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Iraq: Journalist Describes Fear Of Militias In Baghdad

An Iraqi police officer mans a checkpoint on a Baghdad street (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, December 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- New bomb attacks in central Baghdad today killed at least 60 people and injured more than 100 others. These were the latest victims in a string of attacks that are relentlessly stoking sectarian tensions and fueling fears that Iraq is heading into -- or already is trapped in -- a civil war. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten spoke to Radio Free Iraq Baghdad correspondent Leith Ahmed about the deteriorating situation in the Iraqi capital.

RFE/RL: There has been much debate recently outside Iraq about whether the country is in a civil war or risks sliding into one. As an Iraqi journalist, working inside Iraq, what is your view?

Leith Ahmed: Some people say there is no civil war. But inside the country, you can see a real civil war -- but between militias, not among civilians. There is [a cycle of] revenge between the Sunni and Shi'ite militias. But it's civilians who usually die in these attacks.

RFE/RL: Can you still do your job as a journalist in Baghdad? How restricted are your movements? Do you have access to politicians?

Ahmed: Now the situation for the press and journalists is so difficult because we can't use all of the roads to the Green Zone, or to any place. We have just one or two ways, along which we can move.

RFE/RL: And those streets are still relatively safe?

Ahmed: Those streets are not safe most of the time. Sometimes there are attacks or assassinations, but you can try. And you must have good luck when you move around the roads or streets of Baghdad.

RFE/RL: What about interviewing ordinary people? Is it still possible for you to move between Shi'ite and Sunni neighborhoods around the city?

Ahmed: No. It is too dangerous, especially now, because they check our IDs and ask us: "Are you Shi'ite or Sunni?" And that is a problem for us all the time.

RFE/RL: Who is "they?" Who is checking IDs?

Ahmed: They are local militias. It's difficult for us. Sometimes, we don't know who they are -- what side the militia is from. So we can't tell them all our information. They don't even ask about our organization. They only ask: 'Are you Shi'ite or Sunni?'

RFE/RL: Are ordinary people also too scared to move around the city, outside their neighborhoods?

Ahmed: Now, when you look at the situation in Baghdad, you find that people -- school students and workers -- almost all of them stay in their houses. They don't move. Or they leave Baghdad for other towns, or for places outside Iraq, because the situation is very dangerous and very difficult for almost all Iraqi families.

On The Verge Of Civil War

On The Verge Of Civil War

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)

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