Part 6: Mean and Clean Streets


Pulling up to the Hadhra Mosque headed by Sheikh Dhafer al-Ubeidi, a key cleric in the Fallujah resistance, shortly after noon prayers were over one Friday, I saw several dozen armed Fallujah Brigade soldiers, police and civilians crowded before the entrance. Some were looking inside an old car. Several more soldiers and police were guarding the gate, and there were more inside. The guard, Ahmad, was my friend and greeted me wearing a new black-and-white keffiye around his head like a bandanna. Several police approached and said "No journalists," but Ahmad said, "No, he is a friend," and ushered me into the guard room. I noticed several soldiers and policemen standing by the door to Dhafer's office. I recognized the same assistant to the chief of police I had noticed on previous visits. I asked Ahmad what was going on, did something happen? "Oh, it's nothing," he said, "a simple thing. We arrested two spies, they're British or maybe German."

I peered through the window trying to see what was going on, armed men rushed about busily. A few minutes later Ahmad knocked on the door. "Okay, come," he said. I walked across to the office, removed my shoes and entered.

Taghlub al-Alusi, the head of the unofficial City Consultative Council, stepped out looking more worried than usual, and we greeted. The room was crowded with men standing and sitting, and at first I did not notice the woman sitting in a corner before tables full of food in foam "to go" containers. She was white, and young.

Colonel Sabar Fadhil al-Janabi, chief of Fallujah's police force, was seated across from her, his back to me. He greeted me warmly, a leg of chicken in his hand. I sat down beside them and smiled at the woman. A middle-aged white man emerged from the bathroom and sat next to her. Taghlub returned to his table and with another man began carefully examining every page of two German passports, turning them around and squinting. Sitting next to the colonel was a young man, I took him to be 18. He looked just like his father the colonel. When he stood up, I saw he had a pistol on his right waist and a walkie-talkie on the other side. He was only 16, he told me. Across, on the other side of the table, sat a short, round man with layers of tape covering his nose like a pig's snout, next to him was a baby-faced man in a tailored suit. "He's the qaimaqam," I was told, the mayor. He was rehearsing a statement, asking the elders for approval. An old man sat next to me and nodding toward the German man said, "He shouldn't have worn a dishdasha [robe], it was suspicious."

Uwe Sauerman, a very tall, pale 55-year-old freelance journalist and his assistant, Manya Schodche, 24, herself very pale, had driven to Fallujah that morning. After being warned not to go to Najaf because it was too dangerous, Uwe obeyed his hotel manager's instructions and took a dishdasha with him and set off with a driver and translator. On entering Fallujah, Uwe donned his dishdasha, but was seen doing so. The German couple were stopped at the checkpoint where four US contractors had earlier been killed after being spotted by young informants posing as street sellers. They were forced out at gunpoint by six armed men, one of them in a policeman's uniform, and accused of being an American general and female soldier. Soon a mob of hundreds surrounded them, including some of the same laborers who had killed the four contractors, beating them with shovels, sticks and rocks. A plastic bag was placed over Uwe's head. Manya was slapped around and severely handled. Their translator, a Christian from Baghdad, was called a traitor and collaborator. He wore a cross. His nose was broken and he was hit in the back of the neck with a machete.

Just before they were to be doused with gasoline, the police managed to drag them into their nearby station. The mob and mujahideen attacked the station, calling for their prisoners to be returned to them, and the police transferred the four to the Hadhra Mosque under heavy security. The mob surrounded Hadhra with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and Kalashnikovs. Abu Abdallah, a foreign leader of a mujahideen unit, marched in with his Kalashnikov demanding the return of the "American spies". The Fallujah Brigade and the police nearly engaged the mujahideen in a shootout.

That same day, the committee of leaders at Hadhra had decided to confront Abu Abdallah, hoping to disarm his unit, or at least subordinate it to their command. They received word that there were two dead American spies and Fallujah went into a state of alert, expecting a US attack. The two Germans were brought to the Hadhra office and interrogated. Once "the committee for the investigation of espionage" established that they were indeed German journalists, they received apologies and were ordered to eat.

Manya's face was swollen beneath her eyes and her shirt had blood speckles on it. Uwe's face was spotted with red bruises and he winced when he moved. He had a broken tooth. His hands were trembling. The fear and tension from whatever had transpired in this room still lingered, and they were contagious. I realized my heart was racing. The translator with tape on his nose was dabbing it continuously, wiping the blood that was dripping from it. He came to sit next to us. The mayor told him, "If you don't eat I'll be angry." He answered in a nasal voice as if someone was pinching his nose, "I can't, I'll throw up." The colonel, with a mouth full of food, commanded Uwe, "Eat, eat!" Uwe obeyed.

