissed after fighting in Basra and Kut to keep their positions.

As noted, IraqSlogger cannot confirm the rumors reported here.

RUMOR MILL
Roadside Devices Buried with Heavy Machinery; A New Curbside Bomb?
04/15/2008 3:03 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Rumors in the embattled eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City point to more than 300 roadside bombs planted over the weekend in the stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia, according to residents of the district, while another rumor points to the deployment of a new form of IED designed to resemble paving blocks.

Residents told IraqSlogger that militiamen could be seen using mechanical drills to sow the explosives in the ground, operating construction equipment that locals refer to as "drill Hummers," the use of which has increased the efficiency of IED-laying teams.

The unconfirmed figure of 300 bombs planted over the last weekend has circulated in Sadr City since Monday, locals say, and is likely to climb as mine-laying activities continue.

Another IED-related rumor points to a new form of IED in eastern Baghdad, designed to resemble the paving blocks that are used to create sidewalk curbs. The size of the devices are rumored to be a 20 by 30 cm block that extends for about one meter, and which are painted the same grayish color to resemble the ubiquitous concrete paving blocks.

Rumors point to one such bomb exploding on a curbside in Palestine Street in Eastern Baghdad last week.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm these rumors about new forms of IEDs or about the specific numbers of IEDs planted in recent days.

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