Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 February 2006
Issue No. 780
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fanning the fires of fear

Iraqi families are acting on rumour and fear and are gathering in neighbourhoods where their own confessional denominations predominate, writes Nermeen El-Mufti

As backstage consultations over the new government continue, the mood in Iraq remains gloomy. With murders, bombings and kidnappings daily and ongoing, a new phenomenon has begun to take shape in Baghdad; Shia and Sunni families now move from their homes into areas where a majority of their own confessional resides.

Amer (not his real name) is a Shia doctor who lived in Al-Amiriya in west Baghdad for the past 30 years. He has just traded homes with a Sunni doctor who used to live in Al-Shaab in north Baghdad. I asked Amer if he had received any threats on his life prior to the move. He said he didn't, but he heard that Shias had become a target in his former neighbourhood. The Sunni doctor leaving Al-Shaab neighbourhood hasn't received any threats either, but has decided to follow the example of other Sunni families that left the area.

A man speaking on condition of anonymity has told Al-Ahram Weekly that he and a group of educated Sunnis and Shias are looking into the causes of this phenomenon. About 15 Sunni families have already left their homes in Al-Shoala in west Baghdad. Shia families in Al-Amiriya and other dominantly Sunni areas have been dwindling in number. Some families are said to have left because they received threats, others just as a precaution.

National elections were supposed to boost security in the country, but that's yet to be seen. In some towns, locals are trying their best to provide protection for their communities. Arab clans in Al-Ramadi, Babel, and other Iraqi towns have organised themselves with a view to reinforcing order in their neighbourhoods.

In Basra, mayor Wael Abdel-Hadi says that the municipal council has asked occupying British forces to leave town. Lawyer Mohamed Al-Aref, who lives in Basra, told the Weekly that "the decision seems daring and patriotic on the surface, but I am afraid that some may misinterpret it." Iran, Al-Aref recalled, had accused British forces of training rebels from Ahwaz in Basra camps. Recent bombings in Ahwaz are said to have targeted President Ahmadinejad.

Most Iraqis hope that the new government will bring about a mood of reconciliation in the country. Jenan Ali, an expert in Iraqi political affairs, told the Weekly that "A coalition government may seem the democratic thing to do, but because of the security situation in the country, Iraq needs something else. What we need is a reconciliation government, a government of partnership that would defend the territorial integrity of Iraq, restore order, and provide daily necessities."

Meanwhile, wrangling over cabinet seats continues. Speaking at a press conference, Bayan Jabr Solagh, minister of interior and member of the Alliance List, said that his list should have half the ministries plus one in the new Iraqi cabinet, including key portfolios such as the interior, defence, oil, and finance ministries. Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi List, has demanded the ministries of defence and interior, but said that the posts should be filled by competent and non-sectarian figures. Adnan Al-Duleimi, leader of the Reconciliation List, shares this view, saying that the ministries of interior and defence should be free of sectarian leanings.

Sources have told the Weekly that the interim command of the disbanded Baath Party has dismissed key leaders who disobeyed orders to come back to the country. In another development, Iraqi resistance sources said they were willing to begin negotiations with occupying US forces over the latter's withdrawal from Iraqi cities.

The shape of future alliances is still unclear. Saleh Al-Motallak, leader of the National Dialogue Front List, was said to be thinking of joining the Alliance List. The news caused uproar within the National Dialogue Front, whose members prefer an alliance with other Sunni parliamentarians.

In northern Iraq, the two main Kurdish parties have decided to unify the administration of Arbil and Al-Sulaymaniya, but the move remains incomplete, as critical ministries, including justice, defence, and the interior, have remained autonomous. Meanwhile, Turkomans still suspect that the Kurds continue to want the integration of Kirkuk into their region. A Turkoman Front source told the Weekly that an international delegation has visited Kirkuk and advised the Turkomans to negotiate with the Kurds over the matter. Turkomans want a nationwide referendum to determine the future of Kirkuk, and claim that thousands of Kurds have moved into Kirkuk since the beginning of the occupation.

Sectarian violence has once again flared up. Seven churches in Kirkuk and Baghdad were attacked Sunday, some say in connection with the publication of controversial drawings in Denmark. Father Bulus Abdel-Ahad said that Iraqi Christians have the best of ties with Muslims and mustn't be blamed for events that happen overseas.

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