MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The city of Baghdad woke up this morning to the sound of American apache helicopters circling over the city, firing into streets where Sunni and Shiite gunmen were fighting. Warring militias are battling for stretches of territory across Baghdad and they are creating fortified enclaves.
Coming up, we'll hear what the violence has done to Iraq's hospitals, which are in dire straits.
First, NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports that the capital's sectarian fault lines are becoming clearer every day.
JAMIE TARABAY: Sunnis living in the Adhamiya district on the east bank of the Tigress River have waged a relentless campaign to retain their hold over the area. It's the site of the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad. The Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have gradually established a presence here. The Shiite controlled Iraqi Health Ministry is located astride one of the main roads leading into Adhamiya and Shiite militiamen now man checkpoints around the ministry and nearby.
Gun battles between them and Sunni militants are now a daily occurrence.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
TARABAY: Thirty-one-year-old driver Jasim Hussein lives in Sleikh, a mixed neighborhood sandwiched between Adhamiya and the health ministry. He takes the long way home these days to avoid the Iraqi commandos who've set up checkpoints at the entrance to his district. He says the commandos are really Shiite militiamen who operate as death squads.
Mr. JASIM HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) We can't use that road anymore because there are checkpoints on the way, and they take you and kill you if they know you are going to Sleikh.
TARABAY: Hussein says when Shiite militias attack his neighborhood, the police commandos at the checkpoints join in. He says the residents of Sleikh rely on American troops to stave off disaster in the area.
Mr. HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) The Americans come to our neighborhood all the time. They even tell us to shoot the Shiite militia and the commandos when they come into the neighborhood, but don't shoot the Americans or the National Guard. We don't shoot them. We are fed up with death and killings. Every house has lost someone.
TARABAY: The latest weapon of choice for both sides in these urban battles is the mortar. Hussein says Shiite militias fire them at Sunni areas like Adhamiya and that the Shiite police and commandos stationed nearby join in.
Ibrahim Nadir should know. He's a sergeant in the commandos and acknowledges that they have joined Shiite militias attacking Sunni neighborhoods.
Sergeant IBRAHIM NADIR: (Through Translator) I am a Shiite, I am a Shiite, but I believe in God. What we are doing is wrong.
TARABAY: Across the river in the Shiite district of Kadhmiya it's the same story, but it is Shiites who are targeted.
Housewife Hasna al-Roubai'e says she herds her four children into a room at the back of the house whenever she hears mortar rounds strike Adhamiya.
Ms. HASNA AL-ROUBAI'E: We've had enough of the mortars. Whenever Adhamiya is hit, they hit back at Kadhimya. If they are hit with one mortar they hit us with three.
TARABAY: Kadhmiya is home to a sacred Shiite shrine. Like Adhamiya's Sunni mosque, it is also fiercely guarded. Al Roubai'e says the Shiite militiamen are welcome in her neighborhood because they protect residents when the police don't. She says Sunnis firing at Kadhimya strike at civilians, not at militiamen.
Ms. AL-ROUBAI'E: (Through Translator) Is all of Kadmiya militia? Are all the women and children militia? Why have things changed? We used to be like brothers and sisters, us and the people in Adhamiya
TARABAY: She blames the presence of American troops for the tit for tat attacks, but she says even if the U.S. troops left, the two sides would still fight.
Ms. AL-ROUBAI'E: The U.S. should leave Iraq, then the Shiites and Sunnis can sit together and try to settle it, or have a civil war for a year or two. Then they will reconcile.
TARABAY: U.S. military spokesmen confirm the increased use of mortars by the warring sides here. They also acknowledge that Baghdad is gradually being divided into distinct Sunni and Shiite enclaves.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News. Baghdad.