Govt row irrelevant in Baghdad hotspot

EVEN if Iraqi leaders finally break the deadlock over a new government, they will have their work cut out stabilising Baghdad trouble spots like Adhamiya, where sectarian tensions fuelled fierce gunbattles this week.


The US mili

tary said 50 insurgents attacked Iraqi forces overnight Monday in seven hours of clashes so fierce that American troop reinforcements were called in to help.


Residents said Sunni insurgents defended the northern district from what they called invading Iraqi government forces and allied Shi’ite militiamen who came to kidnap and kill.


Whatever the case, sectarian mistrust between Iraqis runs so deep in areas such as Adhamiya that forming a new government offers no guarantees security will improve.


“We are defending our lives and our neighbours and our families from any attack. We are holding our guns up high,” said insurgent Abu Yarer (28).


Iraq’s Shi’ite, Kurdish and Arab Sunni leaders are struggling to form a government four months after parliamentary elections that were expected to deliver stability.


The United States and Britain have repeatedly warned Iraqi politicians that the deadlock is fuelling violence.


But any new government will still face the challenge of breaking a relentless cycle of sectarian clashes that has threatened to drive Iraq into full-scale civil war.


Iraqi officials and their American backers hope the political process will persuade rebels like Abu Nawras to hand over their weapons and embrace democracy.


But the former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army is digging in again for what he calls sectarian attacks by Shi’ite-dominated security forces on mainly Sunni Adhamiya.


“We are living in a time when the government uses excessive force motivated by sectarianism,” said Abu Nawras, in a white shirt and grey trousers.


He and other rebels say they will never trust Iraq’s Shi’ite Alliance, which has 130 of the parliament’s 275 seats and is certain to remain dominant in the new government.


Life has returned to normal in the northern district since Monday’s fighting. Shops and cafes have reopened and worshipers are returning to Abu Hanifa mosque, where Saddam was last seen in public before he went into hiding.


But Sunnis in Adhamiya and elsewhere accuse the Shi’ite-led government of sanctioning militia death squads.


The government denies the charges, which have multiplied since the February bombing of a major Shi’ite shrine touched off reprisals and counter-killings. Hundreds of bodies with bullet holes and torture marks have turned up on Baghdad’s streets.


Abu Alya (57), a former merchant and Sunni insurgent in Adhamiya, believes a non-sectarian government could unite Iraqis. But he doesn’t seem optimistic.


“What is happening here is not just resistance for nothing but it is defending our lives, our possessions and beliefs,” he said. — Reuter