New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, who has put his life at risk to get stories in Iraq, says partition of Iraq would be difficult because of the ethnically mixed neighborhoods in cities.
But in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul, there are no clear geographical lines separating the main groups. A breakup into ethnic regions or states would almost certainly increase the pressure on families to flee the mixed neighborhoods to be closer to members of their own group. Shiites to Shiites, Sunnis to Sunnis. Ethnic cleansing is already happening in Iraq, but still at a relatively slow pace.
Iraq’s main groups—and even smaller ones, like Christians and Turkomans—now live together in many places. While the Tigris River acts as a broad ethnic boundary in both Baghdad and Mosul—Sunnis on the west and Shiites on the east in Baghdad, and Sunnis on the west and Kurds on the east in Mosul—there are large pockets of each group on both sides of the river.
Trying to divide those cities could result in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people from their homes, maybe more. That is not a pretty process: the neighborhoods around the edges of Baghdad have already experienced a lot of ethnic cleansing—mainly Shiites being forced from their homes. .
But unless the inter-ethnic violence abates up that partitioning is going to continue to happen. All the while US policy makers will continue to insist that partition is unthinkable. Baghdad is ethnically purifying into Shiite and Sunni sections along the two sides of the Tigris River that runs through itImad Talib lived in a Shiite-dominated district for many years until threats by Shiite militiamen forced the Sunni Arab to move across town.
Ahmed Khazim left a mostly Sunni suburb for Sadr City, where his Shiite sect forms the majority.
Religiously mixed neighborhoods of this sprawling city are gradually disappearing as sectarian tensions are prompting Shiites and Sunnis to move to areas where they are predominant.
The trend is raising concerns that Baghdad is slowly being transformed into a divided city with a Shiite-dominated east and mostly Sunni west, separated by the Tigris River that flows through the heart of the capital..
The rate of populations shifting around is limited by housing. People can’t all get up and move simultaneously. Every family of one ethnic group who flee create an opening for a familiy of another group to move in. But this all takes time. Also, construction of housing takes time. The rate of migration would be faster if more housing was available.
Estimates on the number of families that have moved due to the conflict vary. But one part of the Iraqi government puts the number of peopple who have moved at over 23,000.
Since the Samarra bombing, Interior Ministry official Satar Nawrouz estimates that nearly 4,000 families or about 23,670 people have been forced to relocate to other neighborhoods in the Baghdad area due to sectarian tensions.
Since the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra was bombed on February 22, 2006 that works out to over 5000 per month in Baghdad alone. Continued over the course of a year that would add up to 60,000. The Iraqi government has a limited ability to track its own citizens and that estimate may well be too low.