Iraq Diary Day 10: 'The US calling us terrorists is an honor'
I’m driven to several locations and told to change cars each time before finally being driven to a compound in Baghdad, behind several layers of checkpoints manned by young fighters, no older than 21 or 22.
We go in and wait for Mousawi to arrive. He arrives after about 10 minutes, but even so apologizes for keeping us waiting.
Mousawi is a young man in his early 30s. His eyes betray his youthfulness and he is jovial and welcoming. He is one of the more interesting of the many people I have met during my journey. He is a cultured and educated man, quoting the first Shia leader Imam Ali ("People are either your brothers in religion or your equals in humanity"), along with Ghandi ("I learnt from Hussain how to attain victory while being oppressed") and also, as he complained bitterly about the woes of his favorite team Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho (‘A team with Lionel Messi is unstoppable’).
He also tells me of his admiration for Che Guevara: “I like him because he was a rebel. I like rebellious people”
I raise the issue of the US considering the leader of his group a terrorist.
“An honor! If defending your country from an occupation is terrorism then it is an honor to be called that. We have no issue with the American people but their government brought nothing but misery to Iraq.”
I also ask him about the repeated accusations that the groups fighting the Islamic State militants (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) are sectarian.
“Abu Bakr Baghdadi says he will come to Baghdad and Karbala after Ramadi. We will have tens of thousands of fighters waiting for his gang. We have four divisions of Sunni fighters alone.”
One division of those is from the Albu Fahad tribe whose opposition to IS has marked them out as targets. IS refer to them and all Sunnis who oppose them as ‘murtadeen’ (apostates).
“We will hand the land over to the people it belongs to, the Sunni sons of Anbar,” Mousawi confirms.
It is my last day in Iraq. I have a final chance to meet with Hashd Shabi fighters who are heading out to Ramadi. Again they are young and eager to join the fight against the so-called Islamic State.
“We are not doing this for the government to sit on their chairs,” says one young fighter who says he has come from Diyala. “We are doing this to stop Daesh (Arabic acronym for IS) before it is too late”.
The sentiment about the government is not so uncommon. There are whole neighborhoods carved out in Baghdad, which are the fiefdoms of the different political blocs in Parliament and the phenomenon crosses sectarian and ethnic divides. As you drive out of the Green Zone, where government offices are based, you are met with a picture of Jalal Talabani (the Kurdish former president of Iraq) on one side and Ammar Al-Hakim (leader of the Shia ISCI bloc) on the other. Every single one of the parties owns land, properties and other business interests.
They also treat the government ministry portfolios as their own personal property. It explains why the Iraqi government is so divided and incapable of functioning in a coherent manner. Different parties with completely differing agendas have control of entire ministries, giving jobs to their supporters as opposed to the most capable people. It was the system imposed on Iraq by the occupation authorities under the pretext of ‘power sharing’ and was reinforced again last year when new PM Haidar Abadi was pressured into being more “inclusive.”
Upon my return to London, news filters through of a bomb ripping through a few hotels in Baghdad. Ten people, simply trying to enjoy their evening with family and friends, who have their own hopes and dreams, are snuffed out, their lives tragically cut short.
As I leave Iraq, I think of all the characters I have met, all the people working to help Iraq get back on its feet and all the hope they express. Some people have given up on this beautiful country, declaring it a lost cause but Iraq has a chance through its people, despite all the deep problems plaguing the country.
I leave with a yearning to one day return and continue to report about this enigmatic place, which is hailed as the birthplace of civilization.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.