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Sunni-Shi'ite tension terrifies Baghdad residents

Written by: Staff

Baghdad, Mar 1: Fear of sectarian violence still grips many Baghdad residents after a wave of blood-letting set off by last Wednesday's bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine.

"I'm afraid here even though I'm a Sunni living in a Sunni area," said Salim Samarrai, 35, a house painter in western Baghdad's Amriya district.

"I spent last night in my (Shi'ite) neighbours' house because those men in black may rush into my house and kill me as they killed others." Medhi Army militiamen loyal to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr often dress in black, though other armed men are now adopting dark garb, adding to confusion on the streets.

"He is my only son and I don't want him to die," said Samarrai's 58-year-old mother.

"I asked our Shi'ite neighbors to let him stay the night at their house so that if we are attacked, he would be safe. But our neighbours are afraid of being raided by Sunnis." Iraqi army troops hold the main crossroads in Amriya, but residents have blocked off smaller streets with makeshift barricades of tree trunks, tyres and stones.

The panicky atmosphere is understandable.

The Government said yesterday 379 people had been killed and 458 wounded in violence since the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Iraq's four holiest Shi'ite shrines.

On Monday the authorities lifted a three-day daylight curfew imposed in Baghdad to try to halt the bloodshed, but a day later many shops remained shuttered during regular business hours and the few pedestrians on the streets tried to pass unnoticed.

The city's Alawi bus terminal was almost empty.

An employee there, Ali Abdel Zahra, said some families feared to travel between Baghdad and the Shi'ite city of Kerbala to the south, a journey that takes buses through Sunni areas.

Among the few passengers was Shukriya Mohammed, a Kerbala woman in her 50s, who said she often came to Baghdad to buy goods to resell in her local market. She usually stays overnight, but now was anxious to get home.

"I am afraid that if I spend the night here, I may be killed," she said.

Some Baghdad residents are thinking of leaving altogether.

"I am going with my family to my relatives in Kerbala for few days until things return to normal," said Abdel Qadir Shakir, a bank guard. "If they don't, I will leave Baghdad and settle in Kerbala because the situation is completely unsafe."


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