Chola: life under ceasefire
Issued on: Modified:
A curfew enforced in the wake of the March clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi and US forces has recently been lifted. But Chola, along with two other Baghdad neighbourhoods, were left out. L. Menget, G. Martin and M. Ibrahim report.
Chola, west of Baghdad, doesn’t have any reason to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein five years ago. The Shia neighbourhood has been living under curfew for the last ten days. Fighting broke out between supporters of the Mahdi Army, the military branch of Moqtada Sadr’s movement, and Iraqi and American forces for a whole week in March.
The ceasefire was officially lifted on March 30, but it’s still in effect in Chola. “It’s the government that creates the violence,” says Maazen Chaheed, a local leader of the Sadr movement, referring to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. “We agree with the idea of hunting down thieves and criminals. But Maliki must first fire his government, they’re all thieves!”
Moqtada Sadr is the hero of the working classes. His movement, which accuses Maliki of serving American interests, enjoys broad support among the Shia who make up over 60% of Iraq's population.
Because of the curfew, Chola residents aren’t allowed to leave the area. They make arrangements to have food delivered to them. The Iraqi army mans checkpoints on the neighbourhood's borders. They have orders to let only sick people out. Even local policemen can’t get out.
“We have orders from the Brigade to search all vehicles that go in and out of the city,” says Lieutenant Ayad, manning one checkpoint. “Even police cars. It’s an order that applies to everyone.” Behind the Iraqi forces, American tanks block all movement, ready to intervene.
In Chola, five years after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqis still manage to survive between violence and curfews. They have a hard time imagining that life could ever be different.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe