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    11 December 2007

    Baghdad, Iraq: The City of Sectarian Lights

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    Strings of bulbs festooning the Imam Kazim shrine's four majestic minarets light up the sky over Baghdad's Shiite Kazimiyah neighborhood, attracting thousands of nighttime worshippers.

    Coffee houses and restaurants are packed with customers along nearby streets, where turbaned clerics, chador-clad women and families buy furniture, toys and clothes in teeming shops. The district's gold market, the largest in the city, does brisk business until well after dusk.

    But a drive from Kazimiyah over an unlit Tigris River bridge into Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold, reveals only darkness and no signs of life along the main road. What nightlife does exist is confined to a walled area of about two square miles heavily patrolled by U.S. troops. One glaring exception: Kasrah, a Shiite enclave, with its lively outdoor market and coffee houses.

    Night is the time when the Shiite dominance of the capital becomes most apparent following the sectarian "battle of Baghdad," which displaced tens of thousands of Sunnis and reshaped a city where the two sects had lived in relative peace.

    A city divided. Where there are Shiites, there's normalcy. In Sunni sections... a lifeless shell of the past.

    Once upon a time, any light in this city was progress. But the way it is now, you have to wonder where this progress is taking us.

    My bet we'll find out sometime after the President retreats to Texas a little over a year from now.

    Posted by Geoff

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