Sunnis and Shiites are rapidly separating in areas that were once mixed towns and neighborhoods. From the International Herald Tribune:
Baghdad – Abu Noor’s town had become so hostile to Shiites that his wife had not left the house in a month, his family could no longer go to the medical clinic and mortar shells had been lobbed at the houses of two of his religious leaders.
“I couldn’t open the door and stand in my yard,” he said.
So when Abu Noor, a Shiite from Tarmiyah, a heavily Sunni Arab town north of here, ran into an old friend, a Sunni who faced his own problems in a Shiite district in Baghdad, the two decided to switch houses. They even shared a moving van.
Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets.
In doing so, they are creating increasingly polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the cities around it.
The evidence is so far mostly anecdotal – the government is not tracking the moves. In a rough count, about 20 cities and towns around Baghdad are segregating, according to accounts by local sheiks, Iraqi nongovernmental organizations and military officials, and the families themselves.
Those areas are among the most mixed and the most violent in Iraq – according to the American military, 85 percent of attacks in the country are in four provinces including Baghdad, and two others to its north and west. The volatile sectarian mix is a holdover from the rule of Saddam Hussein, who gave favors to Sunni landowners in the lush farmland around Baghdad to reinforce loyalties and to protect against Shiites in the south. Shiites came to work the land, and sometimes to own it. Abu Noor moved to Tarmiyah in 1987 after the government gave land to his father.
“The most violent places are the towns and cities around Baghdad,” said Sheik Jalal al-Dien al-Sagheer, a member of parliament from a religious Shiite party. “It was a circle. It was invented. It did not exist before.”
The result has been carnage on a serious scale. In all, at least eight of Abu Noor’s friends and close relatives, including a brother, have been killed since the beginning of 2004.
The motives for the attacks are often complicated. The complex webs of tribal affiliations and social status that rule everyday life in Iraq do not always line up as simply as Shiite against Sunni. But increasingly, despite the urging of some Shiite religious leaders and Sunni politicians, the attacks have been just that: A mostly Sunni Arab fringe is launching vicious attacks against civilians, often Shiites, while Shiite death squads are openly stalking Sunnis for revenge, and the Shiite-dominated government makes regular arrests in Sunni Arab neighborhoods…