Sunnis Targeted in Baghdad Killings

Over the weekend, Shiite militiamen were seen targeting residents of a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad in response to a car bomb attack against a Shiite mosque. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been calling for national unity, faces divisions within his own cabinet. Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Jamie Tarabay, who's in Baghdad.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The past few days have been exceptionally violent in Iraq. Sectarian attacks, especially in Baghdad, have left dozens and dozens of people dead.

Over the weekend, there was a series of car bombings, and Shiite militiamen roamed a mainly-Sunni neighborhood in the capital, picking up people with Sunni names.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins us now from Baghdad, and Jamie, I gather there have been still more attacks today in Iraq?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Yes, just in Baghdad itself, there were a series of shooting attacks. There was a bomb outside a restaurant. At least 20 people were killed, just in violence within the capital itself. There were also car bombs and shooting attacks in different areas across the country; in Kirkuk in the north and Bakuba, northeast of Baghdad. At least six other people were killed in other incidents, that we know of.

SIEGEL: What's the Iraqi government say about all this violence of the past couple of days?

TARABAY: Well, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government, have blamed a lot of the violence on foreign fighters, to try and, I guess, harbor an atmosphere where people within the country can agree to unite and move forward, and to forget about a lot of the grievances of the past.

But, you know, he has a very divided government. Yesterday, one of his deputy prime ministers, who is a Sunni, was on television, very angrily lashing out at the Interior Ministry, blaming it for much of the violence, accusing Shiite militias of infiltrating the ministry and operating, very freely, as police. So there isn't a lot of consensus right now, on what to do to resolve this crisis.

SIEGEL: But take us back to that event over the weekend, this scene in which there are Shiite militiamen who are going through a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, and it seems, going house to house and dragging out people, and killing quite a few people. Were there police around? Were there security forces? Or might someone consider bringing in an Army unit to try to provide help at a moment like that?

TARABAY: Well, there were police in the area. We spoke to a couple of people who live in this neighborhood, called Jihad, which is mostly Sunni. And the people that we spoke to, said that these militiamen arrived early in the morning. They began setting up fake checkpoints and checking people as they passed; looking at their I.D. cards. If they were Sunni, they were taking them away, and their bodies were being found in the street.

The U.S. military spokesman gave a briefing today, and he was asked why the security forces, either Iraqi or coalition troops, weren't able to respond quicker than they say they did. And Major General Bill Caldwell said that, well, you know, there are 7.2 million people in Iraq and you only have about 50,000 Iraqi troops and, you know, the coalition forces can't be everywhere at the same time.

It took about three and a half hours before anyone turned up, who was, you know, not part of the security forces who were there, you know, and were turning a blind eye. So it says a lot, that if you have such a huge presence, and even in the particular group that you have, still don't manage to resolve the situation and restore calm.

SIEGEL: And, just to clarify, at the U.S. briefing that you described earlier, U.S. forces would consider it part of their mission to respond to something like this - if they could have gotten there faster, there would have been U.S. soldiers involved in that?

TARABAY: Yes, and according to Major General Caldwell, they did move in, they did seal off the area. And they dispute the numbers that everyone else is reporting. They say that only about 14 people were killed, whereas everyone, including us, are saying that at least 40 people were killed in yesterday's violence in Jihad itself.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Jamie.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.

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