The Magazine

Gas Lines, Garbage, and Closed Banks

Daily life in a Sunni neighborhood.

Jan 29, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 19 • By JONATHAN KARL
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It's the Mahdi Army's answer to the American strategy of "clear, hold, and build." Once homes are cleared of Sunnis, the Mahdi Army turns to its real-estate wing, which moves Shiites from those refugee camps into the homes recently abandoned by Sunnis who have either been terrorized or murdered.

I walked through the ruins of the Hurriya neighborhood with a squad of soldiers from the Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The soldiers were responding to reports that abandoned homes were being used by insurgents to store weapons. As soldiers kicked open one door, I followed them inside. There were carpets on the floor, ornate furniture, portraits of religious leaders on the wall, bookcases filled with books. It was a warm, comfortable, middle class home. The residents had simply vanished. Next door the soldiers found one of the few families in the area who have not left. A middle-aged man stood at the door with a little boy of about four clinging to his leg, and his wife and daughter meekly behind them.

"This is a good neighborhood," the man told the soldiers through an interpreter. "There has been so much fighting, people have just left."

Hurriya was a mixed neighborhood. Now almost all of the Sunnis are gone. But many Shiites have been forced out as well. The ruins of a mosque could be seen from the man's back porch. It's a Shiite mosque, the man said. It's been abandoned for three months.

This man wants to protect his family, but refuses to leave his home. He watches as his neighborhood turns into a trash-strewn ghost town. He asks the American soldiers in for a cup of chai, knowing they offer the best chance of saving what's left of his neighborhood, and his way of life.

Jonathan Karl is senior national security correspondent for ABC News.