Beirut Redux

Fattah, Hassan
May 2003
New Republic;5/26/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 20, p16
Every night in May 2003, Mazen Al Bakir and his sister Layla have prepared themselves for the worst. Around 9 o' clock in the evening, the nightly security detail begins at their home in the southern Baghdad district of Saydiya. Bakir pulls a loaded pistol out of the closet, secures his front gate and doors with massive locks, and hides the keys. For the rest of the evening, the Bakirs stand guard at their home as sporadic gunfire from across their neighborhood ushers in another sleepless night in Iraq's capital. The Bakirs' situation is hardly unique. Since the American takeover, Baghdad has turned into an Arab version of the Watts riots. The really scary part, however, may be yet to come. Thus far violence in Baghdad has been limited to unorganized gangs of looters carrying Kalashnikovs. But Iraqi security experts and other sources in the capital say that, under the nose of the American forces, Iraq's nascent political groups are forming armed militias and storing weapons as they prepare for a potential civil war for control of the country. Ultimately, if Baghdad's power vacuum is not filled soon, the rise of organized armed factions could turn Iraq's capital into a twenty-first-century version of 1980s Beirut.


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