Wednesday, May 24, 2006

BAGHDAD — Imams loyal to terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi have issued threats in mosques in a western Baghdad neighborhood against anyone who does not follow Islamic law, terrified residents are saying.

“They announced their loyalty to Zarqawi and put their rules on the street,” said Sabah, 31, adding that supporters of the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq had killed six men for wearing knee-length shorts in another Baghdad neighborhood on Tuesday.

“Everyone is talking about it,” he said, adding that a friend of his had forbidden his brothers to go outside in shorts, despite the 106-degree weather.

“Women must stay at home, and girls cannot go to school past primary school. People selling Iranian products will either have to throw them out or get killed,” said Sabah, who asked that his last name not be used. He lives in the violent Sunni neighborhood of Amariya, where he said the threats were made.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sworn into power less than a week ago, said yesterday that Iraq’s security forces would be capable of “taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” He was speaking after meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Baghdad.

Mr. al-Maliki has taken a tough stance against militias and terrorists, vowing to implement sweeping counterterror laws to bring peace and stability to the country. For city residents, that promise seems much more tenuous than the direct threats being issued in their mosques.

Amariya, close to Baghdad International Airport, was a mixed Sunni-Shi’ite neighborhood during the rule of Saddam Hussein. But most of the Shi’ites have been driven out or killed, and the area has become a Sunni stronghold.

Zarqawi, a Sunni, has expressed hatred of both Shi’ites and Americans.

News of the imams’ words has spread fast in this city of 6 million people, where many are traumatized after three years of war and sectarian killings.

By yesterday, one of Sabah’s friends was making plans to repaint his “swamp cooler” — a fan that blows water-cooled air. The popular devices typically are painted green and white and widely known to be made in Iran.

Other rules laid down by the Zarqawi supporters forbid men from wearing orange or red clothes or using gel in their hair. Women no longer are allowed to work, and girls cannot study.

“They are destroying their lives,” said Amer Amoori, a 66-year-old former school headmaster who was fuming at the news. “They will destroy a whole generation.”

He said residents in these neighborhoods would have to stand up for themselves or risk losing everything.

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