“These terrorists were trying to do whatever they could to displace us. There were Sunnis in our village as well, by the way. About half the families were Sunni and the other half Shi’ites. We all banded together against these terrorists, because they seemed to be out to kill just everybody.”
The following excerpt from Usra J’Bara Hadi describes how her town, located south of Baghdad, suffered through sectarian violence and terrorism and how they tried to stand up to. For more excerpts from Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009.
These terrorists were trying to do whatever they could to displace us. There were Sunnis in our village as well, by the way. About half the families were Sunni and the other half Shi’ites. We all banded together against these terrorists, because they seemed to be out to kill just everybody. When we stayed, the terrorists brought in heavier weapons. They started firing mortars and anti-aircraft cannons at our house and others in the area. They had stolen these weapons from the police force after killing them off. Eight or ten people died in homes around us as the attacks grew more intense.
As the months passed we came to live in a state of siege in our own houses. We organized defenses and patrols for the village, and the fighting came daily. We were trapped there, and we were running out of food and ammunition. We were going to die unless we did something. We regularly called the police and the army to come and help us, but no one ever came. The Iraqi army was in the area, but we could not convince them to help us. Many families wanted to flee. I was against this and urged people to stay. This was our land, our home. We should not be chased away. At the same time, life was impossible. We needed the army or the police to come to the area and remain to ward off attackers. So, we decided to stage a kind of demonstration in order to demand security forces for our village.
Sometime in the fall of 2006, nearly a hundred of us walked together from our houses one day in a group, made our way to the main road and sat down in the middle. We could stop all the traffic through the area that way. We flagged down an army patrol, and soon the Iraqi commander for the area arrived to try and sort out the situation. They wanted us to disperse. We refused. We wanted the army to come right then in force and protect us. After a lot of arguing the commander split our group in two, with the men on one side of the road and the women on the other. He began talking directly to the men, and it seemed like they were negotiating some kind of solution. The commander was saying he needed some time to make arrangements for a full-time army presence in the area, and the men in our group seemed okay with a promise from the commander to return in three days.
I had heard enough. I crossed the road alone and in front of my father and my husband told the commander in essence, No way. You don’t leave us here for three days. If you think we can stay safe for that long, then send your family to stay with us. At the very least, I said, if you are going to leave us today, give us your guns and ammunition so we might have a chance. And then I walked away from him. The commander followed me after a minute. When he caught up he said, Okay, where do you suggest I set up checkpoints? I suggested a spot, and he left six or seven men there that day.
Things were quiet for a little while after that, but it was not enough. The attacks started again on our plot and homes around us. The security forces were gradually overrun all across our area, and we had no choice but to flee. By December 2006, we were in Baghdad looking for someplace safe to live.