Monday, February 07, 2005

Yahoo! News - Iraqis Cite Shift in Attitudes Since Vote

Yahoo! News - Iraqis Cite Shift in Attitudes Since Vote

BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 -- With a hero who gave his life for the elections, a revived national anthem blaring from car stereos and a greater willingness to help police, the public mood appears to be moving more clearly against the insurgency in Iraq (news - web sites), political and security officials said.

In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country.
But officials in Baghdad said a relative lull in violence in the capital has fueled the sense that something has fundamentally changed since the vote. A change of attitudes in Baghdad could make a crucial difference in the battle against the insurgency, and a buoyed sense of civic pride is already beginning to change the way the public treats the police, authorities say.
"I feel very optimistic that things will change for the better because of the strong turnout in the elections. That reinforced our faith and gave us a sense of change for the better," said Ali Jassem, 32, the manager of a bakery in Baghdad.

"You can feel the situation has changed," said Haider Abdul Hussein, 30, a pharmacy owner. "People seem to linger on the street longer. You can feel the momentum, the sense of optimism."

Part of that mood change is credited to Abdul Amir, Iraq's newest national hero. On election day, Amir, 30, a policeman in Baghdad, noticed a man walking toward a polling station who appeared to be carrying something heavy under his coat. Amir wrapped his arms around the man and dragged him away from the crowd. A belt of explosives wrapped around the man blew both men to shreds.

Members of Iraq's interim cabinet have touted Amir as a symbol of national pride. Newspapers have been filled with stories about him. A statue is being planned, and the elementary school that served as the polling station where he died may change its name to honor him.

"It's too simple to say what he did was heroic," said Najat Abdul Sattar, the principal of the school, where bright-eyed children study in dim concrete classrooms just yards from where Amir was killed. "What more honor could we give the man?"

"When people saw what he did, they said we will not let those violent people intimidate us, and they went to vote in even greater numbers. Where there were three or four in line, after the blast there were 30 or 40," said Mohammed Hadithi, who lives near the school.

The change has also been evident in the recent popularity of "My Homeland," a mournful song that was banned by Hussein but has been revived as a national anthem. Iraqis sing along to the paean to Iraqi glory and nationalism as it blares from radios and from speakers propped up outside storefronts in the capital.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the interim finance minister and a powerful figure in the Shiite-led coalition expected to dominate Iraq's new National Assembly, contended that the elections created a sense of solidarity that helped dissolve an Iraqi aversion to trusting neighbors, a habit ingrained during the Hussein era.

"People know their neighbors now. They know they are on the same front as their neighbors -- they all went out and voted," he said in an interview Saturday. "I think this has uncovered the terrorists and insurgents. They are less legitimate now."

The elections also appear to have renewed public confidence in Iraqi security forces, who were on the front lines of a largely successful effort to protect 5,000 polling centers from violence.

In the weeks before and since the Jan. 30 elections, Iraqi forces have claimed increasing success in arresting ringleaders of the insurgency.

Security forces announced Sunday that they were holding a former Iraqi general who they said helped finance insurgent bombings and plotted attacks. The general, Khamis Masin Farhan Ugaydi, 51, was captured Dec. 20 in the town of Baiji, about 120 miles north of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. Officials did not explain the delay in announcing the arrest.

"We are arresting more terrorists than ever before," said Iraqi National Guard Sgt. Kathem Hanish in Baghdad. "The people are coming to us with information. They are cooperating."

At the station where Amir had worked in the Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad, policemen said they were encouraged by the reaction to their colleague's heroism.

"It was a turning point," Capt. Muthana Latif said. "People saw that there weren't any Americans or foreigners there. Only policemen. The suicide bomber was just after Iraqis."

"Policemen did not have a role in this country," police Col. Katham Abbas Hamza said. "Now we are considered number one guardians of the country."

Insurgents have frequently targeted Iraqi security forces, branding them traitors for working with the Americans and propping up the U.S.-backed government. At least 1,300 have been killed in the last six months, according to U.S. officials.

On a board at the Yarmouk police station, the daily shift notices are penciled in next to a handwritten list of funerals: Patrolman Bilal Jassim, shot; Patrolman Mushtaq Talib, ambushed in patrol car; Patrolman Luay Ubaid, killed by roadside bomb. The list has now grown to nine names, including Amir's.

"But if we opened up the recruiting right now, we would be swamped," Latif said.

In Baiji, Iraqi forces arrested 10 people in a raid on Sunday, without triggering an angry public reaction.

"Even though he was taking my son away, he was so nice," an 80-year-old woman who identified herself as Um Younis said about a hooded Iraqi security officer.

"We were surprised because they had very good manners, so polite, and respected everybody," said Anwar Zuhair Khalaf, 38, whose 21-year-old brother was among those arrested. "They asked me, 'Where are the women's rooms?' and when we pointed at their rooms, they did not enter these rooms even though we have a AK-47 in one of these rooms."

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