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ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Iraq, American military commanders are leveling a new accusation against Shiite officials in Baghdad. The Americans say the Shiites are withholding essential services from Sunni districts of the city. The military says it's part of a broader strategy aimed at driving Sunnis out of the capital.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.

JAMIE TARABAY: There's been widespread sectarian cleansing by both Sunni and Shiite militias since civil war erupted in February last year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been evicted from their homes. In Baghdad, Shiite militiamen have made the most gains.

Lieutenant Colonel Brent Palmeter(ph), ex-o for the 2nd Brigade 1st Infantry Division, recalls a weekend last December when about 200 Sunni families were forced from their neighborhood of Hurriyah after threats from Shiite militias.

NORRIS: And it was very frustrating because what we had at the time was a complicit Iraqi army formation, passively or actively complicit, and it would come in and say, hey, for your protection, we'll help you load up your stuff and drive you down here.

TARABAY: As soon as the Sunni families left, Palmeter said Shiite militiamen brought in Shiite families to take over the empty houses. Then the militiamen launched attacks on neighboring Sunni districts. The six-month-old U.S. troop surge in Baghdad has stemmed the tide of sectarian cleansing in the capital at least for now. But Colonel Palmeter believes the Shiite militias intend to keep pushing until all remaining Sunnis leave the city.

NORRIS: I think that's what they would love to see happen, and that way they can control the access that the Sunnis have to participate in the parliamentary process, because then they'd have to go through checkpoints, legitimate or illegal, just to cast a vote.

TARABAY: Colonel Palmeter says those last Sunni strongholds are now being crippled by what he calls a campaign of exhaustion.

NORRIS: Whether it's a financial institution and just ensuring that the Ministry of Finance does not deliver money to a bank, so it closes down - a food distribution point by physically relocating the food distribution point that was in a predominantly Sunni area several kilometers to a Shia area - it forces the Sunni to have to go through Shia areas, which they are less inclined to do.

TARABAY: U.S. commanders say this unofficial policy of denying services to Sunnis extends to keeping hospitals and clinics closed, and preventing delivery of medical supplies. Electric power to Sunni areas has been cut. There's no sewage or trash collection. Water tankers don't enter these areas.

Iraq's interior minister, Jawad Bulani, a Shiite, told NPR in an interview some Sunni neighborhoods haven't had local services because municipal workers trying to enter them have been shot and killed.

NORRIS: (Through translator) We now have at least 500 municipal workers who went to these areas and got killed. They were just cleaners. Only army and American forces can reach these areas now.

TARABAY: Major Scott Nelson of the 2nd Brigade says that's an excuse he hears all the time.

NORRIS: The security thing will come up a lot particularly with the essential services because they know that the people who propagate essential services are not soldiers. And so they can very easily say, I'm too scared to go in there. And they'll just shut it off and choke it out over time.

TARABAY: The Baghdad municipality is run by supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and a senior Sadr official acknowledged that the municipality is withholding services from Sunni districts.

Muhiya Abdul Rasul(ph) is a Sunni who lives in Zayouna, one of the few remaining mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. He says his street barely gets electricity and there's no trash collection. But up the road, in a Shiite part of the neighborhood, the lights are on and the streets are clean. Abdul Rasul says he's given up going to his municipality office to complain.

NORRIS: (Through translator) They say, you Sunnis used to live the good life. But I say, I wasn't the one who deprived them - not me, not my neighbor.

TARABAY: For now, U.S. troops supervise the provision of local services to Sunni neighborhoods cut off from the rest of the city. But Colonel Palmeter says this measure can only hold for so long.

NORRIS: One of the things that would be helpful is if you could get the entire larger Shia community in Iraq to realize, you know what, this last two years, you've won. For the Sunnis to say, you know what you guys, you've lost, because then, if each side realized its current status, they would then move into the realm of politics.

TARABAY: But that realm is already fraught with division. The largest Sunni political bloc pulled out of the Shiite-led government last week, claiming its demands and concerns were being ignored.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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