Baghdad: Where no one is safe
By Cal Perry
Iraqi police examine the wreckage of a minibus in Baghdad's Sadr City after a bomb explosion this week.
BEHIND THE SCENES
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi capital is seething with confusion.
Murder, assassination and kidnapping are the words of the day. Blast walls rule all. Security is the growth industry in a city ravaged by bloodshed.
From the rooftop of CNN's bureau, tracer fire rises over Baghdad's Sadr City on a nightly basis. More than 2 million people live in the poor neighborhood, which is run by militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
His followers are well-armed and as loyal as they come. These are the men who control the streets; they decide who comes and who goes through this section of the city. They answer only to the cleric, not the Iraqi security forces or American troops.
"The militias are one of my biggest problems," said a senior U.S. military official with intimate knowledge of security in Baghdad. "The government needs to have a policy on what we are going to do with them."
Of course, the problem is there is still no government.
"We have had engagements with them," the official said. "We don't go looking for an engagement, they just ... happen."
About 30,000 people are fleeing fighting across Iraq, including thousands of families in Baghdad alone. Neighborhoods all across the country, like Sadr City, are shutting down at night. Trees are pulled across roads -- signs that people are taking care of their own security.
"Who do you trust in your neighborhood?" I asked a resident of Baghdad.
"No one," he said.
"Who secures your house, your family?" I asked.
"I do. My brother lives downstairs. We have weapons. We are always in touch on the phone; we have codes," he said.
He then added, "It will get worse -- everyone knows this."
Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of the prominent Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, sits in his compound in Baghdad plotting his next move.
"For three years, we've been bearing the slaughtering, killing, explosions attacking our scholars, our mosques, our facilities, our pilgrims, our barbers, our bakers ... our innocents," he said.
Earlier that week he raised his arms in front of millions. The power he wields is palpable and unmatched. He called out to the masses for cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites. The crowd chanted back, "America out! America out!"
He said nothing in response. What could he say?
Bodies are found every day, all over Baghdad. Dozens. Sometimes scores. Some are bound, tortured and beheaded. Others are simply shot, execution-style. The spiral continues, and no one knows what the sunrise in Baghdad will bring tomorrow, next week or next month.
One of the local employees in CNN's bureau asked me if he could take four days off after his cousin died.
"My God," I said. "Of course. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," he said. "He died of cancer -- we could all be so lucky here in Iraq."
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