Sadr City braces for fresh street battles
Residents of Baghdad's Shiite slum fear violence in Basra between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces will spread to Baghdad.
The usual teeming traffic in Sadr City, Baghdad's Shiite enclave, vanished Wednesday. Buses stopped running and shops closed. Only the intrepid motorist or occasional scurrying resident ventured out on streets patrolled by Moqtada al-Sadr's militiamen and marked by burning tires and roadblocks.Skip to next paragraph
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Residents and Mahdi Army militants alike appeared to be bracing for a coming battle, guarding against US and Iraqi forces advancing to stop the rockets allegedly fired from Sadr City that hit the Green Zone again Wednesday for the third day since Sunday.
Although it's in Basra, the oil-rich southern city, where the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces were locked in a bitter fight for a second day, killing at least 55, many in Baghdad fear that clash will trigger a new battle in Mr. Sadr's Baghdad stronghold. Already there were reports by US-funded Al Hurra TV, citing hospital sources, that at least 20 people have been killed and 140 wounded in sporadic clashes in Sadr City since Tuesday.
Now, in a place where the US has done battle many times before, a sense of siege and helplessness has replaced some of the flickers of optimism that emerged over the past few months as a result of improved security made possible by the US surge and the Mahdi Army's seven-month cease-fire, which now looks to be shattered.
"We are yet again caught between two fires and we the citizens always pay the price of the feuding by the political leaders," said a man who gave his name as Abu Muthana. He stood in front of a row of shuttered shops, including his own, off Beirut Square on the edge of Sadr City. The district's shops closed in obedience to a call for protest issued by Sadr's movement.
In the nearly empty square, Muhammad Karim rushed on his bicycle to get his brother, Majid, who was manning a modest tea stand.
"You have to lock up, come on, all hell is going to break loose soon," Muhammad told his brother, who grudgingly padlocked the battered metal cabinet that serves as his teashop and shuffled away.
Nearby, another resident, Nada Makhallad, walked her son, Ayman, back home because his elementary school was shut down. She was on the verge of tears.
She had to beg a pharmacist to come and open up so she can get medicine for her ailing mother.
"We live in a state of fear. I want to get out," said Ms. Makhallad, adding that she's going to try to find a way to leave Baghdad soon to join her husband working in Lebanon now.
Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said he picked up three bodies of employees at Baghdad Airport allegedly shot dead by militiamen after challenging their orders.
Across the Shiite enclave, home to almost 3 million people, US soldiers – some on foot and others in Stryker combat vehicles and Humvees – were out in force at all the major entrances, especially next to Iraqi Army checkpoints.