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article imageThe Brutal Boundaries The Divide Baghdad

By Carolyn E. Price     Mar 6, 2007 in World
How the new security plan hopes to reunite divided neighborhoods.
Sybaa Street (pictured) once was wall-to-wall people: Just look at the picutre of it today. The sidewalks used to be crammed with shoppers, and roads snarled with cars. This one street In the heart of central Baghdad, was known as "the road to take to get from the automotive shops on one side of the city's market district to the hardware stores on the other".
No one cared that is was sort of an unofficial border between the Sunni neighborhood of Fadhi to the north and the Shiite neighborhoods of Sdriya and Sheik Omar to the south.
All that has now changed. For the last six months, Sunni's and Shite's have been fighting it out on Sybaa Street and it is now deserted and forsaken. Recently, the only sign of life was a mechanic working inside his dark garage with only a single light bulb on for him to work by. Bullets holes are visible everywhere from earlier battles -- the buildings are pock marked, so are the utility poles and so too are the rusted 'mufflers' hanging outside the closed up and shuttered shops.
Um Shaima, 48, is described as 'a garrulous Sunni widow'. She used to sell yogurt in the Sadriya market, and she lives just north of Sybaa Street in Fadhil. She sasy that she used to visit the stores to buy her clothes.
Um's cousin Samir for years had worked on the Sadriya side of Sybaa Street as a mechanic. A few months ago Samir received a threat. "They told him, 'You are a Sunni, and all Sunnis are infidels and their women are prostitutes, so stop coming to Sadriya or you will be killed,'" she said.
However, "He didn't listen." Samir was kidnapped the very next day. People who witnessed the kidnapping say that Shiite militants pulled him off his motorcycle and threw him in the trunk of a sedan.
"They called his wife at 9 a.m. the next day," Shaima said, "telling her that they will kill all the Sunnis, and your husband is dead."
A nephew of Samir's, who is a Shite, recovered his uncle's mutilated body from a trash pile east of Baghdad.
Shaima said her two sons now carry guns at night to protect her and her neighbors.
On the other side of the 'border', in the neighborhood of Sadriya, the exact mirror image of anger and fear lives there too. Young men with guns see themselves as the protectors and justify their violence as a reasonable response to the Sunni violence.
Nazar Sharif Abd Hussein, 35, is a carpenter and a self-described militant with Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. He says that does not hate all Sunnis; in fact, one of his sisters just married one.
Hussein hardly looks fierce. He stands around 5 feet 7 inches tall, and was wearing jeans and a gray sweater. He has a short beard and sunken dark eyes. He says that he can be vicious when called upon because Sunni gangsters and insurgents in the Fadhil neighborhood have shown absolutely no respect for life.
Last May, he said, his 17-year-old best friend, Salar, was shot and killed while they both guarded an area near the edge of Fadhil. He said that Salar was wearing a flak jacket but that a stream of .50- caliber bullets perforated his side and ripped through his chest.
"I still remember that night," Hussein said, adding, "He was standing in the middle of the street."
One of the goals of Baghdad's latest security plan is to attempt to bridge these new divides in neighborhoods in a city that has been ripped apart, bit by bit. The joint US forces and Iraqi police are desperate to "fashion a peace that stitches the city's cleaved neighborhoods back together". Three weeks into their effort, there appears to be a glimmer of hope. The daily body count across the capital has dropped to 20 or less from totals that were in the high 30's to 50 range. In some areas that are very closely patrolled by American troops, families that fled the violence are slowly starting to return to their homes.
How long this will last is not known. However, rebuilding neighborhoods one at a time will take time and a lot of effort. Do we have that time? And, is it worth the effort?
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