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Baghdad is breaking up

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    The city of Baghdad is breaking up By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad Published: 22 July 2006 http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article1190527.ece
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2006
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      The city of Baghdad is "breaking up"
      By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
      Published: 22 July 2006
      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article1190527.ece


      Parents dare not let their children wander the dangerous streets of
      Baghdad alone, but until a few days ago they could give them a treat
      by taking them to al-Jillawi's toyshop, the biggest and best in the
      city, its windows invitingly filled with Playstations, Barbie dolls
      and bicycles.

      They go there no longer. Today the shop on 14 Ramadan Street in the
      once-affluent al-Mansur district is closed, with a black mourning flag
      draped across its front. The three sons and the teenage grandson of
      the owner, Mehdi al-Jillawi, were shutting down for the evening
      recently, bringing in bicycles and tricycles on display on the
      pavement in front of the shop. As they did so, two BMWs stopped close
      to them, and several gunmen got out armed with assault rifles. They
      opened fire at point-blank range, killing the young men.

      Sectarian slaughter is not the only way to die in Iraq.

      Yesterday US troops killed five people, including two women and a
      child, in the city of Baquba during a raid, claiming they had been
      shot at. At best it was a tragic error, at worst it spoke to the
      cavalier attitude of the US towards Iraqi civilian lives. Local police
      said that a man had fired from a rooftop at the Americans because he
      thought a hostile militia force was approaching.

      While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, Baghdad is still dying and
      the daily toll is hitting record levels. While the plumes of fire and
      smoke over Lebanon have dominated headlines for 11 days, with Britain
      and the US opposing a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, another
      Bush-Blair foreign policy disaster is unfolding in Iraq.

      Invoking the sanctity of human life, George Bush wielded the
      presidential veto for the first time in his presidency to halt US
      embryonic stem cell research in its tracks. He even paraded
      one-year-old Jack Jones, born from one of the frozen embryos that can
      now never be used for federally funded research, and talked of
      preventing the "taking of innocent human life". How hollow that sounds
      to Iraqis.

      More people are dying here - probably more than 150 a day - in the
      escalating sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and the
      continuing war with US troops than in the bombardment of Lebanon.

      In a desperate effort to stem the butchery, the government yesterday
      imposed an all-day curfew on Baghdad, but tens of thousands of its
      people have already run for their lives. In some parts of the city,
      dead bodies are left to rot in the baking summer heat because nobody
      dares to remove them. I drove through empty streets in the heart of
      the city yesterday, taking a zigzag course to avoid police checkpoints
      that we thought might be doubling as death squads. Few shops were
      open. Those still doing business are frantically trying to sell their
      stock. A sign above one shop read: "Italian furniture: 75 per cent
      reductions.''

      Iraqis are terrified in a way that I have never seen before, since I
      first visited Baghdad in 1978. Sectarian massacres happen almost
      daily. The UN says 6,000 civilians were slaughtered in May and June,
      but this month has been far worse. In many districts it has become
      difficult to buy bread because Sunni assassins have killed all the
      bakers who are traditionally Shia.

      Baghdad is now breaking up into a dozen different hostile cities,
      Sunni or Shia, heavily armed and living in terror of the other side.
      On 9 July, Shia gunmen from the black-clad Mehdi Army entered the
      largely Sunni al-Jihad district in west Baghdad and killed 40 Sunni
      after dragging them from their cars or stopping them at false
      checkpoints. Within hours the Sunni militias struck back with car
      bombs killing more than 60 Shia.

      Nouri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi Prime Minister is to leave Iraq
      tomorrow on his way to Washington. He was appointed after five months
      of wrangling and intense pressure from the American and British
      embassies. The Iraqi government is a prisoner of the Green Zone, the
      heavily fortified enclave defended by US troops in the centre of
      Baghdad. Entering it is like visiting another country. Soldiers at the
      gates spend longer looking at documents than do officials at most
      European frontiers. "Some ministers have never visited their
      ministries outside the Green Zone," said one ex-minister. "They have
      their officials bring them documents to sign."

      It seems unlikely that Baghdad will ever come together again. Sunni
      are frightened of being caught in a Shia district, and vice versa.
      Many now carry two sets of identity documents, one Sunni and one Shia.
      Checkpoints manned by the Mehdi Army know this and sometimes ask
      people claiming to be Shia questions about Shia theology. One Shia who
      passed this test was still killed because he was driving a car with
      number plates from Anbar, a Sunni province.

      Where are the Americans in all this? Iraqis who used to say that they
      were against the US occupation but at least the Americans prevented
      civil war now think that a civil war has started regardless of their
      presence.

      The Iraqi army and police are themselves divided along sectarian
      lines. Recognising this, the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry
      ludicrously suggested that people challenge the ferocious police
      commanders and demand their identity cards in order to distinguish
      real police from death squads. It is hard to think of a surer way of
      getting oneself killed.

      I never expected the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain to end
      happily. But I did not foresee the present catastrophe. Baghdad has
      survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more
      bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally
      splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely
      gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of
      Beirut so many miles away.

      Conflict: day 10

      * Fighting has killed at least 344 people in Lebanon, mostly
      civilians. Nineteen Israeli soldiers and 15 civilians dead.

