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Baghdad Militants Defy Security Plan

Recent bolstering of security forces in the capital has done little to quell sectarian violence in some suburbs.
By an IWPR
Several neighbourhoods in southwestern Baghdad remain centres of sectarian and militia violence, despite the capital's new security plan.

Mortar and sniper attacks, car bombs and expulsions of residents are still common in the mixed Sunni-Shia areas, along the road to Baghdad's airport.

Extremist Sunni groups and the Shia Mahdi Army militias battle on the streets, which are often deserted as residents live in a constant state of fear.

Over the past few months, dozens of bodies have been found - many of the victims showing signs of being executed - in the area. Brigadier-General Qasim Atta, the Iraqi government's spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, called the neighbourhoods of southwestern Baghdad "incubators of terrorism".

Residents say that violence is rising and they do not understand why the government and US forces have not secured the area yet.

The Baghdad security plan began in February and includes the provision of an extra 28,500 US troops and 30,000 Iraqi troops, most of whom are stationed in the capital. But according people in southwestern Baghdad, those forces do not have a strong enough presence in their neighbourhoods.

"I don't know what the government is waiting for," said Naser Jalil, a storeowner in al-Shurta al-Rabia, a largely Shia neighbourhood in the Bayya' district. "The terrorists attack the [local] market every day, and the snipers randomly attack everyone who walks by. They have killed many people. The situation in the markets is horrible."

Elite Iraqi troops guarded the street outside of Jalil's store, but the security forces have minimal presence and little control over the area. Many of the sniper and car bomb attacks have occurred at the market, and there have been several kidnappings. Store owners in the area say they are making half of what they did last year.

"I don't know what the government is talking about when it says it has a new plan to impose law and order," said Mahmood Hassan, who owns a clothing store in the market. "Is our neighbourhood excluded from that plan? I don't know.

"As store owners, we don't have [business] goals anymore. Our main concern is getting home safely."

Residents of al-Resala, a mixed neighbourhood, had refused to be intimidated by sectarian threats until earlier this year. Falah Hanoon, who owns a mobile phone shop in the district, said several local Sunni families left en masse one day in early April.

"Our neighbourhood witnessed a mass exodus," he said. "Threatening letters were tacked onto houses telling families to leave within 48 hours or they would be killed."

The New York Times, citing an internal US military report completed in late May, reported that American and Iraqi forces were able to "protect the population" and "maintain physical influence over" 146 of 457 Baghdad neighbourhoods. Commanders told the newspaper that the problems were particularly severe in southwestern Baghdad, despite the presence there of a US battalion since March.

Residents of some of the volatile neighbourhoods complain that the security forces don’t patrol regularly, and victims of sectarian violence are often just left in the street as a result.

"Five bodies lay on the ground near the Khadeeja mosque in our neighbourhood," said Sabah al-Kinani, a resident of al-Muwasalat. "No one dared to collect them, as the security forces were absent. The terrorists are patrolling the area and killing, and there's no one to stop them."

Emad Yousef, another resident of al-Muwasalat, said he and other local are tired of the lawlessness and being confined in their houses, unable to get to work or shop. They have started shooting back at militias when residents are threatened.

"We've repeatedly asked the government [for help] on satellite channels and through other media outlets, but we get no response," he said. "The officials always say that the areas will be included as part of the security plan soon."

United Iraqi Alliance deputy Sheikh Jalal al-Deen al-Sagheer said militants had fled to southwestern Baghdad as security forces clamped down in other areas.

These include Haifa Street across the Tigris river, a once-wealthy and bustling area which had become notoriously violent but which the US military now says is relatively secure.

Brigadier-General Atta said that the government eventually planned to secure all of Baghdad.

"We don't have enough forces, which is why we're working step-by-step," he said. "Security forces can't establish security in just a few months."

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