Bomb Threats Hit Triangle

Schools and offices in the Sunni heartland are being closed by insurgent bomb threats.

Bomb Threats Hit Triangle

Schools and offices in the Sunni heartland are being closed by insurgent bomb threats.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

“I won’t go to the school, I won’t go to the school,” cried eight-year-old Ahmed Hashim to his parents. While similar complaints are frequently heard outside many primary schools, Ahmed’s refusal to attend class is different to most. “It’s mined, they are going to blow us up,” he wailed.

Ahmed’s school, al-Fadhela Primary, is in Baaquba, some 60 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, in the notorious Sunni triangle. It is one of many Iraqi primary and senior schools in the area to have received bomb threats in recent months.

In mid-November, the school’s headmaster Hanaa Fadil arrived at work to find a pamphlet attached to the main door warning students and teachers the building would be blown up if anyone entered.

While the bomb threat eventually turned out to be nothing more than a hoax, it has had a lasting effect on the school’s pupils and teachers.

A number of other educational establishments have received similar threats posted at their main entrance. In neighbouring Al-Dujeil, even the town’s kindergarten has been intimidated.

A copy of one of the threatening pamphlets obtained by IWPR was signed by “The Battalion of the 20th Revolution”. Other threats have been attributed to the “Islamic Army Battalions”.

According to local residents, intimidation of the community has escalated since November’s coalition-led attack on the Sunni town of Fallujah, when insurgents groups tried to sow panic in Baaqubah.

Kasim Muhammed, an employee at al-Rafidein bank, said his office was recently the target of a bomb threat. “When I got to work everyone was standing outside because the insurgents had threatened to blow up the building. The manager called in the police to deal with it,” he said.

The Iraqi police are no strangers to these threats, and have felt the sharp end of insurgent violence themselves on many occasions. All three police stations in the area have been hit by car bombs, which left fifty policemen dead and injured ten civilians.

In response to ongoing attempts by militants to destabilise the region, the police chief of Waleed al-Azawi province spoke out on satellite channel al-Arabiya against the violence. “Baaqubah residents will get rid of the terrorists and we will restore the security as soon as possible,” he said.

But despite his assertions, the security situation in the town remains unstable and many residents say they live in fear.

Even the province’s agriculture directorate has received bomb threats, although the majority of workers there chose to ignore them.

“What are we supposed to do? We can’t get rid of the insurgents but we can’t give in to their demands,” said directorate employee Abass al-Aubaidi.

But even though the majority of staff have chosen to brave it out and turn up for work, its operations have suffered.

“We are trying to protect our employees, but it does have an impact. We are letting them work flexi-time and encouraging them to vary their routine so they can’t be targeted so easily,” explained the directorate’s chief Dr Abdulsalam Ahmed.

“There have been pockets of resistance in Baaqubah since the fall of the former regime but as the elections approach, it just seems to be getting worse.”

One of the most noticeable repercussions of the ongoing violence has been the economic downturn in the town.

“There’s hardly anyone on the streets anymore,” said taxi driver Firas Hamdi. “I used to make about 20,000 to 30,000 dinars (14 to 20 US dollars) a month, but now I’m barely taking home 5,000. At night, there’s just no one around - and there isn’t even an official curfew!”

Despite the noticeable upsurge in violence as the date for the national assembly election approaches, some locals are being urged to turn up at the polls.

Many al-Dujeil residents back senior Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani, who has repeatedly insisted on the importance of participating in the elections.

Reflecting the mood amongst the town’s Shia, stationary shop owner Azhar Firas says he’s hopeful that the ballot will signal the start of better things for local people, “We can’t go on like this. I really believe our city will be safe and nothing bad will happen. I have to.”

Nasr Kahim is an IWPR trainee.

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