      * Israeli troops and tanks mass on Lebanon's border after planes drop
      leaflets warning civilians to evacuate, prompting speculation Israel
      is preparing for a full-scale ground invasion of southern Lebanon.

      * One Israeli pilot dies as two Apache helicopters collide in northern
      Israel. Hizbollah says two militants have been killed.

      * Nineteen people are injured in Haifa as three Hizbollah rockets
      crash into the town. Numerous other Israeli towns hit.

      * Israel allows aid supplies into Lebanon. Agencies warn movement of
      aid hampered by destroyed roads and bridges.

      Parents dare not let their children wander the dangerous streets of
      Baghdad alone, but until a few days ago they could give them a treat
      by taking them to al-Jillawi's toyshop, the biggest and best in the
      city, its windows invitingly filled with Playstations, Barbie dolls
      and bicycles.

      They go there no longer. Today the shop on 14 Ramadan Street in the
      once-affluent al-Mansur district is closed, with a black mourning flag
      draped across its front. The three sons and the teenage grandson of
      the owner, Mehdi al-Jillawi, were shutting down for the evening
      recently, bringing in bicycles and tricycles on display on the
      pavement in front of the shop. As they did so, two BMWs stopped close
      to them, and several gunmen got out armed with assault rifles. They
      opened fire at point-blank range, killing the young men.

      Sectarian slaughter is not the only way to die in Iraq.

      Yesterday US troops killed five people, including two women and a
      child, in the city of Baquba during a raid, claiming they had been
      shot at. At best it was a tragic error, at worst it spoke to the
      cavalier attitude of the US towards Iraqi civilian lives. Local police
      said that a man had fired from a rooftop at the Americans because he
      thought a hostile militia force was approaching.

      While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, Baghdad is still dying and
      the daily toll is hitting record levels. While the plumes of fire and
      smoke over Lebanon have dominated headlines for 11 days, with Britain
      and the US opposing a UN call for an immediate ceasefire, another
      Bush-Blair foreign policy disaster is unfolding in Iraq.

      Invoking the sanctity of human life, George Bush wielded the
      presidential veto for the first time in his presidency to halt US
      embryonic stem cell research in its tracks. He even paraded
      one-year-old Jack Jones, born from one of the frozen embryos that can
      now never be used for federally funded research, and talked of
      preventing the "taking of innocent human life". How hollow that sounds
      to Iraqis.

      More people are dying here - probably more than 150 a day - in the
      escalating sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and the
      continuing war with US troops than in the bombardment of Lebanon.

      In a desperate effort to stem the butchery, the government yesterday
      imposed an all-day curfew on Baghdad, but tens of thousands of its
      people have already run for their lives. In some parts of the city,
      dead bodies are left to rot in the baking summer heat because nobody
      dares to remove them. I drove through empty streets in the heart of
      the city yesterday, taking a zigzag course to avoid police checkpoints
      that we thought might be doubling as death squads. Few shops were
      open. Those still doing business are frantically trying to sell their
      stock. A sign above one shop read: "Italian furniture: 75 per cent
      reductions.''

      Iraqis are terrified in a way that I have never seen before, since I
      first visited Baghdad in 1978. Sectarian massacres happen almost
      daily. The UN says 6,000 civilians were slaughtered in May and June,
      but this month has been far worse. In many districts it has become
      difficult to buy bread because Sunni assassins have killed all the
      bakers who are traditionally Shia.

      Baghdad is now breaking up into a dozen different hostile cities,
      Sunni or Shia, heavily armed and living in terror of the other side.
      On 9 July, Shia gunmen from the black-clad Mehdi Army entered the
      largely Sunni al-Jihad district in west Baghdad and killed 40 Sunni
      after dragging them from their cars or stopping them at false
      checkpoints. Within hours the Sunni militias struck back with car
      bombs killing more than 60 Shia.

      Nouri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi Prime Minister is to leave Iraq
      tomorrow on his way to Washington. He was appointed after five months
      of wrangling and intense pressure from the American and British
      embassies. The Iraqi government is a prisoner of the Green Zone, the
      heavily fortified enclave defended by US troops in the centre of
      Baghdad. Entering it is like visiting another country. Soldiers at the
      gates spend longer looking at documents than do officials at most
      European frontiers. "Some ministers have never visited their
      ministries outside the Green Zone," said one ex-minister. "They have
      their officials bring them documents to sign."

      It seems unlikely that Baghdad will ever come together again. Sunni
      are frightened of being caught in a Shia district, and vice versa.
      Many now carry two sets of identity documents, one Sunni and one Shia.
      Checkpoints manned by the Mehdi Army know this and sometimes ask
      people claiming to be Shia questions about Shia theology. One Shia who
      passed this test was still killed because he was driving a car with
      number plates from Anbar, a Sunni province.

      Where are the Americans in all this? Iraqis who used to say that they
      were against the US occupation but at least the Americans prevented
      civil war now think that a civil war has started regardless of their
      presence.

      The Iraqi army and police are themselves divided along sectarian
      lines. Recognising this, the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry
      ludicrously suggested that people challenge the ferocious police
      commanders and demand their identity cards in order to distinguish
      real police from death squads. It is hard to think of a surer way of
      getting oneself killed.

      I never expected the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain to end
      happily. But I did not foresee the present catastrophe. Baghdad has
      survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more
      bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally
      splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely
      gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of
      Beirut so many miles away.

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