Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sadiyah exemplifies Iraqi sectarian violence

DEVASTATED US Army Brigadier General John Campbell recently toured the troubled section of Baghdad that gives a sense of the quandary facing the US and its president


At an intersection in the Sadiyah section of the Iraqi capital, near the tip of the thumb formed by a sharp bend in the Tigris River, stands a stark example of what underlies Iraq's sectarian war and why any peaceful outcome will not be determined by US combat power.

On a recent afternoon, a convoy of Humvees brought US Army Brigadier General John Campbell for a look. The deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division did not like what he saw.

To the east of a north-south boulevard the Americans have dubbed Route Spruce, Campbell surveyed the eerie emptiness of an enclave that until recently was populated mainly by Sunnis. It now resembles a ghost town.

"It looks devastated," he told a reporter who accompanied him.

On display were rows of abandoned shops, empty homes, piles of debris. All were evidence of the retreat of hope for a reconciling anytime soon between two rival religious sects -- Shiites and Sunnis -- in a desperate battle for power.

Here, you can sense the quandary facing the administration of US President George W. Bush, bedeviled by an unpopular war with no end in sight after more than four years and at least 3,631 US military deaths.

The Sunnis in Sadiyah have been driven away -- Campbell called it a "purge" -- by encroaching extremists of the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that Campbell says is using gangland-style tactics to gain ground. Sunni extremists affiliated with the al-Qaeda terrorist group are beginning to slip into the same neighborhood.

The problems in Sadiyah show how complex this war is. They also show why many US military officers in Iraq believe they must sustain the troop buildup -- despite strong opposition by many in Congress -- well beyond September. That is when an important review of the buildup's results is due.

And they expose the deep divisions in the Iraqi government, including a persistent fear among the majority Shiites that the Sunnis are determined to regain the dominant position they held under the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The Sunni commander of Iraqi Army forces in the area, Brigadier General Feras Abdul Qader, told Campbell during his visit on Thursday that Shiites in Sadiyah are complicit in helping the Mahdi Army extremists to drive out the Sunnis, whose homes are then sold by the Mahdi Army to Shiite families.

Feras said the Shiite locals are either collaborating with the extremists or are cowering in fear.

"Either way, they are helping the insurgents -- either directly or indirectly," Feras said.

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