We go to Iraq to speak with Borzou Daragahi, Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. He discusses the increasing violence in Baghdad and the reaction among Iraqis about the Lebanon crisis. [includes rush transcript]
As we continue our coverage of the latest in the Middle East we turn now to Iraq. The Pentagon has announced it will be sending more troops into Baghdad. Violence in the Iraqi capital has only worsened since US and Iraqi troops launched a massive security crackdown six weeks ago. More than 40 people were killed in bomb attacks in Baghdad Sunday. Another 22 died in a car bombing in Kirkuk. Baghdad’s central morgue says it’s received more than one thousand bodies already this month. According to the US military, bombings and shootings increased by more than 40 percent just last week. The violence is creating thousands of refugees by the day — the Iraqi government says more than 30,000 in just over three weeks. For the latest we go now to Baghdad were we’re joined by Borzou Daragahi. He’s the Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
- Borzou Daragahi, Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: For the latest, we go now to Baghdad, and we’re joined by Borzou Daragahi. He is the Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Borzou.
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the latest, just this past weekend?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Oh, I mean, it’s just been a very rough time here in Baghdad and other parts of the country, as well. The worst incident over the weekend was a really devastating car bomb in a produce market in the Shiite district of Sadr City. It killed over 37 people and injured dozens.
And then up in Kirkuk, which is a kind of a different struggle there — you don’t have the same sort of sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis up there — you had a car bomb in Kirkuk that killed at least 21 people, injured a hundred, according to police officials up there. Kirkuk is the site of an ethnic conflict between ethnic Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, all vying for control of the oil-rich city.
AMY GOODMAN: There is most media coverage of what’s going on right now in Lebanon. How would you compare this to the past in Iraq right now?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: I mean, it’s definitely intensifying. I think everyone acknowledges that. In terms of the number of civilian casualties, in terms of the level of tension and fear on the streets, in terms of the quality of life for ordinary people, it’s gotten much worse in recent weeks. You have a lot of fire sales at stores, people packing stuff up and selling it off in order to close their stores and move on. You definitely notice that with Iraqis. There’s a real sense of dislocation on the part of many Iraqis. The ones who can afford to have already left the country, even just for a brief respite maybe to Jordan. The ones who can’t are trying to leave the country, even the people who can barely afford it. Everyone you know is sleeping at a friend’s house or sleeping at a relative’s house, trying to get away from trouble in their particular neighborhood. Many families have moved from their areas and moved to other areas where they feel more safe. So, you know, it’s definitely palpable, it’s definitely — for Iraqis at least — it’s definitely the worst I’ve ever seen it.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the quote of the head of the parliament at a U.N.-sponsored conference on reconciliation. The parliament speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani, accused U.S. forces in Iraq of butchery. He said, "Just get your hands off Iraq and the Iraqi people and Muslim countries, and everything will be all right." He went on to say, "What has been done in Iraq is a kind of butchery of the Iraqi people." He also criticized U.S. support for the Israeli attack on Lebanon. Your response?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I think Mahmoud Mashadani, he’s a charming fellow, and he makes a lot of really interesting remarks. I don’t think his remarks are representative of the Iraqi government in general. I don’t know if you could call what is happening here — and I disagree that you could call it, like, butchery on the part of Americans. I think there is butchery going on, but most of it is being — you know, sadly, it’s Iraqi-on-Iraqi butchery. With the U.S., sometimes maybe more clumsily than anything, contributing to that butchery, but not as a matter of policy, whereas many of the groups that are out here, such as the Shiite militiamen and the Sunni insurgents, they seem to have — their methodologies seems to be, you know, killing other Iraqis.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering how much attention some of the stories of atrocities that trickle into the United States of U.S. soldiers get in Iraq, the latest one, four U.S. army soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqis have said they did so under orders to, quote, "kill any military-age males." Lawyers for the solders say two senior officers, a colonel and a captain, have acknowledged that they gave the order. Is that common understanding in Iraq? Is this news in Iraq?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: You know, sadly, in many ways, it’s not news in Iraq. People have — you know, they’re very jaded about the U.S. presence here, on the one hand. But on the other hand, despite all of the atrocities that are committed and have been alleged and are being pursued in military courts, you know, the atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers — there are a number of them — despite those, many Iraqis still consider the U.S. troops more fair brokers than their Iraqi counterpart. And I think there is a certain element of jadedness about the U.S. troops in that they basically — they’ve been basically saying this stuff — maybe it’s news to the U.S. — but they have been saying this stuff for a long time, you know, that the U.S. soldiers are abusing us, they’re manhandling us, they’re not being respectful of our culture and dignity and our homes. So it’s not — it’s news, it’s noted on the Arab language channels, but it’s not speaking to anyone.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the piece you wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi, about Jihad, deaths at the door in Iraq, Jihad being a place.
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, this is sort of a neighborhood in Baghdad that was a site of a really awful massacre on July 9. And one of the things that, you know — I did a quite a bit of reporting about what happened that morning exactly and, you know, sort of trace the tit-for-tat violence that preceded this morning. And eventually what happened and what appears to have happened was quite a systematic, cold-blooded attack on the neighborhood, in which Sunni Arab people, ordinary people, were systematically detained and killed, sometimes right on the street there. And then the case of some people who basically tried to stop this from happening, their homes burned down and basically turned into refugees as they were fleeing the situation there.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have written about the response in Iraq to what’s happening in Lebanon. Can you talk about that?
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Yeah, it’s kind of funny, in a way, but it’s been the only — I guess Karl Rove or a political strategist would call it a bridge issue, as opposed to a wedge issue. It’s been the only unifying issue in Iraq. So even though you have different groups in Iraq killing each other and accusing each other of atrocities, everyone agrees that they are against Israel and they condemn Zionist aggression, so called, and they come out very strongly in support of Lebanon. And many of them are coming out in support of the Hezbollah movement, as well, and praising them as a defender of the Arab nation.
AMY GOODMAN: Borzou Daragahi, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Borzou is in Baghdad. He’s the bureau chief to the Los Angeles Times, and we will link to his articles at democracynow.org.