Uneasy calm has replaced fighting between Shiites and Sunnis
Iraqi kids sit outside their home in the Hurriyah neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Eighteen months after the tide turned in Baghdad, only a small number of Iraqis who were displaced by the sectarian violence of 2006 and 2007 are coming back to their homes. (Photo credit: Dusan Vranic / AP)
March 25, 2009
BAGHDAD – The streets are calmer now. The fighting between Shiites and Sunnis has largely ceased. But this is not a sign of normalcy in the Iraqi capital. It’s fear that keeps the peace.
Only an estimated 16 percent of the mainly Sunni families forced by Shiite militiamen and death squads to flee their homes have dared to return.
It takes two sides to have a fight, and there’s really only one side left in Baghdad after violence and fear turned parts of neighborhoods into ghost towns. …
The findings – based on statistics obtained by The Associated Press from U.S. and Iraqi officials as well as AP interviews in key Baghdad neighborhoods in recent weeks – are acknowledged by U.S. military commanders on the ground. And they point to a troubling prospect.
Baghdad much calmer
Baghdad has been much calmer since the massacres reached their peak in late 2006 and the first half of 2007. … In the capital, however, the calm has been achieved in part because the city is now ethnically divided. Shiites predominate. Sunnis have largely fled.
The situation is somewhat similar to Bosnia after the war of the 1990s – years of calm but no lasting political reconciliation after its populations divided into different regions and governments.
“Baghdad has been turned from a mixed city, about half of its population Shiite and the other half Sunni in 2003, into a Shiite city where the Sunni population may be as little as 10 to 15 percent,” said Juan Cole, a prominent U.S. expert on Iraq.
No accurate census has been taken since the bloodletting. But Cole’s estimates, backed up by AP observations and U.S. statistics, hold troubling implications for the future should Sunnis come back in greater numbers. …
“Security is still fragile,” Abdul-Razzaq said. “I was forced to flee once, and it can happen again. Next time they may kill me.”
Ethnic divides remain
Most startlingly, the ethnic divides remain even though the Iraqi and U.S. militaries have driven Shiite militiamen and death squads off the streets. …
“The potential for renewed sectarian violence is definitely there,” said Capt. Nathan Williams, the U.S. military commander at Hurriyah, a northern Baghdad district that saw the worst sectarian bloodletting. “We believe if it restarts in Hurriyah, it will spread to the rest of the city.”
Even more remote is the hope of restoring Baghdad’s traditional character as a city where people can live together – though not always in harmony – regardless of faith or ethnicity.
Among the statistics obtained by the AP:
Part of city emptied by violence
The violence has virtually emptied parts of the city, particularly on the mainly Sunni western side of the Tigris river. In Amiriyah, for example, 100 of the 252 Shiite families that fled are back. Roughly the same number of Shiite families, 250, fled Khadra, another western Baghdad area; only 70 have returned.
Baghdad’s sectarian violence began as early as 2003 but picked up dramatically after suspected Sunni militants blew up a revered Shiite shrine north of the city in 2006. At its peak, dozens of bodies, some decapitated or with execution-style gun wounds, turned up at outlying areas of the city or in the Tigris each day.
Shiite militiamen who led the attacks against the Sunnis are largely thought to have won the sectarian conflict in the capital. The Sunnis, who are generally better off economically than the Shiites, largely fled to Jordan or Syria. …
Following are security developments in Iraq on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, as reported by Reuters.
MOSUL – Three boys were killed and another wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military patrol in northern Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
BAASHIQA – Police said they found the body of a man shot dead in the town of Baashiqa, 20 miles east of Mosul.
MOSUL – Gunmen killed a policeman on Tuesday in central Mosul, police said.
KIRKUK – Gunmen shot dead a civilian on Tuesday in central Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
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