The bodies arrive in twos and threes most every day in the Baghdad morgue now, a grim barometer of the city’s sectarian tensions. Most have gunshot wounds to the head, some have signs of torture, and most of them are Sunnis.
Relatives mourned Thaha Ahmed Shabab, 62, a Sunni who was fatally shot on the road in front of his home on Tuesday night.
BAGHDAD — The bodies arrive in twos and threes most every day in the Baghdad morgue now, a grim barometer of the city’s sectarian tensions. Most have gunshot wounds to the head, some have signs of torture, and most of them are Sunnis.
When families come looking for relatives, they are directed to a room with five 48-inch television monitors playing what could best be described as a slide show from hell — one bullet-riddled corpse after another. Those who came Wednesday morning left both disappointed and relieved, upset about not knowing their loved ones’ fate, but glad not to have confirmation; not here, at least.
For now, sectarian assassinations do not nearly approach the wholesale slaughter of the years 2005 to 2007, when as many as 100 bodies a day sometimes showed up at the morgue, some of them Shiites killed in suicide bombings but many Sunnis who had been executed by Shiite militias.
The walls surrounding Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad were built by Americans as protection, but now could serve as traps. Credit Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times
“It is fair to say that nowadays there is only fear in us,” said Muthan al-Ani, a Sunni who sells household appliances and lives in the majority Sunni neighborhood of Ameriya in western Baghdad. “The only worry I have now is if they arrest me, what will my wife and child do without me? I know that even if they take me to prison, if they don’t kill me now, they will kill me later.”
In the recent abductions and killings, Baghdad’s Sunnis see sinister signs that the walls surrounding their neighborhoods, built by the Americans to protect them, could also entrap them, making them easy prey for the newly emboldened Shiite militias, some of them the same ones that executed Sunnis by the truckload in the bad years.
Some Sunnis no longer go to work for fear of checkpoints, where Shiite militiamen have joined the Iraqi Army and the police. Several said that carloads of armed militiamen now cruised their neighborhoods at night, shouting anti-Sunni insults; many are trying to leave Iraq.
Mr. Ani, 34, said that last week, for the first time, unmarked vehicles carrying men in military-style uniforms came in the middle of the night. They took away his next-door neighbor’s two sons.
When their mother asked a soldier at a nearby checkpoint what had happened to them, she said the soldier replied, “We do not know where they took them, and we could not ask because they are more powerful than us.’ ”
That language alone is enough to leave most Sunnis with a sense of foreboding and a memory of the days when militias were above the law.
A worrisomely growing number of these abducted men show up at the Baghdad morgue. In the third week of June, at least 21 unidentified bodies, most shot in the head, were found in Baghdad, a United Nations official said. Police officials found 23, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as a matter of policy. Others simply disappear, most likely into the overcrowded Iraqi prisons, but no one knows for sure.
“We certainly acknowledge there are unidentified bodies being found in Baghdad, and some evidence is emerging that people have been tortured,” said Jacqueline Badcock, the deputy representative of the secretary general for Humanitarian and Development Affairs for the United Nations office in Iraq.
“The numbers are relatively small, but they’re rising,” she said. “It’s alarming.”
Day in and day out, Baghdad’s Sunnis are closely watched in crowded neighborhoods. Suspicions that they are secretly siding with the Sunni insurgents only grow as the militants get ever closer to Baghdad, they say, and increase their fears of retaliation.
Baghdad Sunnis in six neighborhoods said in interviews that they had been treated more harshly since ISIS took over Mosul on June 10. While there have been abductions and killings of Sunnis for months, after Mosul they began to sense that they were being targeted because of their sect.
In Ghaziliya, a neighborhood with a major crossroad that divides the Shiites and the Sunnis, the difference between the two worlds is almost palpable.
On the Shiite side, distinguished by the black flags that hang from the street lamps, children play in the side streets, and at least a few women stand in the doorways. On the Sunni side, the streets are mostly empty, and the shops, although open, have few customers.
“We’ve been isolated here in this deliberate way,” said Mohammed Arkan, who runs a three-man mattress and pillow-stuffing factory on the Sunni side. Citing checkpoints that regulate the entrances and exits, he said, “They are doing it because something bad is going to happen.”
“Everyone feels frightened because of the Jaish al-Mahdi,” he said, referring to the armed wing of the movement led by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who on Friday paraded in the tens of thousands, hoisting their weapons in a show of force. “They are back to fight, but we don’t know who they are planning to fight.”
As he was describing his anxieties, Mr. Arkan broke off: Three policemen had entered his tiny machine room to ask what a reporter was doing there. Clearly frightened, he ducked his head down and resolutely fed cotton into the clanking machine.
It is often like that now in Sunni areas. A reporter was not even allowed to enter Mr. Ani’s Ameriya neighborhood. And in the Hai Adil quarter, which is divided between Sunnis and Shiites, a military contingent rode in a Humvee just behind a reporter as she was doing interviews, all but guaranteeing that people would say no more than the barest of polite greetings.
On the walls of the mosques in Adamiya, an old Sunni neighborhood in central Baghdad, just in the last week, death notices have begun to appear that say the person died at the hands of unknown gunmen. The notices, black or white cloth with the name painted on them and a prayer, are a traditional means of mourning here.
Mohaned Maki, 27, who lives in Adamiya, said two of his colleagues, both engineers, had disappeared last week from the neighborhood, and that his cousin had disappeared from the affluent Mansour area.
“If you come in the evenings, the militias are everywhere,” said Mr. Maki, who is himself an engineer who fled Falluja for Adamiya.
His missing colleagues may well have been among three engineers whose bodies were brought to the morgue on Sunday. They were snatched by men in uniforms with no insignia, according to a witness who lives in their neighborhood.
On Wednesday, it was a farmer from the outskirts of Baghdad whose body was among nine laid out on gurneys — four of them gunshot victims brought in that morning, according to morgue records, one of them brought in with no identity cards.
Outside, a dozen women in black mourning clothes wailed, beat their chests and, in some cases, fainted in the heat. “Those cowards killed him,” one woman screamed of the farmer.
Male relatives were calmer, but red-eyed. The victim, Thaha Ahmed Shabab, 62, from western Baghdad Province, just outside the city, was shot to death on the road in front of his home Tuesday night, just before dark, by unknown men passing by.
“Asaib al-Haq,” said his brother Yassin Ahmed Shabab, referring to the Shiite militia, a favorite of the prime minister whose members now often staff checkpoints at the gates of Sunni neighborhoods and generally have free rein wherever they go.
As Mr. Shabab’s family wept outside the morgue, a small crowd arrived, looking for four men who had disappeared, two of them brothers in a mixed Shiite-Sunni area. They were clamoring at the entrance of the archive hall to be allowed to look at photographs of the unknown dead.