Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Beacon of Democracy

According to Peter Oborne's Dispatches, shown recently on Channel 4, the coalition in Iraq has ceded control of various parts of the country to militia groups. There are any number of independent militia groups operating in Iraq and it appears that the coalition has realised that it is unable to do a great deal about them. Significantly, large parts of Baghdad are apparently now under the control of the Mehdi army, Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. Al-Sadr is an Islamic hardliner and his militia are the de facto rulers of Sadr city, an area of Baghdad with a population of around 2 million people. In the documentary, Oborne interviewed a US soldier who confirmed that an understanding had been reached with al-Sadr and that he'd been granted immunity from arrest by the coalition.

The soldier then realised that revealing this fact to a journalist might not be altogether wise. I can see why. Admitting that you've been forced to accept an arangment with an Islamic hardliner, and that this hardliner will, in effect, dictate how 1 in 10 Iraqis vote in the December elections, probably doesn't do much for the coalition's pretend democracy campaign. On the streets of Sadr city, democracy is little more than a pantomine, a show put on to satisfy an audience (the US and UK public). Many of it's residents live in fear of the Medhi army's strict Islamic dictats. Similar conditions exist in Basra, and in various other parts of the country. This is the real Iraq.

I've been reading up on some of these issues and I'll probably post something with more sources in due course. In the meantime, I thought a report from yesterday's Times was also worth highlighting. The Times reports that areas of Iraq are increasingly becoming divided along sectarian lines. Violence, and threats of violence, are causing this segregation.
As the toll of threats, attacks and killings grows, more and more families are leaving their mixed neighbourhoods for homogeneous areas where they will be safe among their own. In doing so, the migrants are beginning to redraw the sectarian map of Iraq, corralling themselves into polarised ghettos, exclusively Sunni or Shia.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand how dangerous this process can be. How long will it be before the disputes over parade routes start? I suspect that's still a long way off; it's still far too violent for anyone to be worrying about such things at this stage.

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