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Baghdad Braces For More Reprisals

Residents of Baghdad visit a food market in the Sadr City slum, where attacks against Shiites killed more than 200 people on Thursday.
Residents of Baghdad visit a food market in the Sadr City slum, where attacks against Shiites killed more than 200 people on Thursday. (By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)

As Sammaraie watched from his front gate, two militiamen stopped a Sunni man who worked in an electrical shop. A local informant looked at him and nodded. Then one of the gunmen shot him dead and left. Two weeks ago, the electrician had complained loudly when Shiite gunmen attacked a nearby Sunni mosque.

Zuheari, Sammaraie's Shiite neighbor, also witnessed the killing. At that moment, he felt hatred for his own sect. "We don't accept this behavior from our own people," he said.

Sammaraie also shook, not out of anger but fear. New Baghdad was once a mixed neighborhood, but its Sunni population has left in droves since February, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra set off waves of sectarian violence. Now Sammaraie and his family are the only Sunnis on his block.

A half-hour after the electrician was killed, police arrived to investigate. The militiamen who committed the crime came along.

"It was the same murderers -- I saw it with my own eyes," Sammaraie said.

Since Thursday, he said, he has stayed inside his home. He carries his AK-47 and 60 bullets everywhere, even to bed. "I hug my AK-47 more than my wife," Sammaraie said.

His two small daughters don't understand. His 14-year-old asked him why he carried a gun all the time. He replied: "Do you want your dad to get killed?"

At night, he heads to the roof of his house, a cup of coffee in one hand, his AK-47 in the other. From there, he scans the streets for militiamen.

But if his house gets attacked, he will turn to Zuheari for help. Zuheari said he can't forget when Sammaraie's relatives offered shelter to his family during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Now it's his turn to return the favor. The men placed a ladder against a wall in Sammaraie's back yard. If Shiite militiamen appear, Sammaraie and 16 relatives will use it to climb over the wall and into Zuheari's home.

"If the Mahdi Army finds out we are supporting a Sunni, maybe they will turn against us," Zuheari said. "They will think we are collaborators. This is a big problem. We don't know what will happen. I have one AK-47. We cannot do anything."

Still, Zuheari warned Sammaraie on Friday when he received a text message from a Shiite friend in Sadr City saying that the "young people of the Mahdi Army have taken revenge on the Sunnis." Without revealing the message, "I told him he should move his family inside my house," Zuheari said.

Defending the Neighborhood

Luaa Abdul Hade, 21, knew it was his job to protect his sisters and mother. So he grabbed the family's only gun -- an AK-47 -- and joined the approximately 300 young men who have formed a quasi-army to guard the neighborhood of Ghazaliya since violence erupted there on Thursday after the Sadr City bombings.

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