Successive waves of ethnic cleansing that have washed over Baghdad in recent weeks are spreading to neighborhoods that had until now been spared.
“Today two of the Shiite families on our street received threats,” said a woman living in Baghdad’s Sadia district, a majority-Sunni area where until now the presence of the Jaish al-Mahdi, a Shiite militia, had apparently pre-empted cleansing.
As the Bush Administration seeks to send as many as 20,000 more US troops to Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced Saturday that three more Iraqi army units will also be deployed in the capital. The units will come from the Shiite south and the Kurdish north, where the military is little more than militia units loyal to various political leaderships.
Salam al-Midi is a Kurd and a former US military translator living in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the two major Kurdish political parties use pesh merga units to maintain a police state. In Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, three hours north of Baghdad, Midi helped the military train these units, which essentially make up the police force in the largely Arab city. Midi said the presence of pesh merga in Mosul only exacerbates decades-old tensions between Kurds and Arabs over political dominance in the city.
“They don’t know the language, the Arabic language, it’s hard. It’s one of the major difficulties they will face,” Midi said. “Second, they are Kurds. Comparing Kurds and Arabs is like comparing apples and oranges. They cannot work together. For sure, terrorist organizations are going to react, and their reactions are going to be bad. And at the same time the Kurdish side will want to take revenge on the Arabs, the Iraqi people.”
Sunni parliamentarians have complained that the plan does not focus heavily enough on battling Shiite militias like the Mehdi Army, which is blamed for engaging in ethnic cleansing and assassinations. Many Shiites, on the other hand, view the militia as necessary to provide any modicum of safety against Sunni guerillas and lawlessness. In hopes of weakening the hold the Jeish al-Mehdi has on some neighborhoods, Maliki has announced a conscription drive for the Iraqi army which will focus most heavily on Sadr City, the poor neighborhood of more than 2 million which the militia essentially controls and provides the only available social services, some men said they would remain with the militia rather than join the military. Families are being asked to provide one man between the ages of 15 and 48 to fight with the militia.
Ghaith al-Tamimi, a member of Sadr’s press department in Baghdad, says he is concerned about the initiative–though some militia units have engaged in ethnic cleansing, other have served a more defensive purpose.
“Involving more people and conscription will not solve the situation. I think it will make things worse and probably make the situation better for civil war. I ask people not to get young people, Shiites and Sunnis, involved.”