Too Late For Baghdad?
It is the middle of the night in Baghdad, and from my window I can see the city lying in darkness. The night is quiet.
But I think about all the homes where a bed is lying empty, that terrible empty space where someone used to lie before they disappeared — another person kidnapped, another person who disappeared on the way to somewhere and hasn't been seen nor heard from since. Another family waiting in pain.
This is how it works. Iraqis say: "If they haven't found the body, then they are probably still alive. Then you can still hope." That's the only way most people have any idea about the fate of their disappeared loved ones and friends.
Sometimes they know immediately. When the lock is broken in the middle of the night and they walk into your home, through the rooms where your children sleep, and drag your sons from their beds and tear your husband out of your arms — then, even before the bodies are found, you know the men you love most likely are never coming back. Many say the men wear uniforms — police uniforms. The police say these uniforms are stolen or bought and have nothing to do with them.
It doesn't matter anymore.
The damage is done. The police are dominated by Shiites, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population. The Sunnis believe the police are an instrument of Shiite revenge for years of Sunni brutality under Saddam Hussein. Very often they are. But the killing is on both sides. No one is safe.
This is a time of sadness in the Iraqi capital.
It seems the streets here now run with blood, even after the burning wreckage of a car bomb has stopped smoldering, even after the blackened debris has been swept from the streets and pieces of charred flesh washed down the gutters. Long after the bodies have been carried to the morgue where no one will ever come to claim them.
That's the way it is for Sunnis in Baghdad now. Most don't dare go to the morgue to claim the body of a loved one because there are eyes waiting, tongues ready to talk, hands ready to kill again. Shiite militias watch the morgues to see who comes for certain Sunni bodies, then they follow those relatives and murder them, too. It has happened over and over — so often now that many Sunni bodies remain unclaimed, lying on the cold, over-crowded concrete until they get shipped off en masse to a Shiite cemetery in the southern city of Karbala. This is a final insult to Sunnis — that their loved ones' eternal resting place be in ground sacred to Shiites, far from home, beyond the reach of their family.
There is talk that the hospitals are the same. Some Sunni patients have been yanked from their beds, dragged screaming through the corridors and executed in front of doctors, nurses, patients, families. It's even been written about in a few newspapers. But only a few people know for sure — and they are not saying if it's true or not, or how often it's happened. It's virtually impossible for journalists to find out. As one U.S. military officer put it, "Iraq's entire health care system has been hijacked by the Mehdi Army militia, (belonging to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr), the Health Minister won't even talk to us."
So this is the point that has been reached in Baghdad. Elements of the Iraqi government prefer not to deal with U.S. officials. The capital is fracturing and dividing along ethnic lines as Sunni and Shiite flee mixed neighborhoods in terror and every day the streets run with fresh blood.
The Iraqi Security forces — armed, trained and equipped by the U.S. — are showing signs of the party and militia loyalties that have existed from the start but were less evident when the sectarian violence was not as widespread. Now even Sunnis in Baghdad, who always supported the Iraqi resistance against the "American occupation," are asking those very same occupying forces not to leave.
Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.
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