Baghdad security plan puts US forces, civilians perilously close
The US killed three Iraqi civilians earlier this month, highlighting the risks of American troops taking the fight into neighborhoods.
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"We all thought it was the Janabat at it again," said Mr. Abdel-Jawad, referring to members of the Janabi tribe to which most of Amel's Sunni Arab residents belong.Skip to next paragraph
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Like many neighborhoods in Baghdad, Amel is now clearly segregated along sectarian lines. In this case the fault line is the 130-foot-wide wide Seven Nisan (April) street, the area's main shopping street. Many of the entrances to alleyways on both sides are blocked by concrete barriers and concertina wire, providing physical barriers in a city where the US has already started to build a wall to protect a Sunni enclave. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a stop to the construction.
In Amel, the running joke among Abdel-Jawad and his friends is that they, the Shiites, live in North Korea while the Sunnis live in Janabi Korea, a pun on the Arabic word for south, which is janoub.
That night, a spokesman for the US military said that soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment stationed on the Sunni side of the neighborhood came under attack at the same time indicated by Abdel-Jawad.
After hearing the gunshots and explosions, Abdel-Jawad said that his brother Ahmed, 17, grabbed his AK-47 and rushed out of the house. Many of the neighborhood's male residents had done that in the past when they thought they were being attacked by Sunni militants.
"In a situation like this we must be alert and ready to defend ourselves. It's difficult to rely on the Americans and the Iraqi Army to protect us," Abdel-Jawad said.
Young Ahmed was joined by his neighbor and a friend, Abbas Abdel-Khodr, according to witnesses. Moments later Mr. Abdel-Khoder's mother, Souad, and her other son, Ali, tried to persuade them to come back in, according to Abdel-Jawad.
Meanwhile, US soldiers at the outpost called for helicopters into the area to confront the source of gunfire.
Ahmed and Abdel-Khodr went to the top of an alleyway and fired shots in the air, apparently thinking they might scare away the perceived Sunni attackers.
"Four anticoalition forces were positively identified by attack aviation," said Maj. Kirk Luedeke, spokesman for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division to which the 1-28 is attached. "The helicopters returned fire at the individuals engaging our troops, killing them after clearly establishing hostile intent."
When the sound of explosions and gunfire quieted, Abdel-Jawad ran out of his home to look for his brother and friends. "It was like huge firecrackers. The earth shook. I went out and saw Ali's body and just the remains of his mother. I was sick. I could not take it. I went back home."
Later, Abdel-Jawad and other residents of Amel said US and Iraqi forces came into the area and picked up the three bodies and Ahmed, who was badly wounded.
The next morning, Abdel-Jawad went to an Iraqi Army outpost in the area manned by a Kurdish unit to inquire about the fate of his brother. "The first thing they asked me was whether I was Sunni or Shiite. I was shocked," said Abdel-Jawad.
"When I told them Shiite, they said 'check with the Americans.' When I kept insisting, they said 'Leave or we will arrest you.' "
Abdel-Jawad and his family were only able to find out one week later from the US military that Ahmed was still alive and that he was being held now at a maximum-security detention facility in Baghdad.
• Awadh al-Taiee contributed reporting.