Uwe and Manya were ordered into a nearby office where local stringers from alJazeera and al-Arabiya television networks, who had been called in, were preparing their cameras to film the mayor's press statement. They seated the Germans on a sofa on either side of the mayor, who explained that on that morning an old Iraqi car entered the city with two foreigners dressed in Arabic clothing, the man in a dishdasha and the woman in a hejab (veil). "The way they entered was suspicious and illegal," he said, "and they were brought here to the good people of the mosque." He displayed their German passports and urged all the foreign journalists to check in with the mayor's office or the police if they entered the city. "We welcome all foreign press here," he said, "Fallujah is a peaceful city, the quietest city in Iraq." The two Germans sat in a mute stupor next to him as Taghlub looked on in weary boredom.

Uwe was told he could make a statement. "When I saw the pictures of American attacks on Fallujah I decided to go to Fallujah," he said in a thick German accent, "to take pictures of the city and ask the victims of these attacks what happened to them and how are their lives. In my hotel in Baghdad they advised me to wear a dishdasha because it is better and I will be safer. Somebody shouted 'Amerikaner! Amerikaner!' and then people came, and you know what happened next? Men with guns put a bag on my head like the Americans do and I didn't see anymore. Then I was in an empty house and they interrogated me and after a while I convinced them I am a German and friend of the Iraqi people, not an American, and they were very friendly. I would like to come again to show the German people what happened in Fallujah so I will try to come tomorrow."

The mayor shook Uwe's hand before the camera and told both Germans they were welcome. Uwe was then ordered to recant his statement comparing the behavior of the mob to the Americans, and he readily complied. "When I said they used a plastic bag," he said, "it doesn't mean that we have to compare you the people of Fallujah to the Americans. I only meant that the plastic bag itself reminded me of the Americans." Uwe was told to hold his dishdasha for the cameras and then the press conference ended. Saad, a young sniper, was serving refreshments. He asked me if Manya was Uwe's daughter or his girlfriend. He didn't understand how a woman could be traveling with a man not related to her. "Just give me five minutes alone with her," he told me with a wistful smile.
Under heavy protection, Uwe and Manya were loaded into the mayor's car. A convoy of six cars, including two pickup trucks loaded with multi-colored Fallujah Brigade fighters with their Kalashnikovs at the ready, headed out. Once they exited town the convoy halted and the armed men emerged. For a moment I thought they would execute them. But they only reshuffled their men and continued to Baghdad. The Fallujah Brigade soldiers returned home. The convoy pulled up to the heavily fortified German Embassy in Baghdad's Mansour district an hour later and was greeted by bewildered German security guards. At first the guards only permitted Manya, Uwe and the mayor in. Chief of police Janabi was very offended and puffed his cheeks, threatening to go home. I pulled aside the security guard and explained to him that it was better to let the police chief in as well and he relented.

Dhafer, and two generals, had all been in the mosque prior to my arrival, but were hastily moved out for their own safety due to concerns about the mujahideen that also led to the deployment of nearly 20 Fallujah Brigade members to protect the convoy taking the Germans to Baghdad. It was clear to the men in the committee that the rogue mujahideen had to be pacified, Dhafer wasn't even safe in his own mosque.

Taghlub and the men were very upset - they nearly lost control of the town and their own power. If the Germans had been killed, the Americans would surely have returned. The foreign mujahideen based in the Julan neighborhood were proving especially recalcitrant. They were harassing Iraqis for smoking cigarettes and even for drinking water using their left hand, considered impure. They had banned alcohol, Western films, makeup, hairdressers, "behaving like women", ie homosexuality, and even dominoes in the coffee houses. Men found publicly drunk had been flogged and I was told of a dozen men beaten and imprisoned for selling drugs. Islamic courts were being established in association with mujahideen units and mosque leaders, meting out punishment consistent with the Koran. Erstwhile Ba'ath Party members told me they were expiating the sins of their former secularism, and Ba'ath ideology had now become Islamist. An assistant to the mayor confirmed that there were Islamic courts with their own qadis, or judges, who acted independently of the police. He added that all the spies had already been killed, "but before we killed them we made sure they were spies". He was concerned about "the mujahideen who do not know Sheikh Dhafer and the men of the Hadhra", the foreigners and uncooperative mujahideen who sought to expand the liberated zone beyond Fallujah.

TOMORROW, the concluding article: Radicals in the ashes of democracy.

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