- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Dark smoke and gunfire rose from several Baghdad neighborhoods yesterday as Sunnis and Shi’ites carried out brazen revenge killings, defying a heavily publicized U.S-Iraqi security campaign that was supposed to contain violence in the capital.

Armed militias partially blocked the roads with burning tires, pulled people from their cars and shot them or released them depending on whether they were Sunni or Shi’ite, residents said. In some areas teenagers set up their own checkpoints in alleys, killing members of rival religious groups with impunity.

“This is civil war on a wide-screen, high-resolution TV,” said one Iraqi doctor who crosses several districts every day to get to work. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution.

Residents said they could hear explosions and gunfire from the southwestern area of Jihad, a mainly Sunni neighborhood, one day after black-clad attackers, presumed to be part of a Shi’ite militia called the Mahdi Army, set up roadblocks in Jihad and slaughtered dozens of Sunnis in retaliation for the bombing of two Shi’ite mosques.

“There isn’t any kind of interference from the national guards,” said Ahmed Alhiawee, whose lives with his family in Jihad but found himself stuck outside the neighborhood. “They just patrol the streets, and when the fighting started they said, ‘That is between you.’”

He said the Mahdi Army began killing Sunnis again at noon yesterday but fled when U.S. and Iraqi forces arrived after about two hours. Mr. Alhiawee said he was calling his family every half hour, and that they had locked the front door but left the back door open so that if they got attacked they could escape.

One militant loyal to radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr told the Reuters news agency yesterday that he and others were raiding another Sunni neighborhood, Ghazaliya, to “clean the terrorists out.”

In the Shi’te slum area of Sadr City, two car bombs left at least eight dead and about 40 wounded, witnesses and police told the Associated Press. Shortly afterward, gunmen attacked a bus in the mainly Sunni area of Amariyah, killing the driver and six passengers, including a woman, police Capt. Jamil Hussein said.

At least 33 persons died in other bombings and shootings across the country, the AP said.

“Everything is collapsing over here,” said one iraqi interpreter, asking that his name not be used out of fear of reprisals.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Mailiki and the U.S. military put a reported 51,000 security forces in Baghdad 30 days ago to try to stop rising sectarian violence in the capital, but residents say that Iraqi forces rarely intervene and that U.S. troops are not being called in quickly enough to halt the killings.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the Multinational Force, said yesterday that the security program was a work in progress. “We are constantly evaluating where we’re operating,” he told reporters. “It’s going to take time. The prime minister never said this is a one-week, two-week or even a one- or two-month program.”

Gen. Cadwell said the military had assessed some 14 dead after a weekend spike in violence that included the rampage in Jihad. But local reports put the number much higher, more than 40 in Jihad alone.

A Baghdad morgue official said they had received 80 bodies, many of them severely mutilated. Often corpses are picked up by their families and buried without being taken to the morgue.

Sheik al-Sadr’s followers denied a role in Sunday’s daylight rampage.

“There are some groups that wear the same black clothes,” said spokesman Abdulhdi al Daraji. “Black clothes are used now by lot of groups, so I believe this is the Ba’ath and Saddam groups — but there is an American agenda to try to blame this on the Mahdi militia and to raise sectarian tension.”

The latest violence was sparked by the bombing of two Shi’ite mosques, similar to the February incident in which the bombing of the sacred Shi’ite Golden Mosque led to a prolonged killing spree. At least 100,000 people have been forced out of their homes by sectarian attacks since that time, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

A staff writer in Baghdad contributed to this article. His name is withheld to protect him and his family.

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