Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr on a march in Baghdad's Shu'la district on Tuesday to protest targeting of Sadrists in Diwaniya and Karbala.
Intensified security operations in the southern city of Diwaniya have fallen during the annual rice harvest, an important event for the city each year. In an original report from the troubled city, an Iraqi news website writes in Arabic that some citizens of the troubled city are referring to these days as some of the most difficult in the city's modern history.
While some districts are especially hard hit by the ongoing security operations of Operation Lion's Leap, two concerns predominate among the people of Diwaniya in all neighborhoods al-Malaf Press writes: The continuous search to meet the winter's fuel and food needs, and the current rice harvest season.
Operation Lion's Leap, launched November 17, reportedly "aims at liberating Diwaniya from the militias and gunmen and then handing the province over to the Iraqi army's 8th Division," according to an Iraqi security official, VOI reported earlier. The major operation involves Iraqi Army, Police, and Multinational forces.
Petroleum derivatives continue to be difficult to find in the city, al-Malaf Press writes, blaming not only the security operations, but also the reorganization of the system of coupons for families to obtain gas and kerosene and disruptions in supply caused by the end-of-year inventory-taking exercise by the public company that supplies the area with its petroleum derivatives.
The second issue, which Diwaniya residents have experienced more favorably is the annual rice harvest, which provides at least 10 percent of the employment in the area, and which has raised incomes throughout the city because of rising prices for the commodity this year, and because of farmers' annual need for extra hands during the harvest.
Even so, a pall of pessimism and frustration hangs over the city, according to the al-Malaf Press report.
Qasim Yahi 'Umran, longtime Diwaniya resident, and a political activist in the city since the 1960s, sees the situation in Diwaniya as the worst in its modern history. The situation in Diwaniya reflects a post-2003 political failure in Iraq, he says, referring to a "lack of a political and economic agenda to build the country in a scientific and studied way," and adding that, "there are no successes in the post-2003 political process of which Diwaniya can be considered an example."
If the people of Diwaniya are pleased with the harvest this year, he says, this is because of the general lack of opportunity and work in the city outside of the seasonal harvest activities, which is counted as one of the original commercial activities of the town.
Even though Umran seems to be pessimistic about the general state of affairs in the city, which he says "suffers from political, intellectual, and scientific, marginalization," al-Malaf Press goes on to present the even deeper pessimism of a resident named Abu Fatima, who lives in the second sector of al-Wahda district (al-Wahda 2) who says that Diwaniya is facing setbacks up on all levels which, he says, only "miracles" could deliver the city from.
Diwaniya's residents see themselves as caught in a pincer, al-Malaf Press writes, on the one hand fed up by the violent acts conducted by militants in the city, and on the other hand fearful of the Iraqi Army, Police, and the Multinational Forces.
With the beginning of the Operation Lion's Leap, the markets of the city have witnessed a slight increase in prices, the Iraqi agency writes, adding that this might also be a response to the onset of the winter season.
However, scarcities are very noticeable in some areas of the city that have been besieged in the ongoing operations, such as Hay al-Sadr 1, and Hay al-Nahda, which, al-Malaf Press reports, are experiencing difficulties in obtaining daily necessities because of the total closure of these areas as part of the raiding and house-to-house searching for suspects and weapons.
Abu Fatima adds that the security forces have forbidden residents of the al-Wahda 2 district from going out, and has not permitted residents of the area to venture into the streets to purchase their daily needs for food as they are accustomed to doing, and the economic difficulties may outlast the security operations, the agency writes, judging from the downcast popular mood in the district.
Most markets in Diwaniya have remained relatively stable in prices for foodstuffs, even with the fear of the possibility of curfews and denial of access to vehicles to and from the city, according to one trader of food items, who criticized the execution of the government's food provision programs, which are based on the distribution of ration cards to Iraqi families.
Several citizens of the city criticized "provocations" by the security forces as they attack the houses of wanted suspects. Abd al Husayn al-Budayri told al-Malaf Press that an Iraqi Army force had seized control of the house of a wanted Mahdi Army commander, expelled the women and children from it, and then turned it into a local headquarters for the force. Such acts were crimes against humanity, he said, and he asked for the urgent intervention of the Iraqi government to stop such "provocations, which the people of Diwaniya refuse by virtue of their tribal values which require respect and protection for women," he says.
Meanwhile, al-Budayri's friend, Hamza al-Zamili, says that he witnessed the arrest raid on the house on a Sadrist leader, Haydar Hamza, during which the furniture of the house was smashed, and personal property of the Sadrist was seized, over a month ago.
Although the Operation Lion's Leap appears to be nearing its end, according to military sources, it may not necessarily end the acts of violence, since, according to a Sadrist supporter in the city, it will be followed by a sense of revenge-seeking on the part of many in the city, especially on behalf of those who were detained and many of whom have apparently been tortured and injured in custody, al-Malaf Press writes.
The Iraqi Army is attempting to reduce the sense of popular resentment in some of the residential areas, the agency adds, by offering help to the residents, including offering food aid to over 1000 families in the al-Wahda district, where searching operations have ended. The forces have also provided supplies to students in the al-Fajr al-Jadid school in the same district.
A military source confirmed what the commander of the Eighth Iraqi Army Division said earlier, that the Army forces will contribute to the provision of services and the completion of some physical labor in the province.
Finally, the Diwaniya provincial council is apparently incapable of influencing the security operations, al-Malaf Press writes, saying that the governing body seems only able to express hope for the capture of militants and those outside the law, a sentiment which its members continue to express, even after the arrest of over 150 people in the city, some of whom are even partners in the political process.
Members of the Sadrist current especially have complained vocally about what they say is unfair targeting of Sadrist supporters and leaders in the city of Diwaniya, among other southern cities, in the wake of deadly fighting in the shrine city of Karbala in late August which appeared to pit rival Shi'a political and militia factions against one another.
Sadrists have also alleged violations of torture, rape, beatings, and even extrajudicial killings on the part of the Iraqi security forces that have captured Sadrist leaders and supporters in the southern provinces.
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.
The Iraqi south.