UK & World News
Baghdad Braced For Return To Sectarian War
To say that Baghdad is a city divided is something of an understatement. It is literally true.
Its suburbs and highways are criss-crossed with snaking concrete blast walls separating Sunni from Shia - a legacy of the sectarian war that raged until seven years ago.
Now, as it braces for what many fear will be a return to those dark days, the ugly truth is that many are relieved the barricades are there as a means to stop the citizenry killing each other.
Sunni extremists from ISIS have overrun parts of Fallujah, about 25 miles to the west.
Baquba, about 50 miles north west, has also come under attack and Iraq's army is standing its ground just about 75 miles north at Samarrah.
A move by the militants, their numbers swelled with foreign volunteers who have a reputation deliberately earned for ultra-violence, could spark Shia attacks on Sunnis, or a wider Sunni uprising against the government of Nouri al Maliki, the Shia prime minister.
That is why the US has sent a few diplomats out of the city to safety elsewhere and announced plans to send an additional 275 troops to guard its vast embassy compound, home to about 5,500 people.
A conflagration could be sudden and massive.
The urgency of this assessment - summed up by Washington as an "existential threat" to Iraq - has resulted in an unlikely meetings of minds between Iran and the US as the two foes, the biggest donors to Iraq, agree that something must be done to stem the ISIS tide.
Both agree the ISIS Islamic Caliphate established in Iraq and stretching into Syria would be a catastrophe for regional stability and a magnate for extremist Islamists worldwide.
They also agree that to draw the sting of Sunni discontent Mr Maliki must form a new government following his election earlier this year that genuinely gives a voice to the nation's substantial Sunni minority.
And that there is very little time to do this before Sunni militia, who have offered their help to the central government, decide that perhaps a better future lies in a breakaway Sunni sub-state and throw their lot in with ISIS.
In Baghdad, the tension is reflected in airline bookings, with empty incoming flights and crammed departure lounges. Food prices have shot up by 300%. Cooking gas is in short supply as people stockpile.
The streets have been flooded with extra soldiers and police while thousands of Shia volunteers have been armed.
The banned Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades have come back to life joining rallies in the Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City.
Critics of the government fear Mr Maliki may be relying too heavily on Shia volunteers and should race to reach deals with Sunni tribal leaders to give them a political voice and to harness their forces against ISIS.
The tactic using the anti-al Qaeda movement known as The Awakening was hugely successful from 2006 to 2007.
Some Sunni chiefs have already sent their men to guard the northern approaches to the capital city.
But it is unclear whether Mr Maliki is prepared to make the concessions his allies in Washington and Tehran believe are necessary to prevent a total collapse.