Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land Of Silent Ruins

Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land Of Silent Ruins
March 26th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land Of Silent Ruins

Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land Of Silent Ruins
New York Times
March 26, 2007
Pg. 2

By Alissa J. Rubin
BAGHDAD, March 25 — The cityscape of Iraq’s capital tells a stark story of the toll the past four years have taken on Iraq’s once powerful Sunni Arabs.
Theirs is a world of ruined buildings, damaged mosques, streets pitted by mortar shells, uncollected trash and so little electricity that many people have abandoned using refrigerators altogether.
The contrast with Shiite neighborhoods is sharp. Markets there are in full swing, community projects are under way, and while electricity is scarce throughout the city, there is less trouble finding fuel for generators in those areas. When the government cannot provide services, civilian arms of the Shiite militias step in to try to fill the gap.
But in Adhamiya, a community with a Sunni majority, any semblance of normal life vanished more than a year ago. Its only hospital, Al Numan, is so short of basic items like gauze and cotton pads that when mortar attacks hit the community last fall, the doctors broadcast appeals for supplies over local mosque loudspeakers.
Here, as in so much of Baghdad, the sectarian divide makes itself felt in its own deadly and destructive ways. Far more than in Shiite areas, sectarian hatred has shredded whatever remained of community life and created a cycle of violence that pits Sunni against Sunni as well as Sunni against Shiite.
Anyone who works with the government, whether Shiite or Sunni, is an enemy in the eyes of the Sunni insurgents, who carry out attack after attack against people they view as collaborators. While that chiefly makes targets of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and the police, the militants also kill fellow Sunnis from government ministries who come to repair water and electrical lines in Sunni neighborhoods.
One result of such attacks is that government workers of either sect refuse to deliver services to most Sunni areas. For ordinary Sunnis, all this deepens the sense of political impotence and estrangement. American military leaders and Western diplomats are unsure about whether the cycle can be stopped.
“The Sunnis outside the political process say, ‘What’s the point of coming in when those involved in the government can do nothing for their own community?’ ” said a Western diplomat who is not authorized to speak publicly.
Militant religious groups, known as takfiris, “have taken these Sunni neighborhoods as bases, which made these areas of military operation,” which stops the delivery of services, said Nasir al-Ani, a Sunni member of Parliament who works on a committee trying to win popular acceptance of the Baghdad security plan. “Now the ministries are trying to make services available, but the security situation prevents it. Part of the aim of the takfiris is to keep people disliking the government.”
It adds up to a bleak prognosis for Sunnis in Baghdad. Until the violence is under control, there is unlikely to be any progress. But it is hard to persuade Sunnis to take a stand against the violence when they seem to receive so little in return.
“We want to highlight that when the government is denying services to Sunnis, they are pushing them toward the Sunni extremists who attack the Shiite-dominated security forces,” said Maj. Guy Parmeter, an operations officer for the First Battalion, Fifth Cavalry, which operates in the Sunni areas on the west side of Baghdad. “And when that happens, it makes it harder to deliver services to those areas.”
Government leaders admit that there has been outright obstruction on the part of some Shiite ministries. Ali al-Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman, said that the Health Ministry, dominated by Shiites loyal to the militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr, has failed to deliver needed services to Sunni areas, which had thrived under Saddam Hussein.
“This is part of the lack of efficiency in the ministry which didn’t improve this year,” Mr. Dabbagh said. He added, however, that he did not see any remedy in the near term.
But officials also emphasize that many of the skilled Sunnis who used to keep the ministries going have fled, so the ministries are not delivering services to anyone. Again, security has to come first, they said.
Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite whose most recent role is to lead the committee working to win popular acceptance of the security plan, said he saw four problems particularly plaguing Sunni areas: food distribution, electricity, fuel and health services.
Mr. Chalabi says he may have found a solution for the first by assuring that food agents, especially in Sunni areas, have an Iraqi Army escort to the food warehouses. The other problems are deeper, and solutions will take far longer to find, he said.
