After being “technically” in progress for about over a week, “Operation Imposing the Law” officially started yesterday.
Al-Maliki -who’s been on a tour in the mid-southern region- announced the beginning of the operation from Kerbala. This choice I think delivers two messages. First, Maliki was trying to show that the plan is solid; that it could go on without his immediate supervision in Baghdad and that the military commanders are operating without interference from politicians. Second, I think he wanted to say that even though the focus has been on Baghdad for months, the situation elsewhere was not being ignored. He stressed this with tough-worded warningsto local officials and militants alike.
First he gave militants in Kerbala 48 hours to disarm. Maliki then turned to the local officials and told them if they couldn’t do their job, they’d better step down and let someone better take their place. When it comes to corruption and involvement in violence, the Kerbala provincial administration’s reputation is less than impressive. Maliki also warned against corruption calling it a crime just as serious as terrorism.
In Baghdad the most significant raid conducted yesterday was one on Buratha mosque, an important Shia mosques considered as SCIRI territory. The raid ended without bloodshed, but the preacher of the mosque, a lawmaker from the SCIRI, expressed his dismay about the raid “because it was American soldiers who searched the mosque.” There was a rule that said only Iraqi soldiers or police were allowed into places of worship while American troops would have to stay outside. This seems to be one of the changes in rules of engagement. Because it now can be shown that the operation is impartial and not directed against one sect without the other, the raid has political significance as well.
On Baghdad’s streets, checkpoints and roadblocks are becoming increasingly serious and strict. Soldiers and policemen are sparing no vehicles or convoys from being searched. I personally saw a case yesterday where an ambulance driver tried to rush his vehicle through a checkpoint, but the soldiers ordered him to stop. They let him pass only after they checked the inside of the vehicle and found a civilian medical emergency. Strict checkpoints always mean slow traffic and inconvenient delays for Baghdadis, but this downside is welcome when these security measures make the streets safer.
Despite the traffic jams and the largest deployment for troops in the capital, daily life and civilian activity – contrary to what was expected – still continues at a rather normal level, unlike previous crackdowns where daily life came was almost paralyzed.
Meanwhile a new bird appeared in the sky. Not exactly new but one that’s been absent since the end of major operations in 2003. In fact this is the first time I’ve ever seen the B-1 flying over Baghdad. Since Tuesday, the long-range huge bomber appeared several times over — the city spending as long as 75 minutes in some cases. Unfortunately with only 3x zoom this is the closest I could get.