Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Pro-Saddam Forces Rally

Saddam loyalists clash with United States forces in Sunni cities, clinging to the belief their leader is still free.
By Wisam al-Jaf

Just one day after many Iraqis celebrated the capture of Saddam Hussein, street battles and demonstrations against the United States-led coalition erupted in west Baghdad as well as other cities in the Sunni area.


Supporters of the former president spilled onto the streets on December 15, following rumours that he was still at large and that the man shown on television was just a double.


In the commercial district of west Baghdad, a white Toyota and a black KIA Prince sped through the streets just after nightfall, their occupants firing weapons into the night sky and shouting “He’s not Saddam!”


Hundreds of shop-owners and residents of the district responded by climbing onto their balconies and roofs to fire off a barrage of celebratory gunfire that witnesses say lasted four hours.


Residents of the working-class district of al-Amal also began firing into the air after supporters of the former leader claimed that a man had walked into their mosque and told them Saddam was still at liberty. He had addressed the nation via satellite from the town of Tarmiya, 30 kilometres north of Baghdad, the man said.


In a bizarre variant to the rumours of a body double, one tailor from al-Amal even claimed that the man displayed on television was actually Saddam’s sister, wearing a false beard.


But the most dramatic display of pro-Saddam fervour took place in al-Adhamiya, where an IWPR contributor witnessed demonstrators converging on Antar Square and shouting slogans like, “With our spirit, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam!”


Accompanying the demonstration were men armed with Kalashnikovs and wearing the black headgear of Saddam’s fedayeen militia.


The marchers were confronted in the square by a cordon of Iraqi police, who fired into the air, while United States military snipers assumed positions on their vehicles behind the police.


The snipers reportedly shot at least two demonstrators, while the pro-Saddam fedayeen returned fire with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades from the cover of nearby shop fronts. At least eight policemen were hit.


Witnesses reported a similar battle taking place just up the road, near the Abu Hanifa mosque. Residents said unarmed demonstrators lured US forces into a square at around eight in the evening, where they were ambushed by fedayeen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, RPGs.


US troops returned fire, the witnesses said, and the crowd scattered, dashing into nearby homes.


Witnesses also claimed they saw one fedayeen fighter climb on top of a US armoured vehicle and blow himself up with a grenade, in an attempt to injure the crew. They counted five US Humvees damaged by RPGs.


As the fighting went on, the mosque’s loudspeaker called out, “God is Great! God is Great!”


Al-Adhamiya is a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in north Baghdad and the location of what is thought to be Saddam’s last public appearance on April 4, just before US tanks entered the city.


One student later said that he had been sitting in his class in the nearby Ibn al-Haytham college when fedayeen entered his class shouting, ‘Whoever loves Saddam, let him come with us!’ Before he knew it, the student said, he had two guns pressed into his hands, and he ran out into the street.


US forces pulled out of the area only at three in the morning, locals said. Witnesses also claimed that the troops let wounded civilians lie in the street for hours before they were evacuated.


But many locals also expressed anger at the protesters who turned their neighbourhood into a battleground. “Why should demonstrators bear weapons? They should march peacefully!” shouted one elderly woman.


Lieutenant-General Ahmed Kadhem, deputy Iraqi interior minister and the chief of police in Baghdad, confirmed that pro-Saddam rioters in Al-Adhamiya had exchanged fire with police. Four civilians were killed and two policemen wounded, he said.


The main press office for US forces in Iraq had no record of the incident, and a spokesperson for the division responsible for the area could not be reached before this report was published. Firefights in Iraq often go unreported if there are no US casualties.


Meanwhile, opponents of the coalition insisted that attacks would continue even if it was the real Saddam who was under arrest.


“Resistance will increase, and spread throughout Iraq,” said Mohammed Bashar al-Faydi, a prominent Sunni scholar, in an interview with the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel. “Instead of the Sunni triangle [the area north and west of Baghdad where attacks have been concentrated] it will be the whole Iraqi quadrangle!” he said.


According to al-Faydi, “Many Iraqis did not join the resistance for fear of Saddam returning to power. Now that there is no fear that he will return to power, the resistance will spread to the [predominantly Shia] south of Iraq, and become stronger.”


“Iraq is beginning to move,” claimed a former Ba’ath party member now active in the resistance. “With demonstrations in Baghdad and the provinces, it is beginning to move. The Americans can no longer say that Saddam is behind the attacks. People now feel free. They will join the resistance, not [out of loyalty to] Saddam, but because they are Muslims and Arabs.”


Outside Baghdad, crowds were reported to have stormed government offices in the predominantly Sunni towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, where attacks on US troops and Iraqis working with the coalition are commonplace. And in the city of Samarra, the US military said 11 people died when its forces clashed with gunmen who had ambushed them.


Wisam Al-Jaf and Awadh al-Taeie are trainee journalists with IWPR in Baghdad. Additional reporting from IWPR staff.