I was reading my newspaper on the banks of the Tigirs, sitting by what has become my favourite dock on a beautiful Baghdadi day. The headline annoyed me so much I put the paper aside for a couple of minutes before picking in up again to read: ‘It’s Fear That Keeps Baghdad’s Peace’. Something about this article annoys me. I can’t put my finger on it. It slaps me in the face even before I start reading it.
I was planning on writing about it saying it is wrong and a bit bloodthirsty but we didn’t have electricity so I had to wait. And the more I thought about it the more I saw truth in it.
Maybe it annoys me because it just puts the numbers there hanging in the air almost as if Sunnis were refusing to come back and take part in Baghdad’s political and social affairs.
I know AP has numbers to back these claims up and, hey, just look at us. My aunts and uncles, four Shia families, and us we haven’t dared go back to our homes in the west of Baghdad, now declared Sunni. The first time we went to visit since 2005 was last month and it was depressing. So few of the old neighbours are still there and it feels so much less vibrant than the inner Baghdad neighbourhoods.. But still something about that article makes me squirm.
No shit! You’re not telling me anything new here. This was government and US army policy. Who put up the walls cutting of Sunni districts from the rest of the city?
Two years after the first walls went up the sectarian division of Baghdad is fact. People sold their houses in areas they can’t live in anymore and tried to buy houses in areas safer for them. The important word here is tried. This shuffling of demographic cards totally distorted the prices of property. Many were forced to sell cheap, especially if they were living in Sunni areas. Those who don’t want to sell are left with nothing. If you want to rent home owners demand a year’s rent in advance. Who wants to be running after a tenant when they can pop a cap in your ass if you bug them too much. But I’m digressing..
So, yes it’s a mess. Maybe the article annoys me because it is true. This whole thing is too fragile.
The article mentions again and again that it’s Sunnis who ended up with the icky end of the stick. While Shia neighbourhoods prosper Sunni districts look like ghost towns the article says. True again.. Maybe I hate it for being this blunt.
Yes. If I count the districts which are really seeing a return to this odd thing we are calling normality – which isn’t but there is no other word to describe it – if I think about the districts were things feel OK they’re mostly Shia with the exception of al-Mansour which is slowly but surely getting it’s groove back as Baghdad’s choice location for window shopping and cool teenage posing.
But the rest is either Shia or Shia/Christian. Karada which stays open until 10pm is Shia, al-Kadhimya where you can still find fresh bread being baked at 9 in the evening is also Shia. The area around Al-Wathiq Square with it’s many new restaurants Christian/Shia.
This also annoys me. Is the writer being wilfully naïve? I am sure he knows better. The militias might have disappeared but one of the main reasons why these Shia neighbourhoods are safer than other districts is because Shia political parties were allowed to have their own organised security and militia forces. Like the Kurdish parties no one was allowed to question the right of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in having it’s own militarised arm, the Badr Organisation. And al-Dawa under al-Maliki started their own security brigade, in the guise of a counter terrorism brigade.
The Sunnis on the other hand were left to fend for themselves. And between the Mahdi Militias with their ominous slogan ‘Our regular programme will resume after this break’ and the other Shia security forces the ‘Awakening Groups’ were too little and too late. The harm was done.
Yes it is fear that’s keeping Baghdad calm but it’s a fear we used to know. The fear from overbearing security forces and intelligence officers. But having seen hell in the form of a men killing bus-loads of people for US$100 a head – literally, per HEAD – we might have acquiesced to heavy handed security measures we’ve learned to live with in previous times.
And while these measures might seem acceptable to the Shia population the forces who are enforcing these measures aren’t as easy on the Sunnis.
Al-Maliki’s approval rating of al-Maliki amongst the Sunni population is up to 31% from just 8% last year but four out of ten Iraqis think that al-Maliki is concentrating too much power in his office[pdf]. And that’s across sectarian lines.
If you ask me that’s the fear that’s keeping Baghdad’s peace.