Friday, June 22, 2007

Perspective: Sectarian fears percolate in Baqubah

Above: Soldiers from the Iraqi army's overwhelmingly Shiite 5th Division conducting house to house searches in Baqubah two weeks ago.

After two days of clawing their way toward insurgent strongholds in western Baquba, American troops on Thursday began one of the most delicate phases of the operation: reintroducing the city's residents to their own army.

For the first time since the assault began, Iraqi soldiers joined the operation in significant numbers. What made the task especially complex was that many of the Sunni residents had little trust for the Shiite-dominated army, a message that became clear during Company A's sweep through the northwestern part of the city.

The Sunnis have bad recent experiences with the Iraqi Army. The commander of Iraq's Fifth Division, a Shiite, was replaced by the government this year after American officers accused him of pursuing an overtly sectarian agenda by arresting and harassing Sunnis.

In the face of American pressure, the government rearranged its military command here in Diyala Province. But some residents still have unhappy memories of Iraqi soldiers, who they say ransacked their homes when conducting searches and were generally abusive. Feelings are raw.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune