In Iraq, fear replaces trust
knightridder: Fear of informants turning in neighbors to police or militia groups has deeply undermined community trust in many parts of Baghdad.
Ahmed Ali, a 34-year-old barber in the ethnically mixed and violent Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, walked away from his business last month because he worried that his chitchat with customers would lead neighbors to suspect that he was informing on them to police - or militias, or whoever - and that he'd be marked for a retaliatory killing.
That's been happening a lot in Dora.
A word to the police can result in uniformed security officers or even private soldiers in fake uniforms dragging residents from their homes in the middle of the night - without legitimate cause, the victims complain. Angry and confused, their families suspect that neighborhood informants are feeding lies to the security forces to settle personal scores. The raids also have sowed doubts that government security forces can protect the people.
Much of the suspicion is breaking down along ethnic lines, with Sunni and Shiite Muslims blaming each other. The progressive erosion of trust is one reason for the violent response to Wednesday's mosque bombing in Samarra, after which private militias roamed the streets. It underscores the failure so far to build public institutions that earn confidence and that could stand in the way of open civil war.
"The Shiites are afraid of threats and assassinations, while Sunnis are afraid of raids (by uniformed security). The kidnappings or assassinations take place during the daylight hours and the raids happen at night," Ali said. "Dora has become hell for both Shiite and Sunni residents."
Some shop owners say they try not to ask customers questions that they once considered innocuous. Behind closed doors, residents suspect their own relatives of bringing raids to their home.
Working-class neighborhoods that are still ethnically mixed - many others have segregated - are the most vulnerable, said Ihsan Mohammed al-Hassan, a sociologist at Baghdad University.
"These people are taken away, and no one knows why," Hassan said. "When other people see that one person's life has been destroyed by a report, the whole community is in fear. They can't trust the police, and they can't trust their neighbor." Read more