'Neighbors Are Killing Neighbors'

Residents of a central Baghdad neighborhood examine the damage from a rocket attack. Such attacks have generated fear throughout the capital.
Residents of a central Baghdad neighborhood examine the damage from a rocket attack. Such attacks have generated fear throughout the capital. (Photos By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)
By Joshua Partlow and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

BAGHDAD -- When her home became unlivable, when her neighbors were gunned down in the streets, a mother of seven said goodbye to her teenage sons and set out on foot into the lethal Baghdad night.

Ignoring the citywide curfew, the woman known as Um Mustafa grabbed her two youngest children and walked five miles down the back roads of moonlit urban slums to the refugee camp that has become their new home.

In a patch of crusted dirt and scratchy grass, they are now among 30 families living under the camp's green tents, surviving on rations of rice and tomatoes, and watching as violence engulfs much of their city.

"I left my boys in al-Jihad because they refused to leave their house. They said, 'We will never leave our home. We will fight for it,' " recalled Um Mustafa, too afraid to give her full name, as she stood outside her tent. "I ran away when the shooting started. We left with the clothes that were on our bodies."

"Neighbors are killing neighbors," she said. "We cannot trust anyone."

After more than a week of some of the most vicious sectarian violence of the war, Baghdad is a skeleton of a city: Many of its shops are shuttered, its streets drained of people.

The violence erupted July 9 when Shiite Muslim militiamen rampaged through the al-Jihad neighborhood and killed dozens of Sunni Arabs. By Friday, the sixth day, the death toll in Baghdad stood at 628 people, according to Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Nima of the Interior Ministry, citing a figure that far exceeded the numbers previously suggested by news reports.

Across large swaths of territory south and west of the Tigris River -- Baghdad neighborhoods such as al-Jihad, Amiriyah, Ghazaliyah and Dora -- residents who have not fled spent days virtually imprisoned by the military checkpoints and street fighting between residents and marauding militiamen.

To the north, in the Shiite shantytown of Sadr City, at least three bombings have crumbled buildings and burned out shops and cars.

In the relatively safer neighborhoods of central Baghdad -- Karrada and Karadat Maryam -- traffic moved down commercial streets and sidewalk vendors hawked bags of potato chips and piles of watermelons. But there were indications that violence has also affected these neighborhoods.

In his Karrada clothing store, Sarmed Fadhil was hanging rows of suits, but they were pieces cut from last winter's wool.

The summer shipment of 500 European suits and 2,000 dress shirts waited on hold indefinitely outside Iraq, already paid for but with no chance of being sold.

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