Large portions of Baghdad have become Shiite in recent months, as militias press their fight against Sunni militants deeper into the heart of the capital, displacing thousands of Sunni residents. At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials.
For the first years of the war, Sunni militants were dominant, forcing Shiites out of neighborhoods and systematically killing bakers, barbers and trash collectors, who were often Shiites. But starting in February, after the bombing of a shrine in the city of Samarra, Shiite militias began to strike back, pushing west from their strongholds and redrawing the sectarian map of the capital, home to a quarter of Iraq’s population.
The Shiite-dominated government publicly condemns violence against Sunnis and says it is trying to stop the militias that carry it out. But the attacks have continued unabated, and Sunnis have grown suspicious.
Plans for a new bridge that would bypass a violent Sunni area in the east, and a proposal for land handouts in towns around Baghdad that would bring Shiites into what are now Sunni strongholds underscored these concerns.
Sunni political control in Baghdad is all but nonexistent: Of the 51 members of the Baghdad Provincial Council, which runs the city’s services, just one is Sunni.
In many ways, the changes are a natural development. Shiites, a majority of Iraq’s population, were locked out of the ruling elite under Saddam Hussein and now have power that matches their numbers.
The danger, voiced by Sunni Arabs, is that an emboldened militant fringe will conduct broader killings without being stopped by the government, or, some fear, with its help. That could, in turn, draw Sunni countries into the fight and lead to a protracted regional war, precisely the outcome that Americans most fear.
“They say they’re against this, but on the ground they do nothing,” said Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament, a Sunni. He moved his family to the better-protected Green Zone in October.