Re­turn of sec­tar­ian threats in Iraq raises alarm

The Kurdish Globe - - REGIONAL -

The fliers be­gan turn­ing up at Sunni house­holds in the Iraqi cap­i­tal's Ji­had neigh­bor­hood last week bear­ing a chill­ing mes­sage: Get out now or face "great agony" soon.

The leaflets were signed by the Mukhtar Army, a new Shi­ite mil­i­tant group with ties to Iran's Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard. "The zero hour has come. So leave along with your fam­i­lies. ... You are the en­emy," the mes­sages warned.

Such overt threats all but dis­ap­peared as the dark­est days of out­right sec­tar­ian fight­ing waned in 2008 and Iraq stepped back from the brink of civil war. Their reemer­gence now — nearly a decade af­ter the U.S.-led in­va­sion — is a wor­ry­ing sign that ris­ing sec­tar­ian ten­sions are again gnaw­ing away at Iraqi so­ci­ety.

Iraqis in­creas­ingly fear that mil­i­tants on both sides of the coun­try's sec­tar­ian di­vide are gear­ing up for a new round of vi­o­lence that could undo the frag­ile gains Iraq has made in re­cent years.

Mem­bers of the coun­try's Sunni mi­nor­ity have been stag­ing mass ral­lies for two months, with some call­ing for the top­pling of a Shi­ite-led government they feel dis­crim­i­nates against them and is too closely al­lied with neigh­bor­ing Iran. Sunni ex­trem­ists have been step­ping up large-scale at­tacks on pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite tar­gets, and con­cerns are grow­ing that the bru­tal and in­creas­ingly sec­tar­ian fight­ing in Syria could spill across the bor­der.

Many Sun­nis who re­ceived the Ji­had neigh­bor­hood mes­sages are tak­ing the warn­ings at face value and con­sid­er­ing mak­ing a move.

"Res­i­dents are pan­ick­ing. All of us are ob­sessed with th­ese fliers," said Waleed Nad­him, a Sunni mo­bile phone shop owner who lives in the neigh­bor­hood. The 33-year-old fa­ther plans to leave the area be­cause he doesn't have faith in the po­lice to keep his fam­ily safe. "In a lawless coun­try like Iraq, no­body can ig­nore threats like this."

Iraqi se­cu­rity forces have beefed up their pres­ence in and around Ji­had. The mid­dle-class com­mu­nity, nes­tled along a road to the air­port in south­west Bagh­dad, was home to Sunni civil ser­vants and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein's regime, though many Shi­ites now live there too.

The Shi­ites, who are em­bold­ened by a government and se­cu­rity forces dom­i­nated by their sect, have made their pres­ence felt in Ji­had in re­cent years. A Sunni mosque bears graf­fiti hail­ing a revered Shi­ite saint. A bill­board on a ma­jor road shows fire­brand Shi­ite cleric Mo­q­tada alSadr flanked by a fighter grip­ping a ma­chine gun.

Women walk past a poster of Shi­ite re­li­gious lead­ers and a Shi­ite fighter killed dur­ing a fight be­tween US troops and al-Mahdi Army mili­tia in the Ji­had neigh­bor­hood of west Bagh­dad, Iraq.

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