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In Iraq, the silence of the lambs

By Ali al-Fadhily

11/14/07 "
IPS" -- -- BAGHDAD - The separation of religious groups in the face of sectarian violence has brought some semblance of relative calm to Baghdad. But many Iraqis see this as the uncertain consequence of a divide and rule policy.

Claims are being made that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen because that the US military ”surge” has succeeded in reducing attacks against civilians. But Baghdad residents say that they now live in a largely divided city that has brought an uneasy calm.

”I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine,” retired general Waleed al-Ubaidy told Inter Press Servce (IPS) in Baghdad. ”But the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.”

And as with Baquba and other violence-hit areas of Iraq, he says a part of the story in Baghdad is that there is nobody left to tell it: ”Most of the honest journalists have left.”

Ahmad Ali, chief engineer for one of Baghdad's municipalities, told IPS: ”Baghdad has been torn into two cities and many towns and neighbourhoods. There is now the Shia Baghdad and the Sunni Baghdad to start with. Then, each is divided into little town-like pieces of the hundreds of thousands who had to leave their homes.”

Many Baghdad residents say that the claims of reduced violence can be tested only when the refugees go back home. Many areas of Baghdad that were previously mixed are now totally Shia or totally Sunni. This follows the sectarian cleansing in mixed neighborhoods by militias and death squads. On the Russafa side of Tigris River, al-Adhamiya is now fully Sunni; the other areas are all Shia. The al-Karkh side of the river is purely Sunni except for Shula, Hurriya and small strips of Aamil which are dominated by Shia militias.

”If the situation is good, why are 5 million Iraqis living in exile?” asks 55-year-old Abu Mohammad, who was evicted from Shula in west Baghdad to become a refugee in Amiriya, a few miles from his lost home. ”Americans and Iranians have succeeded in realizing their old dream of dividing the Iraqi people into sects. That is the only success they can talk about.”

Violence is no longer hitting the headlines, but it clearly continues. Bodies of Iraqis killed after being tortured are still found in garbage dumps, although fewer than a few months ago.

”Iraqi and American officials should be ashamed of talking of 'unidentified bodies',” said Haja Fadhila, from the Ghazaliya area of western Baghdad. ”These are the bodies of Iraqis who had families to support, and names to be proud of. But nobody talks about them, there is no media. It is as if it is all taking place on Mars.”

The Iraqi ministries for health and interior have said that they are finding on average five to 10 ”unidentified bodies” on the streets of Baghdad every day. ”Those Americans and their Iraqi collaborators in the Green Zone talk of five or 10 bodies being found every day as if they were talking of insects,” Thamir Aziz, a teacher in Adhamiya, told IPS. ”We know they are lying about the real number of martyrs, but even if it's true, is it not a disaster that so many innocent Iraqis are found dead every day?”

Most people blame the Iraqi police for the sectarian assassinations, and the US military for doing little to stop them. ”The Americans ask [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki to stop the sectarian assassinations when they know very well that his ministers are ordering the sectarian cleansing,” said Mahmood Farhan of the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni group.

A UN report released in September 2005 held Interior Ministry forces responsible for an organized campaign of detentions, torture and killings. It said special police commando units accused of carrying out the killings were recruited from the Shia Badr and Mahdi militias.

Ali al-Fadhily is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Baghdad.

(Inter Press Service)

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