Civil War? Nah, just secterian violence
Just another day in the projects
Redirecting Bullets in Baghdad
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
I GOT back to Iraq two weeks ago, having been away more than a year. The first story I covered began with a tip that vigilantes had hanged four suspected terrorists from lamp posts in Sadr City, a Shiite slum. The minute I got to the scene, I realized I was stepping into a new Iraq. Another new Iraq, really; maybe even the third Iraq I have seen since I began reporting here in 2003.
Gone were the American tanks that used to guard the intersections. Instead, aggressive teenagers with machine guns and shiny soccer jerseys ruled the streets. They poked their heads into cars and detained whomever they wanted. There were even 8-year-olds running checkpoints, some toting toy pistols, others toting real ones. Whatever they carried, 4-foot-tall militias made me nervous. The streets now had a truly Liberian feel.
The episode was oddly symmetrical with a moment in 2004 when mobs in Falluja swarmed four American contractors and hung the bodies from a bridge. But there were a few big differences. For one, this wasn't Falluja, angry heart of the insurgency. This was Baghdad. And these weren't Americans dangling from rope. They were Sunni Arab Iraqis.
I had thought Iraq might be getting quieter. Fewer mortars were sailing into the Green Zone, where the Americans are based, and fewer suicide bombings were disrupting the morning rush. Even the airport road, the most dreaded strip of asphalt in the world, was doing better. It had been repaved and was flowing with traffic.
But soon I caught on. The violence had not declined. It had just turned inward. No longer was most of it pointed at the Americans, either directly or indirectly, as it had been during the invasion and when the insurgency exploded in 2004. Back then, if G.I.'s were not the targets, their helpers were — the Iraqi police, regional governors, Kurdish leaders, foreign civilians, anyone remotely connected to the "occupiers."
Mass murder used to provoke some form of official reaction, however feeble. I remember seeing the Iraqi police seal off areas after big bomb attacks and poke around for evidence. Now, there are major crimes with no crime scenes. Very few of these mystery killings have been investigated, and it isn't for lack of witnesses. Many of these men were abducted in daylight, in public, in front of crowds.
Of course, the old insurgency hasn't abated. Last week, 200 masked insurgents besieged a jail, killing more than a dozen guards and springing their comrades. A few days ago, one of our translator's uncles was killed when a box of sweets blew up in a tea shop. It seems as if half of our staff has had family murdered.
It is difficult to communicate just how violent Baghdad has become. A DVD was recently circulated in markets showing an imam being dragged behind a pickup truck. There was also a home video of a family of four, including a 10-day-old girl, all of them wrapped in plastic in the morgue.
Everyone has guns. We interviewed an educated woman who rides the bus with a loaded Glock pistol in her lap.
This is not to say life has ground to a halt. Stores are open, though the curfew has cut into business. Children go to school. The other day a mortar shell flew over a swing set and the children kept on swinging, even as a cloud of dust rose behind them.
I recently met a Sunni man who used to be virulently anti-American. He showed me postmortem pictures of his younger brother, who had been kidnapped by death squads and had holes drilled in his face.
"Even the Americans wouldn't do this," he said.
posted by Steve @ 5:19:00 PM