Panicked Iraqis flee bloody sectarian feuds

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The man strapping the air conditioner to the top of a taxi paused to explain: His family was packing up and fleeing their Baghdad neighborhood because of threats against Shiites.

“We are leaving because we are scared,” said the man, who was too afraid to give his name. “This is a dangerous area.”

Full-scale civil war may not have broken out in Iraq, but signs of sectarian hatred are evident along several streets in the religiously mixed Dora neighborhood.

The latest identifications reported by the U.S. military of personnel recently killed in Iraq:

Four Marines died Friday when their vehicle struck an explosive in Anbar province: Lance Cpl. Derrick Cothran, 21, Avondale, La.; Cpl. Pablo Mayorga, 33, Margate, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Justin Sims, 22, Covington, Ky.; and Pfc. Ryan Winslow, 19, Jefferson, Ala. Cothran, Mayorga and Winslow were assigned to the 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Sims was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune.

While Shiite families leave Dora, Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi is accusing government forces and Shiite militias of “ethnic cleansing” against Sunni communities – including in Azamiyah, where residents clashed Tuesday with Iraqi forces they feared were clearing the way for Shiite death squads.

In Dora these days, rows of homes sit empty and abandoned. The streets show signs of desperate attempts to craft barriers out of palm tree trunks and rusty washing machines. And there are countless crude threats scrawled in spray paint.

Gone are the packs of curious children who often trail American soldiers, and the clusters of neighbors usually found socializing outside on hot weekend afternoons.

A handful of the remaining Shiite families on one block said those who had fled were heeding warnings from Sunni Arab insurgents, gesturing to the death threats painted along the streets. Most were too scared to give their names.

“This is just one block. Imagine all the activity elsewhere,” said Staff Sgt. Feliciano Cruz, estimating that up to 15 percent of the homes in areas he patrols have been vacated. “I don’t see it calming down anytime soon.”

In the western part of Dora, once a bustling community of about 500,000 Sunnis, Shiites and Christians with a Sunni majority, more than 100 Shiite residents have recently fled one small neighborhood, according to U.S. soldiers. Sectarian violence is better contained in the more affluent eastern section of Dora.

Elsewhere across the country, Iraqi officials estimate tens of thousands have been displaced – the majority of them Shiites but also Sunnis and Christians who have left mixed areas for the relative safety of communities dominated by Iraqis from their own sect.

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