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Shiites Told: Leave Home Or Be Killed

Shiite families take shelter in a youth center after they were forced from their homes in Sunni-dominated towns.
Shiite families take shelter in a youth center after they were forced from their homes in Sunni-dominated towns. (By Bassam Sebti -- The Washington Post)

Like Rashid, Sahan set out from his home when men he didn't recognize knocked on his door with a message: Get out in two days or you will all be killed.

The only possession that Sahan brought with him was draped over his forearm: his gray suit jacket.

When Sahan's family made it to Baghdad on Tuesday, they received word from other neighbors who had made the trip by car that at least one other Shiite family who ignored the warning had been killed, Sahan said.

Fearing the same fate, nine Shiite families in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, were packing up Tuesday afternoon.

"Armed men left a threatening letter at my doorstep," said Hussein Mohammed Ali, loading his pickup truck.

Fallujah city officials had promised that police officers would patrol near the targeted families' houses. But the families "insisted on leaving, fearing their children would be killed when they went to school," said Khalaf Daham, deputy director of Fallujah's city council.

Sunni sheiks in Fallujah also had promised to safeguard their Shiite neighbors, said Ibrahim Awwad, the chief sheik of the Sunni Albu Issa tribe. "But they had doubts about our ability to protect them, and decided to leave," Awwad said.

Other Washington Post staff members contributed to this report.


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