Death Squads and Fear Rule Iraq

Regardless of statements made by the leaders of Iraq and the United States during their meeting in Jordan, Iraq remains a country crippled by unabated violence.

Iraq remains on the brink of all-out civil war. Its people are terrorized by car bombs set by Sunni insurgents, and by the Shiite death squads attached to the political parties in the so-called National Unity Government.

You need only to talk to ordinary Iraqis on the street and they will tell you about their fear of being blown up by a car bomb, or of being a target of sectarian militiamen who kidnap and kill with impunity

"They are out of control," said Mohammad Adnan, a money changer. "The proof is in the number of killings you see every day."

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki made a number of assertions after his short summit meeting with President Bush that sounded more like wishful thinking than an objective statement of fact.

Maliki told ABC News' Charles Gibson, the anchor of "World News Tonight," that his government "is disarming all the militias."

He also told a news conference in Baghdad that Iraq's armed forces were hunting terrorists and killing a large number of them.

"We have a short-term strategy, which will enable us to receive gradual control of the security situation so a disaster is avoided," he said.

He also suggested that Iraqis were one big family.

"We are all brothers," Maliki said. "There is no difference between Shiites and Sunni Arabs, Kurds or Christians."

Sadly there is no evidence that militias are being disarmed.

On the contrary, the largest, most powerful among them, the Shiite Mahdi Army, now has at least 40,000 men, possibly even as many as 60,000, according to some estimates.

These numbers make it the largest single military force in Iraq, second only to the U.S. Army.

It's about four times the total number of combat-ready brigades in the Iraqi army.

According to a recent U.N. report, the number of Iraqi civilians who die violent deaths has now gone up to a daily average of 120.

One hundred and twenty innocent, usually unarmed people are snatched from their cars, their homes, and the streets of Iraq.

Their bodies are then discovered littered throughout Iraq, often bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing.

"Security is zero now," said Esam Waheed, a translator. "All kinds of militias are prowling the streets and killing blameless people."

Maj. Peter Zike of the 1st Infantry Division recently commented on the effectiveness of Iraqi troops.

While on a patrol of northeast Baghdad, he told ABC's Aaron Katersky, "they are capable in a lot of ways, but it's the corruption, the nepotism and religious intolerance that is their greatest enemy."

Zike said that Sunni soldiers in the battalion only wanted to work if there was a chance of taking out Shiite militiamen, and that Shiite soldiers were mainly interested in targeting suspected Sunni insurgents.

In the wave of sectarian killings that have terrorized ordinary Iraqis, it would be hard to find anyone who agrees that Iraq's religious sects are all brothers.

People are being burnt out of their homes, bombed, and murdered because of their religion. The country was always divided along sectarian or ethnic lines, the Shiites in the south, the Sunnis in the center, the Kurds in the north.

There was also always a mingling between the sects.

Many Iraqis, however, believe that there is no real unity among these three groups.

"Ever since Iraq was created 80 years ago there was no harmony among the Iraqi people," said Safeen Salih, a Kurd. "This is the real reason why violence can't be fixed."

Others like Ajim Alwani, a doctor who lives in northern Iraq, think that putting three different nations into one Iraq was a mistake to begin with, and that no one can now "help the situation, no matter how powerful they are."

Here in Iraq, people expect little from the summit meeting between Maliki and Bush.

"We didn't expect anything good to come from this meeting," said a merchant in Sadr City who preferred to remain anonymous.

"Nothing came out of it because it's been almost four years now and there have been no solutions and the situation is getting worse and worse," another said.

The sense among Iraqis is that Bush, with his invasion of Iraq, created the appalling problems that he now expects Maliki to fix, problems that are basically intractable.

Maliki is caught between a rock and a hard place, notwithstanding his public remarks.

He has alienated the Shiites over his failure to get a timetable for U.S. withdrawal out of Bush.

He has alienated the Sunnis for his failure to reign in the Shiite militias, who are a law unto themselves.

He has very little time to turn the situation around.

In all this, Iraqis have become deeply fatalistic.

"The problems started when the Americans came in," Adnan said. "Now every day we hear of a threat to this family or that. All of us are on the list. It's just a matter of time before I will be next."