Returning from a long day at work, Tuesday, I found the entrance to my neighbourhood blocked by security forces, many of whom were masking their faces. "Odd", was my first reaction to the masks. Actually, they reminded me of the masks worn by Fidaiyu Saddam, a vicious force composed of very young men supervised by his son.
I stopped the car and got ready to sweet talk the soldiers into letting me through.
"I can't let you pass, aunty….. Please drive on, hijiyah. Tonight - we have much work to do here. See if they'll let you pass in from the other side".
So I drive right round and reach the other entry point almost an hour later because of the blocked traffic.
"No – We can't let you pass. You would be in great danger – You may be shot at".
I can't give up, my kids are at home by themselves, "How would you feel in my place – And what is happening in there – What are you doing??"
"Hijiyah", quietly, looking me in the eye, "If you are a resident of this neighbourhood, then you know there is one more entrance – one that is not known to everyone….You might like to try that".
A little apprehensively, I drive to that very dark, very narrow, unpaved "space" adjacent to the school, and was very happy to find it empty. I quickly drive in.
"STOP!" A bright light blinded me, I couldn't see anything. I stopped.
"Turn off your lights!" I did.
The light was then lowered somewhat and I saw half a dozen weapons aimed at me.
The figures came closer and I could see that they were soldiers and that some of them had their faces covered. They seemed to relax a little when they saw a woman behind the wheel.
They wanted to know why I was attempting to "infiltrate" into the neighbourhood. They shouted in my face, demanded to see identification, car papers and mobile phones; and because I knew it could get ugly, I quickly handed over the items.
They checked them carefully and the man in charge shouted for them to call for "Ahmed", who arrived a few minutes later at a trot.
As he came towards me, I could see that his face was completely covered, except for his eyes. He looked into my face and went round the car, and then had a few words with the man in charge, and left.
They lowered their weapons at last.
After I explained to them that I was afraid for my children at home by themselves, they nodded and graciously told me that I would not be detained by them only because I was a woman; and that the only way I could get into the neighbourhood was by leaving my car behind and walking in.
"No, you cannot leave it anywhere on the streets. You must park it in someone's garage; otherwise it will be taken for an abandoned car bomb".
So I drive off to a friend's house, leave the car, take a taxi back and walk through the checkpoints. I encountered several rushing military convoys made up of around 15 vehicles each. They were driving at full speed, stopping for nothing, leaving swirling dust storms behind them.
I got home at 8.30.
Wednesday, we woke up to a very quiet world. I soon found out why.
As I started to walk out my house, a soldier at the far end of the road indicated to me to go back inside. I knew then that it was a raid and search operation, and that the search was the next step.
Indeed, as the day progressed it became evident that a military convoy was conducting a search. They knocked on the door, we let them in. They asked if we had weapons, searched the rooms and asked how many people lived in the house.
For some reason, that bothered them. "Only three?? You and your two children? That's all? No-one else? Only you three???"
A little more than 15 minutes later they moved on. But for 24 hours, since the evening before, we had absolutely no phone-net coverage. And the other thing is that although there were a few Americans with the convoy, they did not seem to be leading, and they did not participate in the search.
Today, I found out that our neighbourhood wasn't the only one being searched. Mansour and Yarmouk witnessed searches and some detentions; and farther west, Abu Ghraib district witnessed the detention of hundreds of young men.
Is this a security operation based on sound intelligence – or a blind lash-out as a reaction to the bombings in the last few days - a futile attempt to quell the outcry against bad security..
Our security agencies do seem to suddenly come alive after such wreckage as Baghdad saw this week. And with sleep still in their eyes, conduct extravagant operations – only to fall asleep again.