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Occupation magazine - Siege, Wall, Checkpoints

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IRAQ UPDATE: 8-11 September 2005

17 September 2005

Thursday, 8 September

NAJAF: Sheila Provencher and William Van Wagenen traveled from Najaf to
Kerbala and then on to Baghdad. Along the road they encountered more than
thirty checkpoints, manned by either Iraqi Police officers or Iraqi Army
soldiers. Iraqi Police stopped their car at the border of Najaf, and after
inspecting Provencher`s and Van Wagenen`s passports and an official Iraqi
government letter authorizing Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) to work in
Iraq, let them pass.

During their three days in Kerbala and Najaf, Van Wagenen and Provencher
did not see any U.S. military presence. The U.S. military has withdrawn
completely from the streets of those cities, and is handing over Lima Base
near Kerbala to the Iraqi Army.

BAGHDAD: The team heard an explosion in the morning. They later found out
it was a car bomb targeting the al-Sadeer Hotel. Later in the day, the team
heard from a driver that the bomb blew up close to his home. He and his
family were not hurt.

Matthew Chandler visited a religious leader in Kadhamiya to offer
condolences for the lives lost in the stampede on the bridge on 31 August
2005. This leader described some disturbing details about the stampede on
the bridge. He believed that some kind of toxin sparked the panic, and
ordered an investigation to test the physical evidence found on some
victims. The religious leader also reported that soldiers from the Iraqi
Volcano Brigade, under the command of the Ministry of the Interior, were
responsible for security within and around Kadhamiya, while the Ministry of
Defense (MoD) was responsible for securing the perimeter.

The religious leader told the commanders of the MoD to close the bridge
between Kadhamiya and Al Adhamiya for security reasons, as the U.S. military
had done the year before. However, someone--he does not know who--ordered
that the bridge be left open. Therefore, he holds the MoD responsible for
the tragedy.

Maxine Nash went to the electrical plant and the oil refinery in al-Daura
south of Baghdad, to learn more about the energy situation in Iraq. Both
Iraqi Police and U.S. soldiers were guarding the electrical plant.
Officials in an interior office told Nash that CPT had to get approval from
an office in another neighborhood for a formal visit. At the oil refinery,
a special security force called the OPF (Oil Police Force?) guarded the
facility. Nash arranged for a visit at a later date.

Nash went to the other electrical office and began what seemed like a long
bureaucratic process to gain approval for a formal visit to the electrical
plant. Nash then went to the Iraqi Assistance Center (IAC) to check on a
compensation claim for an Iraqi friend whose property was damaged by a U.S.
military action. The gentlemen in the Compensation Department of the IAC
said that because they were in the process of moving they did not have
access to the files and could not tell her the status of the claim. They
said to come back on 17 September.

An Iraqi human rights worker from Kerbala dropped by to visit the team.

The electricity from the national system was restored to the team`s
apartment building after major repairs to cables on the street. The
building`s residents had been relying solely on generator power since 24
August. Others in the neighborhood, who did not have generators, had been
without electricity for the previous sixteen days.

Saturday, 10 September

Chandler and Provencher interviewed an Iraqi man who had spent several
months in detention.

The Iraqi family with whom Nash and Provencher had lived for six weeks in
2004 came to visit, for a joyful reunion punctuated by some minor sibling
rivalry as the four children colored pictures with crayons and pencils.

Provencher helped some Iraqi friends to move from their house to a nearby
apartment. While they were pushing a cart of possessions up a deeply
rutted, sewage-strewn street, the wheels got stuck in the mud and the group
dissolved into laughter as they tried to unstick the cart.

Sunday, 11 September

Between about 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., a joint patrol of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers
blocked off the street where the team lives. Residents seemed nervous as
soldiers nonchalantly commandeered the street, some climbing onto the roofs
of houses or standing on residents` property.

Chandler, Nash, and Van Wagenen conversed with the soldiers. One U.S.
soldier said they were doing a training exercise, and another elaborated,
explaining that they were setting up roving traffic checkpoints. The U.S.
soldiers were shocked to find Americans living `outside the wire,` meaning
outside the International `Green Zone` or the protection of military

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