Curfew Lifted But Tensions Linger in Baghdad
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. In Iraq today, the government lifted the curfew that has largely locked down Baghdad and surrounding regions for three days. The wave of sectarian violence, which began with the bombing of a Shiite shrine last week has ebbed. But while the attacks that threaten to push Iraq toward civil war have slowed, an atmosphere of anxiety still blankets the country. And, as NPR's Anne Garrels reports from Baghdad, negotiations to form a new government are still on hold.
ANNE GARRELS reporting:
Even before last Wednesday's attack set off tit for tat violence, political talks to form a new government of national unity were in trouble, and despite some optimistic words coming out of the Shiite alliance today, the biggest Sunni faction says Shiite prime minister Jaafari has done nothing to fulfill the promises he made over the weekend. And until he does so, Tariq al-Hashmi, a leading representative to UFAC(ph) the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, says there will be no negotiations.
Mr. TARIQ AL-HASHMI (Leading Sunni representative, Iraq): I'm still waiting now. We haven't seen any urgent and quick response from the government so far.
(Soundbite of women crying)
GARRELS: Baghdad's morgue provides a grim snapshot of the violence here. There were 47 new murder victims delivered today, down from a high of 197 two days ago. Most showed signs of torture. The morgue was so full it refused to take all the bodies people brought.
(Soundbite of women crying)
GARRELS: A mother found her 16-year-old son with a gunshot to the head. He was a Shiite working for a Sunni tribe north of Baghdad. As attacks and counterattacks spiraled out of control, eyewitnesses told the family he was killed for being nothing more than a Shiite.
(Soundbite of traffic) GARRELS: Traffic returned to normal today, and some businesses reopened, but the run on food stripped shelves quickly, and prices spiked. Gas lines were more than a mile long. For many Iraqis, there was lingering shock over the bloodshed, lingering fear it could start all again, and unanswered questions about who bombed the Shiite shrine and who carried out the subsequent reprisal killings. Neither Sunni nor Shiite officials have accepted any responsibility, with many Shiite officials denying the existence of armed Shiite militias.
Mr. MOHAMMAD ALI(ph) (Shiite, Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)
GARRELS: Mohammad Ali, a 23-year-old Shiite driver, blames the government for failing to control the situation. But he hopes ordinary Sunnis and Shiites will stick together. The government was disparaged by both Shiites and Sunnis, and the U.S.-led coalition also came in for criticism.
Mr. MAHAN RASHID(ph) (Resident, Iraq): (Speaking foreign language)
GARRELS: While the U.S. military says it dramatically stepped up patrols, Mahan Rashid expected more from the U.S. troops. He didn't see any sign of them and clearly has no confidence in the Iraqi forces. The overwhelming response from those Iraqis interviewed was that they would not be drawn into the violence. 43-year-old Abu Omer(ph), a Sunni, said this is all part of an inevitable power play.
Mr. ABU OMER (Sunni, Iraq): (Through Translator) It's all about political benefits, score settling. It has nothing to do with Islam. We're not going to let there be a civil war. We just want just rulers.
GARRELS: After two years of attacks by Sunni insurgents on Shiites, Shiite militias have become more active of late. Just before the attack on the shrine, the uncle of a man called Achmed(ph) was kidnapped and murdered. He was a Sunni cleric. The funeral was underway when the Shiite shrine was bombed, and the reprisal attacks against Sunnis picked up. Armed men in the hallmark black clothing of Shiite militias came into Achmed's neighborhood and attacked the Sunni mosque. But Achmed says neighbors, Sunni and Shia, banded together.
Mr. ACHMED (Sunni, Iraq): (Through Translator) The sheik of the Shia mosque came to the Sunni mosque and addressed the people, urging them to work together and not let others divide them. We guarded our neighborhood together. My Sunni friends protected the Shia, and Shia came and protected us.
GARRELS: While all this has been going on, a deadline for the execution of 28-year-old American journalist Jill Carroll has passed with no news. Iraq's interior minister said today he believes she is still alive, and he said he knows who abducted her. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said she's clearly in a dangerous situation, but he expressed optimism she will be released.
Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.
BLOCK: NPR's Farah al-Kasab(ph) contributed to that report.
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