Since there has been no census taken in years, it is difficult to say the relative proportion of Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad. Rough estimates suggest that Sunnis now make up no more than 40 percent of Baghdad’s population and possibly much less.
Day-to-day life for most Sunnis has become a nightmare of frustration, punctuated by terror that they will be caught in the cross-fire. Sunni Baghdad is now made up of block after block of shuttered storefronts, broken glass and piles of rubble. By midafternoon in those neighborhoods, hardly a person is on the street. Many residents will not leave their neighborhoods to go to jobs or see a doctor for fear they will be kidnapped at a checkpoint.
Baghdad’s Sunni areas, mostly on the west side, were once roughly 70 percent Sunni and 30 percent Shiite, but those ratios have become more lopsided as Shiites have fled. Each neighborhood has its own sad tale.
In Amiriya, one of the western neighborhoods that was taken over early on by hard-line Sunni insurgents, the Americans and the militants have fought a running battle for more than three years. More recently Shiite militiamen joined the fray, kidnapping and killing those they believed were collaborating with the insurgents.
Now they have fled and been replaced by cells of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who threaten Sunnis who refuse to cooperate with them. They take over houses that families have fled and use them as bases to attack Iraqi Army and police checkpoints in the neighborhood.
Small wonder that streets are empty, shops are shuttered and neighbors view every foray for life’s essentials as a dangerous journey.
For Um Hint, who did not give her full name for fear of retaliation, the past four years have been a downhill slide. She learned to recognize the different insurgents by what they wear. “The ones we see now are different from the ones before because those wore masks,” she said. “The merchants no longer sell their goods from their stores. We must go to their houses when we want something like shampoo or clothes. Anyone trying to open his shop, the insurgents will threaten him. Sometimes they leave a note, but sometimes they put a bomb in front of the shop.”
The hazards on the streets have forced women to take over many of the activities often taken care of by men: food shopping, making inquiries at government agencies and taking household belongings for repairs. The militants “only kill men,” said Ms. Hint, 40. “So we go out alone.”
In Mansour, an odd silence pervades even before the shadows begin to lengthen. Along the once busy 14th of Ramadan Street, most shops are closed, and almost every side street is blocked off by coils of barbed wire and concrete blocks.
Residents describe an infrastructure so completely broken that they barely limp from one day to the next.
“I simply want to say that there are no services now,” said Abu Ali, 52, an engineer who works for a local cellphone company. “I get electricity for only two hours a day.”
He added: “The phones have been dead for two months; the sewers are bad; I have a broken water pipe in front of my house that has been flooding the street for nearly eight weeks. The garbage truck stopped coming two months ago.”
Even well into 2004, Mansour was one of the most luxurious shopping areas of Baghdad, the home of embassies and government officials. People lucky enough to live there could not imagine moving. Now, the Shiite areas they once scorned evoke envy because Shiite militias provide security and services.
“There are neighborhoods where people are receiving their food basket in full quantities and on time,” Mr. Ali said.
“The reason is that those areas are pure Shiite — they are controlled by Mahdi Army,” he said, referring to the militia that claims loyalty to Mr. Sadr. “There you have someone to complain to, even if it’s not the government.”
In Adhamiya, the most heavily Sunni majority neighborhood on the east bank of the Tigris, there has also been a succession of armed groups. Most recently, gangs of young men prowled the neighborhood and attacked anyone trying to help local residents. The head of the district council was gunned down 10 days ago; three months earlier his predecessor was killed the same way.
The council had been a beacon for beleaguered Adhamiya residents, its offices busy from early morning. But its members are under attack, and it is unclear how long they will be willing to continue to take the risks that come with helping their neighbors.
Haji Daoud, 46, a council member and engineer with a degree in psychology, is the man with many of the answers for those who come. He has a caseload of about 2,500 families. For the poorest, he has tried to organize shares in small generators so that they at least have enough electricity to turn on lights at night. No one has enough to run a refrigerator.

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