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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)

Since then, the full-time student has slept just four hours. The nights have been cold, but he makes do with a coat. People in the neighborhood cook meals for the guards. Some of the men go back home for rest. Others sleep at a nearby mosque. If any major attack takes place, the mosque will announce it.

"It's our neighborhood," Abdul Hade said. "If they want to attack us, we're going to go out and defend our neighborhood."

Abdul Hade said that he and the other men his age did not know how to defend the neighborhood, so residents with war experience became their advisers, telling them where to stand and what to do. Four or five young men stand on every street corner or roof. Older men guard their houses. They have blocked off entrances to the community with stones, branches and other materials.

In the meantime, Abdul Hade's three sisters and mother remain home, praying regularly and keeping themselves busy by surfing the Internet, talking to friends on the phone and watching TV. A mortar blast already destroyed one of their windows, so now they have blankets on the windows to prevent glass from flying around.

On Friday, gunmen in more than 40 cars drove into Ghazaliya to shoot at houses, he said. The neighborhood army shot back, until U.S. forces intervened. It happened again Saturday morning.

"If they came into our neighborhoods, what would they do with our families?" Abdul Hade said. He said he is not afraid to die to protect his family and home: "We do believe in destiny. We do believe in God."

Recipe for Civil War

On the Iraq Rabita Web site, created for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, is a big black square with red Arabic lettering.

It reads: "Defend Yourself."

Click on it and a message appears.

"The curfew will not affect the sectarian killing militias. The Americans will not rush to help you," it says. "The entire world around you is not concerned about what happens to you. The evil people want to pluck you off one by one. So rush to your weapons and defend yourselves and use this page to inform us of what's going on in your areas and launch rescue calls."

On Saturday, the Web site displayed a recipe for civil war. It recommended protecting Sunni neighborhoods by "spreading snipers on the roof of buildings," planting roadside bombs at neighborhood entrances and distributing grenades. It advised "antitank missile holders" to make trenches and to attack the first and last vehicles of any convoy.

At the end were instructions for preparing ambushes by "attracting the enemy by using small cars as bait so they would chase them and be dragged to the killing zones."

'To Whom It May Concern'

In the Wihda district on Baghdad's southern outskirts, Haqi Ismaeil's brother called him at work Thursday to tell him not to come home. Their family, and 30 other Sunni families in the area, had received a letter that morning signed by something called "the punishment committee." It was addressed to Sunni extremists and loyalists of Saddam Hussein, but in fact it referred to all Sunnis.

"Warning, warning, to whom it may concern," it read. "The Wahhabis and Baathists and Saddamists, leave our country or we will punish you."

Their small Sunni enclave is surrounded by a large Shiite community. But the Sunni and Shiite families generally have gotten along. When they had problems, the Sunni families would invite local Mahdi Army representatives to dinner to smooth relations. It usually worked, Ismaeil said.

After the letters arrived, Shiite residents visited the Sunni families to offer them support. "They've become more like family to us," he said.

Heeding his brother's advice, Ismaeil, 24, spent Thursday night at a friend's car dealership outside Baghdad. He sneaked back to check on his family the next day, and does not intend to go back to work.

The family has one weapon, an AK-47, and it will remain next to Ismaeil's bed until the family can find another place to stay. But it won't be easy, he said. There are 11 of them living together.

The Mahdi Army has set up checkpoints across the town. "We are really terrified and living in horror," he said.

A Rupture of Trust

On Palestine Street, Fehad Galib heard the rumors. The Mahdi Army had rounded up 150 young Sunni men like him and taken them to Jamila Market, the area in Sadr City where two of Thursday's car bombs exploded. Then they executed them. There was another rumor -- that the Interior Ministry was handing out police uniforms to the Mahdi Army.

That is why Galib was reluctant to allow his kid brothers to stay with Shiite neighbors his family has known for decades. "We don't have complete trust in them," said Galib, 21, a college student who carries an AK-47. His 17-year-old brother carries a Smith and Wesson handgun.

The family, he said, plans to move. "When they lift the curfew, we're going to move straight to Tikrit," Galib said, referring to ousted president Hussein's home town. "Maybe the next day the Mahdi Army may storm our house."

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Naseer Mehdawi, Salih Dehema and Waleed Saffar contributed to this report.

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