Religion Issue in Baghdad – Population Shift: Ethnic cleansing by Shia dominant (2003 – 2007)

After the U.S. invasion in 2003, the sectarian violence shattered the diversity neighborhoods of Baghdad into many pieces. It changed the envelope of the ethnic distribution of the city. By late 2007, the shifting population was concentrated and divided mainly between Sunnis and Shia. The process changed the ethnic dominant group from Sunni to Shia.

The first map (figure 1) shows from 2003 when the U.S. invasion began. The majority of the capital was mixed Sunni-Shia, especially in the central, southern and northeastern regions. Few concentrations of Sunnis and Shia areas existed at that time. Sadr City in the Northeast of Baghdad was the largest and most well-known Shia area which was the centre of the insurgment Mahdi Army, led by the Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

In the map of 2006 map (figure2) shows a gradually change of the population shift due to the sectarian make-up of the city. Between 2003 and 2006, most neighborhoods and district of Baghdad were remained considerably mixed. Sunni and Shia sectarian violence during these year often reached a result of violence, displacement and government policies, increasing the segregation and separation between Sunni and Shia communities arose.

The biggest ethnic displacement came across in Baghdad in early 2007(figure3), the segregation of Baghdad was pretty much completed. Following the February 2006 Al-Qaeda (militant Sunni) bombing of the golden dome of the Al-Askari Shia mosque in Samarra city as one of the holiest sites in Shia represented a tipping point into the horrible sectarian war and inflamed the Sunni-Shia divide.  Shia militias began to strike back and pushed west from their strongholds and forced many Sunnis to leave Baghdad. The violence increased, many Baghdad joined the various miltias operating there, while the others moved to neighborhoods populated by their co-ethnics or fled the city entirely. These shaped the Baghdad into an ethnic cleansing where one or the other group was forced out of the area. The Shias moved and expanded to the North, Northeast and Northwest of the city. While the rest of the population of Sunni moved to the east.

Finally, the interethnic violence declined by late 2007, and the new ethnic diversity of Baghdad about to be consolidate (figure 4). Shia became the dominant ethnic group as well as Iraq’s politics and dominate the scene in Baghdad. The United States sent more than 20000 troops serge to Baghdad in 2007 in order to clear the hostile and stop the violence ongoing between the Sunni and Shia militias. Meanwhile, creating solid walls erect around of the Sunni neighborhoods that completely segregate Baghdad into two entities.

Within this period 2003 – 2007, we can see the population shift from mix ethnic community to an ethnic cleansing. Change from majority of Sunni in 2003 to majority of Shia in 2007.  The ethnic cleansing works in Baghdad in an extend that makes it more difficult for insurgents from the other group to operate. This reduce and contribute to the fall in violence between the two ethnic groups.

As CNN correspondent Michael Ware: “The sectarian cleansing of Baghdad has been one of the key elements to the drop in sectarian violence in the capital… It’s a very simple concept: Baghdad has been divided; segregated into Sunni and Shia enclaves. The days of mixed neighborhoods are gone… If anyone is telling you that the cleansing of Baghdad has not contributed to the fall in violence, then they either simply do not understand Baghdad or they are lying to you.” [1]

In fact, the declined of violence also profound influenced by the surge created by the U.S. government. The increase number of troops and setting physical partition protecting the ‘Weak side’ Sunni reduce the violence and concluded a cease-fire between the Mahdi Army (Shia militia) and US troops in September 2007. These will be further discussed in the other two blogs later.

CNN’s Ware: Sectarian Cleansing in Baghdad ‘One Of The Key Elements To The Drop In Sectarian Violence’ by Matt Duss, Thinking Progress, 3rd April, 2008

Figure 1. Baghdad, Iraq, Ethnic composition in 2003
Figure 2. Baghdad, Iraq, Ethnic composition in 2006
Figure 3. Baghdad, Iraq, Ethnic composition in early 2007
Figure 4. Baghdad, Iraq, Ethnic composition in late 2007
Figure 5. Empirical data used seeding and validation of the model. Ethnic maps shows Shia(grey), Sunn(black) and mixed neighbourhoods(striple). The level of violence is displaced in different grey shades ( centre map)

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