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Iraqis recount recent days of sectarian violence

BAGHDAD, Iraq—After three days under round-the-clock curfew, Baghdad residents emerged Monday with stories of a civil war ripping apart the fabric of Iraqi society. In their words, this is what some of them witnessed.

"(The Mahdi Army) burned another Sunni house today. It's the second one in two days.

"They tried to force them to leave a month ago, but they didn't have anywhere to go. (The family) told them, `Please, we don't have any relatives in other provinces. If you have to kill us, kill us, but we have nowhere to go.' They brought the police, who are also from the militia, and the police said, `Please leave and don't complicate things,' but the family told them the same thing. So, today they forced everyone to get out of the house and they burned it.

"The whole neighborhood feels so sad for them, but none of us can express our anger because if we do, the militia will come for us and we could face the same fate. Probably animals have more respect for life. This morning, my father said even a lion who eats until he's full wouldn't go after a beautiful, fat deer that walks in front of him because he's already satisfied. But these guys are not satisfied."

_An Iraqi Shiite journalist in the Amil neighborhood who asked not to be further identified for security reasons.

"As soon as the curfew ended, I wanted to go right away to the supermarket, but some of my friends and neighbors told me not to go to work because they received text messages on their mobiles (phones) saying that the Mahdi Army distributed police and army uniforms and are going to put up fake checkpoints. I talked to the insurgents in our neighborhood, two of them wearing normal clothes, black jackets and jeans. They told me, `Don't go. If you do, it's your responsibility to protect yourself, but we advise you not to go.' So I just went back home and all I could bring was some bread and vegetables for my family."

_Samir Mahmoud, 33, a Sunni shopkeeper, in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood

"Today I went to work at 8 o'clock and reached there quickly because almost all the roads were still empty. But we left early, around 12. Our manager told us to leave early, partly because we didn't have anything to do and partly for our safety. On my way back home from work, I met some of my neighbors and the first thing they told me was that one of the young guys in our neighborhood was killed by two men on a motorcycle.

"I felt really afraid at first, but now I just accept it. This is not the first time one of my neighbors was assassinated."

_Mohamed Mohsin, 39, government worker, Hurriyah neighborhood

"For us, it still seemed a little bit like an ordinary day. We still have Sunnis and Shiites living together. I went to work, but I couldn't do much. I didn't buy more than we needed for the day, but I expect more violence in the coming days. Sectarian violence, to be precise."

_Shiite taxi driver, 35, who would give his name only as "Mr. Haider," from the Talbiyah neighborhood near Sadr City

"The curfew never ended in my neighborhood because today we couldn't make a move in our cars. The Americans were everywhere. We just stayed busy helping families who lost members in the mortar attacks or visiting families to pay condolences for the people they lost in the Sadr City bombings. This situation is very normal, and we don't care anymore about rumors of attacks because we live with these attacks daily: car bombs, mortars, clashes. We're used to this."

_Enad Hassan, 44, unemployed Shiite construction worker in the Shoala neighborhood

"I left Ghazaliyah for Doura unwillingly because of the rising sectarian violence. One of my sisters recommended the area because it's safe for Christians. She said, `The conflict is between Sunni and Shiite, we are out of it, so come and rent the house next to me.' I wish I hadn't.

"I have three kids, two boys and a girl, and we lock ourselves in the house at 4 p.m. I wait for my husband to come back from work at Shourja with what I need for the market, and we lock ourselves in the home until the next day.

"Every night we hear sounds of shooting, mortars, different kinds of shooting. One night I think I heard gunmen slaughtering someone. It was 1 a.m. I heard the gunmen through my window saying in a loud voice, `Allahu akbar,' and my husband said, `I'm sure they've killed someone.' The next morning we found two policemen slaughtered in our street.

"No one is immune. Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, no one. If gunmen want to turn this into a Sunni or Shiite area, where would we go? I have stopped sending the boys to school. My husband fears going out every morning; maybe they'll come and shoot him. We are expecting death every minute here."

_Rania Sarkis, 33, a Christian housewife in the Doura neighborhood


(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Zaineb Obeid compiled these vignettes.)


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.