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Baghdad shops along sectarian lines

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first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonDespite a dramatic drop in violence and the expulsion of many al-Qaida in Iraq extremists over the last six months, many customers and shop owners in the capital say they will not return to their old mixed neighborhoods, fearing a revival of the bloodshed. Before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Sunni and Shiite affiliations meant little to businessmen. That swiftly changed after violence soared in Baghdad following the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of the capital. Thousands were killed across Iraq in the ensuing cycle of sectarian killing. After the shrine bombing, Kaabi was forced to dart into the Sunni-dominated Sheik Omar neighborhood at dawn if his Mercedes desperately needed repairs. German and American cars were typically fixed only in that area. “I’m afraid of being killed because of my identity card,” said Kaabi. Militants – both Sunni and Shiite – often kill people based on the name written on their identity cards. In Iraq, name can indicate a person’s religious background. BAGHDAD – Shiite taxi driver Aly Kaabi used to fear for his life each time his Mercedes needed a spare part. The place to seek replacements was a Sunni-dominated Baghdad neighborhood ruled at the time by militants from al-Qaida in Iraq. Now, Kaabi gets his car fixed in a new industrial zone in an east Baghdad Shiite stronghold, itself a mirror image of another that has emerged in a Sunni-dominated western neighborhood. The sectarian strife that first separated Baghdad’s residents is now splitting its businesses – suggesting the divisions are becoming permanent. The simple interactions that make up normal life in cities around the world – buying gas, going to a grocery store, fixing your car – are now conducted along strictly sectarian lines. Kaabi’s cousin disappeared in the Sheik Omar area last May. The taxi driver believes he was kidnapped and killed by Sunni extremists. In June, Kaabi’s mechanic fled to the Shiite east Baghdad neighborhood of Kasra and reopened shop there. His fellow Shiite customers followed. It is not known how many tradesmen have been forced to abandon their workshops because of sectarian strife, but residents say Kasra has seen several new businesses open in recent months. Allawi Muhsin, a 40-year-old Shiite mechanic, did not even have time to pack his store’s goods, or load up the furniture in his house, when violence forced him and his family to flee another Sunni-dominated western Baghdad neighborhood in June 2006. He settled in Kasra, where he started his business from scratch – a small shed where cheap wooden planks serve as a roof. “After what happened, one can’t go back,” he said of his former Abu Ghraib neighborhood from his modest shop, his tool box outside next to a battered blue car missing its front panels. “The problems between people turned them into enemies. Here, I’m secure,” he said, standing next to a shelf lined with cans of oil, paint and lubricants. Sunnis are also fleeing. Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, a 30-year-old Sunni mechanic, fled his workshop in May after militants left a note wedged in the door of his house, demanding he leave the Shiite neighborhood of Baiyaa. Spooked by rumors that young boys were acting as informants for Shiite death squads, Wahhab fled Baiyaa, where at least 147 people have been killed over the past year. Wahhab rented an apartment in the western Baghdad’s Sunni-dominated neighborhood of Amariyah and opened shop in September.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more