Iraq: “sectarian cleansing”

Nope, no imminent civil war in Iraq, Bush says. If this was anywhere else in the world, we would recognize it as already a civil war…

Armed expulsions of Shiites. Washington Post, March 1:

BAGHDAD, Feb. 28 — Salim Rashid, 34, a Shiite laborer in an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab village 20 miles north of Baghdad, received his eviction notice Friday from a man at the door with a rocket launcher.

“It’s 6 p.m.,” Rashid recounted the masked man saying then, as retaliatory violence between Shiites and Sunnis exploded across wide swaths of central Iraq. “We want you out of here by 8 p.m. tomorrow. If we find you here, we will kill you.”

Walking, hitchhiking and hiring cars, the Rashid clan and many of the 25 other families evicted from the town of Mishada had made their way by Tuesday to a youth center in Baghdad’s heavily Shiite neighborhood of Shoula. There, other people forced from their homes were already sharing space on donated mattresses.

With sectarian violence rampant since last week’s bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, the families have become symbols of an emerging trend in Iraq: the expulsion of Shiites from Sunni towns.

Mixed communities targeted for attack. MSNBC, March 1:

[M]ortar shells fell on three houses in the mixed Sunni-Shiite town of Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing three civilians, said police Capt. Rashid al-Samaraie. Another house was hit in Qadisiyah, another religiously mixed neighborhood in western Baghdad, killing a woman, police said.

More than 450 dead since the Samarra dome was destroyed. Just on March 1, from Reuters:

A car bomb killed 25 people in mainly Shi’ite east Baghdad, one of three such attacks just before the court sat. After dark, mortar rounds shook the city center and residents reported a gunbattle around a Sunni mosque in the south of the capital.

The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars is calling for a halt to the attacks, but the Shiite victims of “sectarian cleansing” are not comforted. Meanwhile, the Sadr movement is providing housing for the refugees—winning their loyalty for another extremist armed faction. AP:

The sectarian cleansing that drove 68-year-old Abbas al-Saiedi from his home may be as alarming a sign of a country on the brink of civil war as the killings that have swept Iraq in the past week.

Masked gunmen carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles kicked down the gate at his house, fired into the air and told the Shiite he had 48 hours to get his family out of the predominantly Sunni neighborhood in west Baghdad…

“They told me that we have from now till tomorrow to leave, and if they returned tomorrow and found us still here they would slaughter everyone,” al-Saiedi said, the sun glistening off his white beard as he stood in front of a house the family was moving into Wednesday.

That home in the predominantly Shiite north Baghdad neighborhood of Shula was provided by the Sadrist Movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and may once have belonged to Sunnis, although it was impossible to find out.

This is only not a civil war inasmuch as the state has not yet formally fractured. But how much control did that state ever really have in the first place? Smell the coffee: this is a civil war. It could get a lot worse if the state does fracture. But this is a civil war.

See our last post on Iraq.