Threat of Isis fighters hangs heavy over the people of Baghdad

A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces stands guard during an intensive security deployment in Baghdad. Photo: Reuters

By Geraint Vincent: Middle East Correspondent

In a city so used to violence, it takes a big threat to upset the daily routine. Traf?c still ?ows, and shops are still open in Baghdad, despite the fact that less than hour’s drive away heavily armed fanatics are doing battle with government forces.

The Sunni extremist ?ghters of Isis are determined to take the Iraqi capital, and they are sworn to kill many of its inhabitants.

So why isn’t Baghdad emptying of its people? Well, there are doubts about whether Isis has the manpower to take the city, and some faith that the Iraqi government has committed its best and most loyal army units to its defence. Also, it’s a tough place to leave. Many of the roads out of the city only lead to places where there is ?ghting going on.

Tribal fighters shout slogans while holding weapons during a parade on a street in Najaf, south of Baghdad. Credit: Reuters

The thought of hordes of terrorists at the city’s gates may be the stuff of nightmares, but for many of its inhabitants, life in Baghdad is already a bad dream.

There are explosions in this city almost everyday, very often in busy areas like market places.

Watching people shop at the fruit and vegetable stalls is instructive: They take very little time to inspect the produce, and just stuff their bags with as much as they can afford, and then shout at the trader to take their money. The customers don’t waste time. Shopping can be lethal.

Their journey home may be longer than usual. Military checkpoints are a long standing feature on Baghdad’s roads, but in the face of the threat from ISIS, the soldiers who man them are taking their time.

Boots and back doors are opened and peered into, the whole process watched over by more soldiers, armed to the teeth with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The security procedures of Iraq’s Shia-dominated government have a new and nervous edge.

Also on the road there are glimpses of another dreadful prospect - civil war. Large number numbers of Shia men preparing to defend their communities against the Sunni extremist threat

Men have been rushing out to buy military gear. Credit: Reuters

They can be seen queuing for weapons and uniforms, enthusiastic volunteers jumping onto trucks to join a militia of their co-religionists. Baghdad was engulfed in Sunni/Shia fighting in the wake of the US-led invasion of 2003. People here know what a sectarian war is like.

Driving home from work, maybe stopping off at the shops on the way, sounds like a simple journey. But the ordinary Baghdadi who makes it back to the relative safety of home will have done so not without taking some risks, and he will have been reminded of the dangers ahead.

In this city, there are a range of reasons to be fearful.

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