Dispatches from Iraq
November 19 -- Abu Talat calls me frantic. The deafening roar of hundreds of people in a confined area yelling, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) reverberate behind his panicked voice.
“I am being held at gunpoint by American soldiers inside Abu Hanifa mosque Dahr,” he yells, “Everyone is praying to God because the Americans are raiding our mosque during Friday prayer!”
He makes short calls, updating me on the atrocity. After a few sentences of information he hangs up because he is trapped inside the mosque and trying to let me know what is happening. Being Friday, the day of prayer and holiday, this was supposed to be an off day for us.
I just finish typing what he told me before he calls back.
“They have shot and killed at least 4 of the people while they were praying, and at least 20 are wounded now! I cannot believe this! I can’t let them see me calling you. I am on my stomach now and they have our guns on everyone, there are at least 1,500 people inside the mosque and it is sealed. We are on our bellies and in a very bad situation.”
Several Humvees and Iraqi National Guard (ING) vehicles showed up and 50 soldiers and well over 50 ING sealed and entered the mosque with the goal of detaining the Imam, Shaikh Muayid al-Adhami.
Abu Talat calls back, “We were here praying and now there are over 50 here with their guns on us,” he said. ”They are holding our heads to the ground, and everyone is in chaos. This is the worst situation possible. They cannot see me talking to you. They are roughing up a blind man now.”
The soldiers eventually released women and children along with men who were related to them. Abu Talat was only released because a boy approached him and told him to pretend to be his father.
Shortly thereafter he phones me from his home in tears.
“Dahr I cannot believe what has happened,” pausing to collect himself, “I will go back to see what is happening now.”
I urge him not to go, but he insists.
“This is my mosque and my people. I must go see what is happening to them.”
It is now 2:15pm and the mosque is still sealed. We begin to interview people he is with via the mobile as he describes the scene.
“People were praying and the Americans invaded the mosque,” Abdulla Ra'ad Aziz said, who had been released along with his wife and children. “Why are they killing people for praying? After the forces entered they went to the back doors and we heard so many bullets of the guns. There were wounded and dead, I saw them myself.”
Some of the people who had been at prayer were ordered by soldiers to carry the dead and wounded out of the mosque.
“One Iraqi National Guardsmen held his gun on people and yelled, ‘I will kill you if you don't shut up’,” said Rana Aziz, a mother who had been trapped in the mosque. She was now waiting outside for her brother, who was still inside.
She said someone asked the soldiers if they would were hostages. “A soldier yelled at everyone to ‘Shut the Fuck Up,” she said. Suddenly, she laughed amid her tears. “The Americans have learned how to say shut up in Arabic, ‘Inchev’.”
Hammad Mohammed, a 20 year-old man, said, “My uncle’s coffin was taken inside the mosque to be prayed on, and the Americans raided the mosque and went to the Imams’ room. Then they went to the back doors and we heard so many bullets of the guns-it was a gun bigger than a Kalashnikov. There were wounded and dead, as I saw them myself. I saw 4 killed and 9 wounded.”
Abu Talat then breaks the interview and tells me, “Doctors and staff are standing outside but the Americans refuse to let them inside. They can do nothing, and the Americans are not letting them inside while there are wounded people inside the mosque.”
Just like in Fallujah, soldiers denied Iraqi Red Crescent ambulances and medical teams access to the mosque. As doctors negotiated with U.S. soldiers outside, more gunfire was heard from inside the mosque.
About 30 men were led out with hoods over their heads and their hands tied behind them. Soldiers loaded them into a military vehicle and took them away around 3.15 pm.
A doctor with the Iraqi Red Crescent confirmed four dead and nine wounded worshippers. Pieces of brain were splattered on one of the walls inside the mosque while large blood stains covered carpets in several places.
Later Abu Talat comes to my hotel to see me. He is distraught, crying while he recounts the story. After listening to the tape he recorded inside the mosque during the atrocity, he says…
“I am in a very sad position. I do not see any freedom or any democracy. If this could lead into a freedom, it is a freedom with blood. It is a freedom of emotions of sadness. It is a freedom of killing. You cannot gain democracy through blood or killing. You do not find the freedom that way. People are going to pray to God and they were killed and wounded. There were 1,500 people praying to God and they went on a holiday were people go every Friday for prayers. And they were shot and killed. There were so many women and kids lying on the ground. This is not democracy, neither freedom.”
After several weeks of relative calm in Adhamiya, the detention of the Imam of Abu Hanifa and killing of worshippers inside their mosque is sure to ignite the fires of revenge in this area, which is already known as the Fallujah of Baghdad.
Dahr Jamail is originally from Anchorage, Alaska. He has spent a total of 5 months in occupied Iraq, and has now returned to continue reporting on the occupation. One of only a few independent reporters in Iraq, Dahr will be using the DahrJamailIraq.com website and mailing list to disseminate his dispatches and will continue as special correspondent for Flashpoints Radio.
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