Gunmen in total control of major Baghdad district

By Ghazi al-Mahmadawi
 Azzaman, August 9, 2007
 The district of Doura in Baghdad is under the control of gunmen who have imposed their system of government based on strict interpretation of Islamic jurisdiction or Sharia.
Amid the chaos in the area, described as one of Baghdad’s most violent, gunmen of all sorts and hues wreak havoc among the civilians, turning the district into an arena of murder and kidnapping.

The gunmen’s major target is Iraqi Christians in Doura which used to have a sizeable Christian minority, numerous churches and five monasteries.

The gunmen have established what they call ‘the Islamic Emirate’ in the area where they apply by force their own interpretation of Islam.

Christians who refuse to convert to Islam have either to leave or pay a hefty tax.

“We used to live here in peace, Muslim and Christians. Almost two years ago gunmen occupied Doura’s main street and spread their hegemony over the whole area.

“They have forced Christian families to leave. They tell Christians if they do not become Muslims or pay head tax they must go. The area is under the gunmen’s control and I wonder where the government is,” said Jaafar Abdulsattar.

A Christian woman, wearing black and refusing to be named, said she and her family were forced to leave their house in Mekanic, a sub-district of Doura.

“Before we were forced to leave, they (gunmen) had kidnapped my husband and taken his car. We still do not know what happened to him. Then they contacted us asking us to convert to Islam along with $10,000. Then they forced us to leave and we don’t know who now lives in our house,” she said.

Alias Toma Rafael, another Christian, said the gunmen kidnapped his son and threatened to kill him if he and his family did not leave.

“Fearing their oppression, I left the house and the area,” Rafael said.

Susan Boutros also had her husband kidnapped and to have him released the gunmen asked for $10,000. “I have two sons one of them is paralyzed. They took our house and we had to leave the area,” she said.

Isaac George was lucky to leave his house where he had lived for nearly 20 years without any member of his family being kidnapped or killed.

Fawzi Abedsadda wonders whether any form of government authority apart from the Green Zone remains in Baghdad.

“What are the authorities doing? Why do not they liberate our areas from these armed cliques,” he asked