Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Shiite Manifest Destiny

If you have not already read this Newsweek piece about the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, you need to do so now [emphasis mine]:

Baghdad's New Owners

Shiites now dominate the once mixed capital, and there is little chance of reversing the process.

By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Larry Kaplow

It was their last stand. Kamal and a handful of his neighbors were hunkered down on the roof of a dun-colored house in southwest Baghdad two weeks ago as bullets zinged overhead. In the streets below, fighters from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fanned out and blasted away with AK-47s and PKC heavy machine guns. Kamal is a chubby 44-year-old with two young sons, and he and his friends, all Sunnis, had been fighting similar battles against Shiite militiamen in the Amel neighborhood for months. They jumped awkwardly from rooftop to rooftop, returning fire. Within minutes, however, dozens of uniformed Iraqi policemen poured into the street to support the militiamen. Kamal ditched his AK on a rooftop and snuck away through nearby alleys. He left Amel the next day. "I lost my house, my documents and my future," says Kamal, whose name and that of other Iraqis in this story have been changed for their safety. "I'm never going back."

Thousands of other Sunnis like Kamal have been cleared out of the western half of Baghdad, which they once dominated, in recent months. The surge of U.S. troops—meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital—has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent."

When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won. "If you look at pre-February 2006, there were only a couple of areas in the city that were unambiguously Shia," says a U.S. official in Baghdad who is familiar with the issue but is not authorized to speak on the record. "That's definitely not the case anymore." The official says that "the majority, more than half" of Baghdad's neighborhoods are now Shiite-dominated, a judgment echoed in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: "And very few are mixed." In places like Amel, pockets of Sunnis live in fear, surrounded by a sea of Shiites. In most of the remaining Sunni neighborhoods, residents are trapped behind great concrete barricades for their own protection.

Amel's transformation is one of the most dramatic in the city. Under Saddam Hussein the area was a bedroom community for regime apparatchiks—generals and officers like Kamal, who worked for one of Saddam's secret services. Spacious houses were arranged in grids around schools and recreation centers, fronted by palm trees and wide sidewalks. Saddam trusted the community: houses nestle up against the strategic highway that leads to the airport, and are only a short distance away from the Republican Palace complex that dominates the Green Zone. Now Amel's Sunnis are crowded into a strip that's less than a quarter-mile square, surrounded on all sides by concertina wire and scrap-metal barricades. City power cables have been cut, and the streets are strewn with trash and broken glass. There is only one access road not under Shiite control, leading to the airport highway. The enclave houses perhaps 5,000 Sunnis; nearly all the rest of Amel's estimated 100,000 population is now Shiite. With the agreement of locals, U.S. troops plan to replace the Sunnis' makeshift roadblocks with concrete barriers.
Shiites present their creeping takeover of Baghdad as part of a narrative of liberation—American officers have dubbed it Shiite "Manifest Destiny." "This area represents everything [Shiites] hated before—Sunni generals, security officers, Baathists, some of them who probably personally knew Saddam Hussein," says Capt. Brian Ducote, who tries to intercept Shiite militants based in Amel who raid his neighboring Jihad neighborhood. "They say, 'You have self-defense in America. My brother was killed; my father was killed. I have a right to do this'."

Via Cursor.

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