Sectarian Strife Tears Apart Baghdad's Neighborhoods
10, 01 05
Sunni-led attacks on Shiites deepen the chasm between the groups.
As people flee, the fabric of the city has changed.
By Louise Roug,
BAGHDAD - The merchants were silent, their shops closed. A
hush had fallen on the Jamiyat Shurta market. Earlier that morning,
three bakers had been slain, shot silently as they prepared khubz,
the popular pancake-like bread.
A few hours later, two gunmen crept up on a fishmonger at
another market nearby, felling him with bullets before disappearing
into the crowd.
Around the corner, assailants had gunned down a bicycle dealer
and a university teacher in separate attacks earlier this week.
All the victims were Shiites living or working in Baghdad's
On the streets of the capital, posters proclaim: "The
constitution: Unity is from it, and hope is in it."
But, as Iraqis prepare to vote on a new constitution Oct.
15, hope and unity are in short supply, with gunmen redrawing
the map of this age-old city in blood.
An apparent campaign of sectarian killings is deepening the
chasm between the country's Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.
A wave of bombings in the last two days has killed at least
111 people in predominantly Shiite areas. On Friday, a car bomb
exploded near a vegetable market in Hillah, south of Baghdad,
killing at least eight people and wounding 41, police said.
In Balad, where three coordinated bombings struck merchants
and shoppers Thursday evening, doctors worked nonstop to save
the wounded, who numbered in the hundreds; by Friday, the death
toll from that attack had reached 103. The town was targeted
because it was predominantly Shiite, many residents say.
But Sunni Arabs, too, are complaining of abuses, including
torture and assassinations, alleging that rogue Iraqi security
forces or impostors routinely abduct and execute Sunni men. In
the last couple of months, bodies have turned up in the Tigris
River, a garbage dump and, this week, near a rail yard.
On Friday, in the capital's Umm Qura Mosque, Sheik Ahmed Abdel
Ghafour called on Sunnis to defend themselves against suspicious
Iraqi troops. "It's better for the Iraqi to be killed in
his house than tortured, killed and thrown in the streets,"
In Baghdad, as in the rest of Iraq, sectarian lines are hardening
and residents are being forced out of their neighborhoods.
On Monday, insurgents dragged five Shiite teachers and their
driver into a classroom in the village of Muelha, 30 miles south
of Baghdad, and shot them to death.
Tuesday night, men in police uniforms came for seven Sunnis
in the Hurriya neighborhood. Police discovered their bodies the
next day, dumped near a railway line in Shula, a northwestern
Baghdad district. The men had been blindfolded, handcuffed and
In Dora, which stretches over 30 square miles on the southern
rim of the capital, a systematic campaign of intimidation has
changed the fabric of this once-diverse neighborhood, authorities
Jasim Hasan, a 63-year-old blacksmith, said three Shiite shopkeepers
in his corner of Dora recently packed up and left. "We hear
of two to three assassinations every week," said Hasan,
who has noticed the constant rumble of trucks moving furniture
out of the neighborhood.
The twin stacks of the oil refinery cast a shadow over the
middle-class neighborhood, where a large community of Assyrian
Christians came to work when the plant was built by the British
in the 1940s. On these streets, family trees intertwined, and
Christians, Sunnis and Shiites lived, and prayed, side by side.
But last year, things started to change.
First the Christians fled, their churches destroyed by insurgents.
Now Shiites are fleeing, leaving homes and businesses empty.
At least 150 families have left; storefronts are boarded up,
the shutters drawn on once-lively markets. Moving trucks rumble
past paper signs proclaiming the exodus in hastily scrawled letters: