Violence increasing against Shiites in Iraq

Attacks may be effort to provoke civil war

September 30, 2005|By LOUISE ROUG

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- At dawn, Leith Hassan went to pick up bread for the family's breakfast. Jumping on his red bicycle, the 14-year-old whizzed down the street, passing the carpet store at the corner. Just then, a driver detonated a bomb hidden in his car. One red-hot piece of shrapnel severed the boy's left leg.

Later, from his hospital bed, Leith tried to reassure his father.

"Don't worry, Daddy," he said. "I'll be OK."

Leith, who had dreamed of becoming a pilot, died that afternoon.

His story is sad but, in Baghdad, not unusual. Zahra Hamood Issa, a 69-year-old grandmother, and at least 14 others died because of bombings in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad that day. In the capital, every life has been touched by brutality.

Between Aug. 29 and Sept. 16, there were an average of 26 attacks a day in the capital, ranging from simple shootings to complex, coordinated suicide attacks, according to U.S. military statistics.

Although American troops remain under fire, the assaults increasingly have been directed against civilians, especially Shiite Muslims.

The onslaught, seemingly meant to provoke civil war, recently reached its peak in a day of bombings and assassinations that left more than 140 people dead.

On Monday, insurgents dragged five Shiite teachers and their driver from a classroom in the village of Muelha, 30 miles south of Baghdad, and shot them to death.

Despite the wave of violence, however, there have been no calls for revenge among the Shiites in the capital. Pummeled by violence, many Shiites appear groggy and despairing.

"I lost more than my son - I lost my life," said Majid Hassan, 44, recounting the June day his son died as tears streamed into his salt-and-pepper beard. "When others died after Leith, it increased my bitterness."

But he didn't blame Sunnis.

"It's not a matter of blaming - it's a chain of consequences," he said.

So far, Shiite outrage has remained largely in check by the sect's powerful clerics.

Last week, in the wake of the bloodiest day of bombings, Habib Abbas was still clearing away the remains of glass shelves from his mobile phone shop near Uruba Square, where the explosion had been triggered. His store was among those in the Sept. 14 blast that killed at least 114 people.

The insurgents, he said, "want to create sectarian hostility between the Shiite and Sunnis. But, God willing, things will not reach a civil war." He thought it over. "Actually, they might succeed if they go on, pressing like this. Whenever you ride in a minibus you hear people talking about such things. The other day I heard people saying, `What has become of our Shiite people? Why don't they retaliate and carry out revenge against these Sunni attackers?' The clerics are like the safety pin."

Shiites have felt the brunt of the latest violence, but lawlessness reaches across society.

In addition to insurgents, civilians fear ordinary criminals, rogue Iraqi security troops, and the dreaded checkpoints where many Iraqis have died, mistakenly shot by soldiers.

"It's not becoming better at all," said a Western diplomat on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "The chaos is so big you can not plan civilian life here."

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.RAWNAME:z44434521_20_46_51.txt

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