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Monday, September 29, 2003

This is Pandora-the box is now open

Postwar Tremors Deepen Fissures in Iraqi Society
Religious, Ethnic Tensions Rise After Hussein's Fall
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 29, 2003; Page A01

HAIFA, Iraq -- The Kurds who descended upon this hardscrabble Arab village in northern Iraq 11 days ago were so confident they would be able to evict everyone and seize the surrounding farmland, they brought along three tractors.

But instead of responding by fleeing, as thousands of other Arab villagers in northern Iraq have done when confronted with similar Kurdish demands, the residents of Haifa refused to budge. "Our people went to them and said, 'What the hell are you doing here? This area doesn't belong to you,' " recalled Kadhim Hani Jubbouri, the village sheik.

Words were exchanged. Threats were hurled. When the Kurds began tilling a field lined with golden flecks of harvested hay, gunfire erupted.

Arabs contend the Kurds shot first. Kurds maintain it was the Arabs who opened fire. Both agree, however, that the 15-minute firefight was one of the clearest signs of the growing fissures between Iraq's two dominant ethnic groups -- its Arab majority and its Kurdish minority -- since the fall of former president Saddam Hussein's government.
At the same time, in central and southern Iraq, fault lines also have widened between the country's two principal religious communities: Shiite Muslims, who are a majority of the country's approximately 24 million people, and Sunni Muslims, Iraq's traditional rulers and Hussein's principal supporters.

Although a rift between Sunnis and Shiites is relentlessly discouraged by leaders of both communities, tensions have escalated in recent weeks, raising new prospects of strife. Small bombs have been planted at a handful of mosques in Baghdad. In Khaldiya, a Sunni-dominated town west of Baghdad, unknown assailants ransacked the green-domed shrine of a Shiite saint and set off an explosive last month that damaged his brick tomb. In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, some residents suspect that recent killings of former Baath Party members are inspired by religious zeal, and leaders of Shiite religious parties openly argue that vengeance is warranted against officials of a government that subjugated Shiites, particularly in its last decade of rule.


"Relations in our country have become very tense," said Anwar Assi Hussein Obeidi, a Sunni Arab who is a leader of the Obeidi tribe, one of Iraq's largest. "If the Americans don't resolve these problems soon, the people will start killing each other."

In the North, Whose Land?

The problem in Haifa is all about land.

Hassan Abid, a farmer with a weathered face and gray-streaked hair, said he moved to Haifa in 1974 along with dozens of other Shiite Arabs fleeing a drought in Diwaniyah, their ancestral home in southern Iraq.

"It was a wonderful new home," he said as walked through Haifa, a village of mud-brick homes and dirt streets 20 miles northwest of Kirkuk, a city in northeastern Iraq known for its oil fields.

To Kurds, however, the steppe around Kirkuk is Kurdish territory. Tens of thousands of Kurds had lived in the area until Hussein's government, in a campaign against a group he deemed subversive, pushed many of them out and resettled the area with Arabs.

But Abid contends Haifa was open land until the Arabs arrived. "There was nobody here before us," he said. "We did not displace the Kurds."

He noted that the Arabs of Haifa arrived in 1974, before Hussein's forced relocations began. And, he said, the villagers are Shiites, while those moved under the Hussein government were typically Sunnis.

"There should be no dispute here," he said.

So what did Rummy think was going to happen. All Iraqis would sit around singing Kumbaya? Not very likely.

posted by Steve @ 1:13:00 AM

1:13:00 AM

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