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No Relief From Fear
From January to July, nearly 100,000 Iraqis fled their homes each month, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization. In its midyear review, the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency, also reported a spike in displacement, saying that 63 percent of cases it assessed involved a reported direct threat to life.
"The stability that was anticipated as a result of various security plans has not materialized, and as the violence continues in Iraq, so will the displacement," the agency said.
In the past few months, real estate agent Alla Thabit has funneled dozens of displaced families into homes in Baghdad's upscale Karrada neighborhood. Nearly all were from tense mixed areas. At the start of the security offensive in February, five families walked into his office each day, on average. Now, that number has tripled.
"The security plan has failed in the neighborhoods. This is why they are moving," Thabit said. "I have not seen anyone moving back to their homes."
The influx has driven up rents in Karrada, considered one of Baghdad's safest and most tolerant enclaves but increasingly the scene of car bombings and mortar fire. Still, displaced Iraqis still flow into Thabit's sparsely furnished office. Today, the majority of his clients are from Saidiya.
Some fled after being threatened, others purely out of fear. One family, he said, had a body dumped in front of their house. Another packed up after their neighbor was murdered. One mother watched as Shiite militiamen killed her husband and son. Afterward, the gunmen ordered her and her daughter-in-law to leave Saidiya.
"They came here on the same day. They were crying," recalled Thabit, who found them an apartment. "If they had stayed, they would have been killed."
Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, the top Iraqi commander of the security offensive, conceded in an interview that "displacements were taking place" in Baghdad. What is unfolding in Saidiya, he said, was due to crackdowns in neighboring areas that were pushing Sunni and Shiite extremists into the enclave. He added that Iraqi and U.S. forces had the situation "under control."
The tensions in Saidiya are adding to the obstacles to political reconciliation. Sunni leaders, already disenchanted with the Shiite-led government, blame Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces for allowing Shiite militias to infiltrate the area.
"What we are seeing on the ground is that police and the army are protecting the militias and facilitating their access to Sunni areas," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, a senior Sunni politician. "What is taking place in Saidiya is the greatest example where attacks are taking place against the Sunni residents to drive them to emigrate and leave their houses for the militias to loot."
Residents said Sunni militants and elements of the Mahdi Army, the militia allied with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, were battling for control of their neighborhood -- part of a broader struggle for influence also unfolding in other areas of the capital.
Residents describe a brutal topography where houses are being burned and where extremists from both sides have taken over homes, partitioning the area into Sunni and Shiite zones. Snipers and street-to-street gunfights are now common. Shops have closed. Families hide inside their houses, many pocked with bullet holes. Some refuse even to answer the doorbell.
"You never know who is shooting at you," Azzawi said.
The enclave illustrates the limits of the security plan. Even with the reinforcements and scores of joint security stations across Baghdad, it is impossible for U.S. troops to be everywhere. In Saidiya, there is one small U.S. combat outpost, but extremists dominate the neighborhood.
"Every once in a while a patrol passes for a few minutes. What benefits will this bring? " said Abu Yousef, 60, a Transportation Ministry employee. "They cannot maintain security. This is the fact in Saidiya. There are a lot of areas like this in Baghdad."
Abu Yousef, who out of fear asked that his full name not be used, cannot afford to move his family out of Saidiya, he said. Every time he and his relatives hear gunfire, they lock themselves inside their house, waiting for silence. Dozens of neighbors have left, he said.
"The moment they put their stuff in the car and leave, this is the worst thing," Abu Yousef said. "I've become a stranger in my own neighborhood."
Staff writer Megan Greenwell and special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.