BAGHDAD — The black-masked soldier stood at the army checkpoint examining the identification cards of each passenger, denying entry to anyone who did not live in the Sunni district of Ameriya. One resident later said entering his neighborhood now felt like crossing the border into a different country.
This neighborhood is full of bad people, said the soldier at the checkpoint as police officers rounded up people suspected of being terrorists in Ameriya, an operation that locals said targeted them only for being Sunni.
Across the country, the sectarianism that almost tore Iraq apart after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 is surging back. The carnage has grown so bloody, with the highest death toll in five years, that truck drivers insist on working in pairs — one Sunni, one Shiite — because they fear being attacked for their sect.
Iraqis are numb to the years of violence, yet always calculating the odds as they move through the routine of the day.
The drastic surge in violence — mainly car bombs planted by al-Qaida's Iraq affiliate against the Shiite majority, and the security sweeps in majority-Sunni neighborhoods that follow — has lent a new sense of Balkanization to this city. Security forces have increasingly restricted the movements of Iraqis in and out of Sunni areas. Sunnis also fear reprisals from reconstituted Shiite militias, groups once responsible for some of the worst of the sectarian carnage that gripped Iraq just a few years ago.
The targets of the attacks are not usually government ministries or luxury hotels, places many ordinary Iraqis can safely avoid. They are the markets and cafes, mostly in Shiite areas, that dominate neighborhood routines. During morning commutes, some Iraqis are taking circuitous routes to work to avoid central streets where bombs have struck. The sight of a Kia minivan, a vehicle of choice for bombers, caught in traffic causes fear. Neighborhood soccer teams are canceling matches because those too have become targets.
For Iraqis, the violence feels permanent.
Inside Ameriya, Othman al-Kubaisi, who owns a cosmetics store, tries to stick close to home when he can, routinely leaving only to stock up on supplies for his store.
"It's better to avoid problems and stay home," he said.