How fragile is Baghdad's calm?
An arc of tough districts stands as a test of whether peace can hold.
(Page 3 of 3)
On the edge of Amel near the main gasoline station, which is controlled by the Mahdi Army, black-shirted men could be seen standing at the entrance of a block of homes known as Jamiyat, just a few hundred meters from an Iraqi Army checkpoint.Skip to next paragraph
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Deep divisions in Jihad neighborhood
As the Monitor drove westward toward Jihad, the extent of sectarian segregation started to emerge. Knee-high concrete barriers have been erected by the US military at the entrances of several neighborhood blocks.
Hay Saddam, a collection of apartment blocks commissioned by Saddam Hussein in the late 1970s and awarded to intelligence officers, sports figures, and artists, is split now between mixed Sunni-Shiite areas and all-Shiite. Next door to Hay Saddam, a block of homes known as Dhubat and Mukhabarat are all Sunni. Beyond that, there is a swampy no-man's land dubbed "Chechnya" by locals.
Sunni guards from the US-funded program could be seen manning a barricaded position on the rooftop of a building in Dhubat. Directly opposite from them, across the Jihad highway, Shiite guards in the same program stand on a rooftop in Rifaq 1, a block built by Mr. Hussein for his Baath Party members that has become almost all Shiite.
Down Al-Amen al-Qawmi [National Security] Street is a house that has been converted into the headquarters of the Jihad reconciliation council, started just two months ago when its 35 or so council members signed a 13-point reconciliation "pledge." Its activities are largely supported and funded by the local US military unit.
The house sits along a street that was the scene of one of the most brutal episodes of sectarian killing in Baghdad in 2006, during which both Sunnis and Shiites were dragged out of their vehicles and shot following tit-for-tat mosque bombings in the area.
At a meeting of the council, which the Monitor attended, Cpt. Brian Ducote tells the assembled notables and tribal figures that he wants to give them more "legitimacy" and "leverage" among the people of Jihad by releasing detainees and securing funds for projects.
"The reconciliation council has done an extremely effective job in making it not just a cease-fire but a commitment to peace … the spark will become a fire," says Captain Ducote, a native of Atlanta. He says the guard program will be transferred to the Iraqi government next month.
But the council's chief, Taleb al-Rubaie, voices concerns about the tepid financial support so far from the government, itself enmeshed in an internal Sunni-Shiite struggle. He asks Ducote for funds for a public-relations program to promote reconciliation among residents.
While the council has convened for several weeks now, the explosive issue of repatriating families in now segregated areas of Jihad has yet to be tackled.
'Flawed logic' in reconciliation
Ahmed al-Adeeb, owner of one of a handful of stores open on Jihad's once-bustling market street, says there is something "flawed" with the logic of reconciliation being advanced by US troops. He points to homes in the adjacent neighborhood of Atibaa, from which, he says, Sunnis launched attacks on Shiites in Jihad earlier this year and were repulsed by residents and the Mahdi Army.
He says most of the homeowners in upscale Atibaa have long gone and are not even in Iraq. He adds that most of the spacious homes have been occupied by insurgents from the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib further west.
"I told the Americans, bring me the true residents of Atibaa back, and I will reconcile with them," says Mr. Adeeb.
His neighbor, a Shiite who has been displaced from Atibaa, says his wife went back to check on their home last week and found two bullets tied to a string and dangling from the front door.
The Sunni guards in Atibaa, once a mixed area, accuse his son of being with the Mahdi Army. The son is also in the same US-funded guard program, but on the Shiite side.