Two Neighborhoods Illustrate Baghdad's Divide

In two ancient neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital — one Sunni, one Shiite — ongoing sectarian fighting is affecting the people who live there.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

Now, we're going to hear about two historic neighborhoods in Baghdad that exemplify this growing sectarian divide. One is Shiite and one is Sunni. And they're both right across the Tigris River from one another. But they're surrounded by areas populated by their sectarian rivals.

NPR's Anne Garrels knows both neighborhoods well. She's been reporting from Baghdad since before the war. She's at home in Connecticut right now. But she took the time today to tell us about Adhamiya and Kadhamiyah - beginning with the Sunni area, Adhamiya.

ANNE GARRELS: It is an area where there's an important mosque. It's one of the last Sunni islands on the east side of the river. It has been encircled essentially by a wall to protect it. That's been highly controversial. Some Sunni see it as a way to protect themselves, but many see it as further isolating them.

SEABROOK: And the United States built this wall.

GARRELS: That's correct. And it's by no means the only walled community. It's maybe the best known, but most of the Sunni enclaves in Baghdad have now been walled off.

SEABROOK: And what's happened in Adhamiya?

GARRELS: Well, Adhamiya, you know, as I say, is this island. People feel increasingly sort of put upon. And it's also not just Sunnis versus Shiites. Within Adhamiya itself, Sunnis do not agree on the future of Iraq. Many of them are now looking to the U.S. to protect them, or against al-Qaida who they no longer see is serving their interests. So you've got Sunni on Sunni.

SEABROOK: Across the river is Kadhamiyah. This is - the name sounds similar, but this is a Shiite neighborhood that is holy to the Shiites. Tell us a little bit of the history there.

GARRELS: Once again, there are very important mosques and Shiite shrines in Kadhamiyah. It is a large Shiite area in the western part of the city. It was surrounded by Sunnis, but it is spreading out. It is a site now for competing Shiite militias. And once again, it's not just Sunni versus Shiite. You've got Shiite militias inside Kadhamiyah fighting block for block, controlling block for block, as well as a lot of criminal elements.

SEABROOK: So what does this mean for the daily lives of people inside either Kadhamiyah or Adhamiya?

GARRELS: It means no one trusts anyone. It means that people are afraid of leaving the area where they live. Let's just take the Shiites in Kadhamiyah. Increasingly, the militia belonging to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - they are getting more and more control there. They shake down people for protection money.

The police are linked to various competing militias. You don't know which militia they might or might not be with. So while Shiites are moving there in large numbers seeking protection, if they're moving from Sunni-dominated areas. Once they are there, they've got to play by the new Shiite rules.

SEABROOK: And in Adhamiya, you know, the Sunni neighborhood that is surrounded by the U.S. military-built wall, I gather Sunnis are actually leaving neighborhoods like Adhamiya. The city is becoming more and more Shiite in general.

GARRELS: It is becoming much more Shiite. The police and the military are predominantly Shiite. They set up roadblocks, official or unofficial ones. So now, what you have is most Sunnis have fake Shiite identification cards, hoping they will somehow pass, get through these checkpoints and not be either kidnapped, shaken down for money, or worse, still killed.

SEABROOK: And then the big picture, tell us why this matters to the conflict as a whole and the United States' ability to have whatever success might mean there.

GARRELS: Well, the bottom line is that the Shiite-dominated government has not dealt with the militias. And in fact, those militias, predominantly Shiite, have infiltrated the security forces - the police and the army. And now, for the Americans, the Shiite militias, including the police and the military, are the ones who are attacking the Americans far more than the Sunnis now. And ultimately, since there is no political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis, nothing like it, but increasingly, there is Shiite-on-Shiite violence and it's a huge power play.

SEABROOK: NPR's Anne Garrels, thank you very much.

GARRELS: Thank you.

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