Iraqis Reclaim Their Streets

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Ben Cohen
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By Ben Cohen

Unknown to most westerners, many Iraqis have been fighting for peace
and democracy in their country since the U.S led invasion. With the U.S
essentially selling off Iraq's natural resources to its own
corporations
, the country quickly fell apart due to the lack of proper
post war planning. Despite the rhetoric about 'bringing freedom' to the
Middle East, the U.S has done little to enact serious political change
in the country, blocking democracy movements, and ramming through its
own corporate friendly legislation. While the country burnt, American commentators blamed Iraqis for the catastrophe, accusing the Arab nation of being 'ungrateful', and 'unready for democracy'.

In a sign that further dismisses this imperialist notion that Iraqis are 'incapable of looking after themselves', community based groups around the country are banding together to reclaim their streets from criminal gangs and militias.

From the Guardian:

Under the embers of the wintry evening sun the Tigris river, usually as
brown as old boots, had turned almost blood red. Its waters were calm
but its oily sheen was disturbed by the oars of a rower as he sculled
his way through the city's fractured heart.

Alone and apparently
indifferent to the threat of a sniper's bullet, Muhammad Rafiq eased up
on his stroke rate and tacked over to the shore. He hauled his craft up
the bank to a mosque - the temporary headquarters for his rowing club
since US soldiers had commandeered its real boathouse in 2003. Inside
the courtyard, his forehead beaded with sweat, Muhammad laid a few old
blankets over his upturned boat and padlocked the oars to a railing.

"My
friends said I was mad when I started rowing," said the 22-year-old
former science student. "They said I would be sharing the river with
dead bodies and that people would shoot at me. But it keeps me fit and
it keeps me focused for my night work." As dusk fell, he checked the
contents of his kit bag, slung it over his shoulder and jumped into a
waiting taxi.

Fifteen minutes later, he had made it through
checkpoints and concrete blast barriers en route to his home in al-Amil
district of west Baghdad. At a makeshift barricade close to the street
where he was born he greeted the sentries as friends. Then he unzipped
his kit bag and pulled out a Kalashnikov. And for the next six
uneventful hours he stood guard with his peers behind the straggles of
barbed wire.

"I help to keep the peace so that I can row in
peace, and that is my passion," said Muhammad, who asked that neither
his real name nor that of his rowing club be used. "Now when I go out
on the river, you can hear the birds and the hum of the generators.
When I began it was only gunfire and bombs."

Muhammad is one of
the thousands of young Baghdadi men to have joined neighbourhood
security groups, which have mushroomed over the last year and are a
crucial factor in the dramatic decline in civilian deaths. US soldiers
call them "concerned local citizens"; Iraqis just call them sahwa
(awakening) after the so-called Anbar awakening in western Iraq, which
has seen Sunni tribal sheikhs take on foreign-led Islamists.

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