BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2006 -- Every day relentless violence claims the lives of dozens of Iraqis. The violence is arbitrary, often hitting children or elderly men and women. There has been no halt to this violence, even during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As Iraqis gathered shortly before sunset this evening -- the time of Eftar, when Muslims break their fast -- a chorus of car bombs preceded the call to prayer.
At least 30 Iraqis died today in Baghdad, with two of the blasts occurring in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods.
"Terrorist groups will try to use all their means to ignite turmoil among Iraqis, especially in mixed population areas," Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammad Askari told ABC News.
North of Baghdad, Sunnis flee the Shiite-dominated city of Balad after four days of sectarian killings. The fighting broke out after the bodies of 19 Shiite men were found on Friday in Ad Duliyiah, on the outskirts of Balad. A series of retaliatory raids by Shiite gunmen resulted in the deaths of more than 90 people over the weekend, all but 17 of them Sunni.
Reporting this story has been as relentless as the violence itself. After numerous attempts to reach Muwafaq Al Rubayee, Iraq's national security adviser, he said, " I do not want to comment on this subject."
The U.S. military sent a detailed press release:
"The bodies of 19 Shia male roofers from the city of Ad Duliyiah were found Oct. 13, 2006, outside of Balad. Upon identification of the bodies signs of torture; including execution-style killings. The bodies of at least 38 murdered Sunnis were reported Oct. 14, 2006, at Balad Hospital. City and hospital officials have yet to confirm this number at this time. The mayor of Balad issued a 48-hour curfew in the city district at 3 p.m., Oct. 14. The Iraqi Police and Army are currently manning numerous checkpoints around Balad. Coalition forces are partnering with and assisting the Iraqi Police and Army by providing quick reaction assets. The Iraqi Army composition of Balad is 95 percent to 98 percent Shia. The Iraqi Police in the town are mostly Shia, but most of the officers for the police are Sunni."
It is difficult for reporters in Baghdad to say exactly what is happening in Balad. No one can get into the area. It's too dangerous. Is it the result of the crackdown operation between United States and Iraqi forces to root out insurgents from Baghdad? Or is it the harbinger of a new, even deadlier phase in Iraq's ghastly cycle of sectarian violence?
It is hard to be certain of anything at this stage. However, there is a depressing precedent -- past experience has shown that whenever there is an operation launched against insurgents of one area in Iraq, violence picks up somewhere else.
An escalation in violence is expected in the next few days, especially in the mixed areas. Eyes are on Salahaldin and Kirkuk, where the extremists and former Baath party members are expected to cause trouble.
Those people we were able to speak to in and around Balad told ABC News that the civil war had now started.