BAGHDAD - The separation of religious groups in the face of sectarian violence
has brought some semblance of relative calm to Baghdad. But many Iraqis see
this as the uncertain consequence of a divide and rule policy.
Claims are going the rounds that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen, and
that the U.S. military "surge" has succeeded in reducing attacks against
civilians. Baghdad residents speak of the other side of the coin that
they live now in a largely divided city that has brought this uneasy calm.
"I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased
and that everything is fine," retired general Waleed al-Ubaidy told IPS
in Baghdad. "But the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is
a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq."
And as with Baquba and other violence-hit areas of Iraq, he says a part of
the story in Baghdad is that there is nobody left to tell it. "Most of
the honest journalists have left."
"Baghdad has been torn into two cities and many towns and neighborhoods,"
Ahmad Ali, chief engineer from one of Baghdad's municipalities, told IPS. "There
is now the Shia Baghdad and the Sunni Baghdad to start with. Then, each is divided
into little town-like pieces of the hundreds of thousands who had to leave their
Many Baghdad residents say that the claims of reduced violence can be tested
only when refugees go back home.
Many areas of Baghdad that were previously mixed are now totally Shia or totally
Sunni. This follows the sectarian cleansing in mixed neighborhoods by militias
and death squads.
On the Russafa side of Tigris River, al-Adhamiya is now fully Sunni; the other
areas are all Shia. The al-Karkh side of the river is purely Sunni except for
Shula, Hurriya, and small strips of Aamil, which are dominated by Shia militias.
"If the situation is good, why are five million Iraqis living in exile,"
says 55- year-old Abu Mohammad who was evicted from Shula in West Baghdad to
become a refugee in Amiriya, a few miles from his lost home.
"Americans and Iranians have succeeded in realizing their old dream of
dividing the Iraqi people into sects. That is the only success they can talk
Violence is no longer hitting the headlines, but it clearly continues. Bodies
of Iraqis killed after being tortured are still found in garbage dumps, although
fewer than a few months ago.
"Iraqi and American officials should be ashamed of talking of 'unidentified
bodies,'" Haja Fadhila from the Ghazaliya area of western Baghdad told
IPS. "These are the bodies of Iraqis who had families to support, and names
to be proud of. But nobody talks about them, there is no media. It is as if
it is all taking place on Mars."
The Iraqi ministries for health and interior have said that they are finding
on average five to ten "unidentified bodies" on the streets of Baghdad
"Those Americans and their Iraqi collaborators in the Green Zone talk
of five or 10 bodies being found everyday as if they were talking of insects,"
Thamir Aziz, a teacher in Adhamiya, told IPS. "We know they are lying about
the real number of martyrs, but even if it's true, is it not a disaster that
so many innocent Iraqis are found dead every day?"
Most people blame the Iraqi police for the sectarian assassinations, and the
U.S. military for doing little to stop them.
"The Americans ask [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki to stop the sectarian
assassinations when they know very well that his ministers are ordering the
sectarian cleansing," Mahmood Farhan from the Muslim Scholars Association,
a leading Sunni group, told IPS.
A UN report released September 2005 held interior ministry forces responsible
for an organized campaign of detentions, torture, and killings. It said special
police commando units accused of carrying out the killings were recruited from
the Shia Badr and Mahdi militias.
Retired Col. James Steele, who served as adviser to Iraqi security forces under
former U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, supervised the training of these forces.
Steele had been commander of the U.S. military advisers group in El Salvador
in 1984-86; Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to neighboring Honduras 1981-85.
Negroponte was accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras
Commission on Human Rights in 1994. The Commission reported the torture and
disappearance of at least 184 political workers.
The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives
trained by the CIA, according to a CIA working group set up in 1996 to look
into the U.S. role in Honduras.
The CIA records document that "special intelligence units," better
known as "death squads," comprised CIA-trained Honduran armed units
which kidnapped, tortured, and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting
Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for close to a year from June 2004.
(Inter Press Service)