Sectarian violence reignites in an Iraqi town

The New York Times reports: The orange archway at the entrance to this farming community welcomes visitors in “peace.” The lush palm groves are heavy with ripe dates. For generations, Shiite and Sunni families worked the land, earning a living from their sheep and cows, their wheat fields and lemon trees.

On a recent morning, though, the only talk was of how to stop them from killing one another.

The latest strategy: new concrete walls with separate entryways for the different sects.

“So there’s a Sunni way in, and a Shiite way in,” Abu Jassim, a Sunni resident who recently fled his home after sectarian revenge killings by Shiite gunmen, explained to a local representative in Parliament.

During the worst of Iraq’s carnage over the last decade, this area of Diyala Province, a mixed region where Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds still compete for power, faced killings and displacement. But what is happening now, villagers say, is worse — what one Western diplomat described in an interview as “Balkans-style ethnic cleansing.”

Iraqi leaders worry that the violence here may be a sign of what awaits the rest of the country if the government cannot quell the growing mayhem that many trace to the civil war in Syria, which has inflamed sectarian divisions, with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites backing the Assad government. Attacks have become more frequent this year, with major bombings becoming almost a daily occurrence. The violence countrywide has increased to a level not seen in five years, according to the United Nations, reinforcing fears that the type of sectarian warfare that gripped the country in 2006 and 2007 will reignite. [Continue reading…]

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