Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We Haven't Won, But Zarkawi Just Lost the War

Ordinary Iraqis Wage a Successful Battle Against Insurgents

“Ordinary Iraqis rarely strike back at the insurgents who terrorize their country. But just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough.

As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their own AK-47's and opened fire, police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia's young nephews and a bystander were injured, the police said.

"We attacked them before they attacked us," Dhia, 35, his face still contorted with rage and excitement, said in a brief exchange at his shop a few hours after the battle. He did not give his last name. "We killed three of those who call themselves the mujahedeen. I am waiting for the rest of them to come and we will show them."

It was the first time that private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against insurgents. There have been anecdotal reports of residents shooting at attackers after a bombing or assassination. But the gun battle today erupted in full view of half a dozen witnesses, including a Justice Ministry official who lives nearby.”

The battle was the latest sign that Iraqis may be willing to start standing up against the attacks that leave dozens of people dead here nearly every week. After a suicide bombing in Hilla last month that killed 136 people, including a number of women and children, hundreds of residents demonstrated in front of the city hall every day for almost a week, chanting slogans against terrorism. Last week, a smaller but similar rally took place in Baghdad. Another demonstration is scheduled for Wednesday in the capital.

Like many of the attacks here, today's gun battle had sectarian overtones. Dhia and his family are Shiites, and they cook for religious festivals at the Shiite Husseiniya mosque, across from Dhia's shop. The insurgents are largely Sunnis, and they have aimed dozens of attacks at Shiite figures, celebrations, even funerals. The conflict has grown sharper in the past year, with Shiites now dominating Iraq's new police force and army and holding a narrow majority of seats in the newly elected national assembly.

The attack unfolded in Doura, a working-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad where much of the capital's violence is concentrated. A number of assassinations and bombings have taken place here in recent weeks, and the police openly acknowledge they have little control.

Just hours before the gun battle this morning, an Interior Ministry official was gunned down in Doura as he drove to work, officials said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents continued their campaign of violence.

con·cept: We Haven't Won, But Zarkawi Just Lost the War