David Enders, for the Pulitzer Center
When I ask Baghdadis about whether their neighborhoods are safe, they do not say, "It is okay, the Iraqi police or army are there." They don't mention the US military. The only ones who have told me it is safe have said that things are okay "because of the Jeish al-Mehdi." This goes for an increasing number of neighborhoods, especially in Rusafa (East Baghdad).
As far as I can tell, the Jeish al-Mehdi, though being much more canny about patrolling the streets openly, are in greater control of much of Baghdad than they have been at any other point. In order to work on this radio piece about the mohajereen, or refugees inside Iraq, we had to coordinate w/the local Sadrieen offices.
While filming, we were immediately approached by a group of men who demanded to know who had given us permission to film and why we were filming. The same thing happened last weekend while we were in Sadr City. We hadn't been out of our car for more than five minutes before we observed a white sedan roll up and two young men got out. We had someone from the Sadr press office with us, and there were no problems, but it was a testament to how closely things are watched. I've had similar experiences w/other militias on other trips.
As we drive across Baghdad, the most striking difference since the last time I was here is all of the roads that have been blocked off with piles of rubble, old furniture, palm trunks, dead cars, not by the police or military but by residents and local militias themselves, forcing anyone entering or leaving a neighborhood to use a common street – it makes things easier to defend. Altogether, though, it suggests that Baghdad is increasingly fragmented. Even the Sadrieen offices admitted they had very little coordination from neighborhood to another.
A note about the blog: Rick is supplying the poetry, inspired by Iraqi author Saadi Yousef's brooding and brilliant meditations on growing up in Basra, moving to Lebanon and generally watching the optimism and political agency of one's youth give way to the chaos and bloodshed that has marked the Middle East his entire life.