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Iraqis in Sadr City “Confused and Terrified”

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We speak with Irish peace activist Michael Birmingham who has spent the last few nights in Sadr City, Baghdad where up to 100 Iraqis have died in clashes with U.S. troops since Sunday. [includes rush transcript]

  • Michael Birmingham, Irish peace activist who is in Baghdad with Voices in the Wilderness. He has been in Iraq since October 2002.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman as we go live now to Baghdad with Michael Birmingham, Irish peace activist with “Voices in the Wilderness” has been in Iraq since October, 2002, and has been spending a good amount of time recently in Sadr City, where the Mehdi army is based. Can you tell us what it is like there and who the Mehdi army are?

MICHAEL BIRMINGHAM: Okay. Well, at the moment, in Sadr City, people are really terrified of what’s happening and what’s going to happen, and they — most people aren’t really sure exactly what’s going on around them, and they don’t know what to do. For instance, you know, we have seen — talked to people where — who are living, you know, at junctions where cars have been attacked by U.S. forces, the occupants killed, and most people — virtually everyone who we have talked to in those areas are saying that the people who were driving the cars were maybe taxi drivers who were working late at night or other people traveling around, and they didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to be on the streets. You know, for instance, I traveled quite a lot at night in taxis and even last night two of taxis that I had — I went out, I was driving around Sadr City late last night and inside and outside Sadr City, and people simply don’t know. I mean, they don’t drive their taxis sometimes during the day because you know, there’s so many problems with the streets blocked, they cannot make any money, so they choose to drive at night when it’s more dangerous because it’s the only way they can make a living. They haven’t been told they can’t drive at night. Now they’re wondering, there’s no actual official curfew there, but people have seen from the reports, certainly it seems to be substantial reports that people are getting shot. They’re just confused, and they’re scared. The children, you know, as I said — this week I stayed a few nights in two different houses in Sadr City. The children in both houses are terrified. You know, they want — one 8-year-old boy, his brother was shaking, and his brother said he’s scared. The young boy said to me, “No–I’m not scared of machine guns. They’re normal. I’m scared of the missiles.” I mean, really this is what’s happening for people out there as the U.S. forces go on with their operations, in what they say are attacks on the Mehdi army, but it seems that a lot more people are getting caught in — and are getting the wrong end of their missiles, and gunfire.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Birmingham, coalition forces conducted what they called a precision raid in Baghdad’s mainly Shia neighborhood of Sadr City early today, destroying a building that the coalition forces say are a base of operations for the Mehdi army. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the coalition faces a “test of will” in Iraq and warned “the future of the Iraqi people is at stake.” U.S. officials also saying that Sadr can only muster up a few hundred men. Can you respond?

MICHAEL BIRMINGHAM: Yeah. Well, you know, if you drive around Sadr City, you walk around Sadr City, you see posters everywhere. You know, you couldn’t — I mean other than having lived in Iraq before the war, and seeing the amount of posters of Saddam Hussein, it would be almost difficult to imagine how many posters there are of Muqtada Sadr, and not just in Sadr City, in Shia neighborhoods all over Baghdad. I haven’t been down south for a few weeks, but they’re certainly also in the mostly Shia cells of Iraq. There’s a considerable number of people who are — you know, what’s actually quite common is for people to — is for people to say that they either support — they either support Muqtada, they may say they don’t support him, but they support Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the other senior religious leader here for the Shia, the most senior religious leader here for the Shia — but they will say they condemn the attacks which have been happening in recent times. It’s quite — it’s quite not very sustainable for Donald Rumsfeld to try to assert there’s just a few hundred, and, you know, the Mehdi army has been — people can see with their own eyes that they have been conducting exercises — not with guns, mainly marching and — because it’s a religious festival here at the moment for 40 days, and they’re often seen on the streets. We know they are well armed.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Birmingham speaking to us from Baghdad in Iraq with “Voices in the Wilderness,” has been in Iraq for more than a year.

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