BAGHDAD, Dec. 21 — The Bridge of the Imams draws together two Baghdads and divides two Iraqs.
Arching over the Tigris River, the overpass ends in Kadhimiya, a Shiite Muslim neighborhood built around the gold-domed shrine of a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. On Friday, the neighborhood pulses with promise. Pilgrims crowd its intersections, sidewalks overflow with money-changers, jewelers and kiosks brimming with hummus, cardamom and olives. Slogans written on the walls declare deposed president Saddam Hussein an infidel, and newspapers celebrate the capture of the man they call the tyrant.
At the other end of the bridge is Adhamiya, a grim Sunni Muslim neighborhood where the venerated Abu Hanifa Mosque is shielded behind eight steel barricades. Its twin minarets, clock tower and brick walls bear the scars of war. The slogans along the neighborhood’s streets, where many of the shops are shuttered, convey nostalgia and anger. “Long live Saddam,” reads one, scrawled in black. “Jihad is our way,” declares another. A dozen or so men carrying AK-47 rifles sit atop the mosque’s roof and patrol the street below, casting wary glances toward the bridge and the celebrations beyond.
“The future? What’s the future?” asked one of the guards, Ammar Abu Nour Quds. “We don’t have any future.”
Of the emotions unleashed by Hussein’s arrest, the darkest were those that gripped the country’s Sunni minority, of which Hussein was a member. As a new Iraq unfolds, with Hussein’s arrest the latest milestone, they are on the inside looking out — a community besieged, leaderless and relentless in its refusal to accept the eight-month U.S. occupation. The Sunnis’ reversal of fortune marks a spectacular shift for a group that for most of the country’s modern history, and for centuries before that, guided Iraq through colonialism and coups, dictatorship and war.
In interviews across the Sunni Triangle, which gave Hussein much of his support and suffered the most with his fall, many insist they are no longer fighting for the privilege they enjoyed in previous decades, but rather for their community’s survival in a country with a Shiite Muslim majority. Once divided and discredited clergy have stepped forward to try to end a crisis of identity, bringing a message of political Islam to a community that once embraced secular Arab nationalism and tribal traditions.
No longer kingmakers, the community’s leaders vow that they still hold the key to stability. But casting a shadow over conversations with men such as Quds is a sense of dispossession, of a minority searching for a voice in the contest to create a new state.
“The people are waiting for something, to hear something, to see something,” said Khaled Ahmed, a 23-year-old Sunni whose photo store is across the street from the Abu Hanifa Mosque. He listened for a moment to the sermon, a homily urging restraint and unity that was broadcast from loudspeakers. “They’re waiting for some kind of hope,” he said.