Earlier this month the Baghdad provincial council voted to separate the Shaab neighbourhood in north eastern Baghdad from a neighbouring area, Adhamiyah. Most of the locals living in Adhamiyah are Sunni Muslims whereas most of those in the Shaab neighbourhood are Shiite Muslims. So naturally the decision has given rise to accusations of sectarian motives on the part of the local council.
There are also concerns that this is just the first small step along the road to further similar changes in Iraq: Such a decision could make separating Iraqi suburbs and even provinces on a sectarian basis easier in the future. In turn, locals worry that this is a creeping phenomenon that could see the whole of Iraq changing slowly, into three different regions: Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish.
The decision is going to improve the security situation, Mohammed al-Jabrawi, a senior member of the council’s security committee, who also belongs to the Shiite Muslim-oriented Badr party, explained. There won’t be any negative side effects either because the security here will still be controlled by Baghdad Operations Command, the military unit dedicated to the capital’s security, he said.
The decision was apparently also motivated by planning considerations. Many of the capital’s neighbourhoods and district borders were drawn up when forecasts said the city would only ever have around 2 million inhabitants; there are now closer to 8 million.
Ask those Iraqis living in Shaab for their thoughts about the split though and those who had heard about it, said they didn’t think much of it. Most were of the opinion that it was not going to have a major impact on the reality in their neighbourhood; it wasn’t going to somehow magically improve state services to Shaab, nor did they think it would result in any kind of improved security situation.
Shaab has been the location of many terrorist events and is also well known for high levels of organized crime and kidnapping. But whether separating from the next-door Sunni Muslim neighbourhood was going to change that was unclear.
“People don’t really expect things to change for the better after a decision like this,” commented Amir Hassan, a Shaab resident.
The decision to separate Shaab from Adhamiyah may also be a step toward making Shaab part of the huge, Shiite-majority Sadr City district. There has been talk about making Sadr City a province in its own right. And geographically at least Shaab has always had more in common with Sadr City than Adhamiyah anyway. Only one street separates them whereas Shaab is separated from Adhamiyah by a highway.
Besides criticisms about the potentially sectarian nature of the decision, the new district borders are also causing concerns that other parts of the capital, and even other parts of the country, could be “annexed” according to their population’s sectarian make-up.
For example, locals in nearby Fallujah are scared that some of their areas could be taken away and annexed to the Abu Ghraib district, which is part of Baghdad but borders on Anbar province, of which Fallujah is part. This would bring outlying parts of Fallujah under the control of the Baghdad Operations Command too, ending what has been a shared responsibility. And locals worry that it is not just security concerns behind these administrative changes, but also political objectives.