Iraq is splitting into three different parts. Everywhere there are fault lines opening up between Sunni, Shia and Kurd. In the days immediately following the attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February, some 1300 bodies, mostly Sunni, were found in and around Baghdad. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry, whose police commandos operate as death squads, asked the Health Ministry to release lower figures. A friend of mine, a normally pacific man living in a middle-class Sunni district in west Baghdad, rang me. ‘I am not leaving my home,’ he said. ‘The police commandos arrested 15 people from here last night including the local baker. I am sitting here in my house with a Kalashnikov and 60 bullets and if they come for me I am going to open fire.’
It is strange to hear George Bush and John Reid deny that a civil war is going on, given that so many bodies – all strangled, shot or hanged solely because of their religious allegiance – are being discovered every day. Car bombs exploded in the markets in the great Shia slum of Sadr City in early March. Several days later a group of children playing football in a field noticed a powerful stench. Police opened up a pit which contained the bodies of 27 men, probably all Sunni, stripped to their underpants; they had all been tortured and then shot in the head. Two and a half years ago, when the first suicide bomb targeting the Shias killed 85 people outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, there was no Shia retaliation. They were held back by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the hope of gaining power through legal elections. Since the Samarra bomb this restraint has definitively ended: the Shia militias and death squads slaughter Sunnis in tit-for-tat killings every time a Shia is killed.