Early one morning this week, when the police have yet to set up too many checkpoints, Abu Mujahed will strap a mortar underneath a car, drive to a friend’s in central Baghdad and bury the weapon in his garden. In the evening he will return with the rest of his group, sleep for a few hours and then take the weapon from its hiding place. He will calculate the range using the American military’s own maps and satellite pictures—bought in a bazaar—and fire a few rounds at a military base or the US Embassy or at the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office. Then Abu Mujahed will shower, change and, by 10am, be at his desk in one of the major ministries.
Last week he sat in a Baghdad hotel speaking to The Observer. A chubby man in his thirties with a shaven head, a brown sports shirt, slacks and a belt with a cheap fake-branded buckle, he gave a chilling account of his life fighting ‘the occupation’.
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[Mujahed’s] group’s first operation—in June last year—was an attempted ambush of three US soldiers in Adhamiya. It was a fiasco. ‘We were so confused and scared we opened fire at random,’ Abu Mujahed said. ‘They took cover and we ran away.’
Their next try was more successful. The lead vehicle of an American military convoy ran over an anti-tank mine the group had laid in a road. ‘We think we killed the driver,’ he said. ‘We found the mine in a house that had been used by the military during the war. The Americans were not expecting that sort of device.’
Over the next months the group varied the tactics. ‘One day we try and snipe them, the next we use an IED [Improvised Explosive Device], the next a mine. We never get any orders from anybody. We are just told: “Today you should do something,” but it is up to us to decide what and when.’
Black soldiers are a particular target. ‘To have Negroes occupying us is a particular humiliation,’ Abu Mujahed said, echoing the profound racism prevalent in much of the Middle East. ‘Sometimes we aborted a mission because there were no Negroes.’