Ahmed al-Azami, a Sunni Muslim, has owned a house in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Shaab since 1999. But when Shiite residents recently began questioning why he, a Sunni, was living among them, he decided it was time to leave.
His story and similar tales by other Sunnis suggest Iraqis are again segregating themselves along sectarian lines, prompted by a political crisis pulling at the explosive Sunni-Shiite divide just weeks after the American withdrawal left Iraq to chart its own future.
"People started to question my origins. Why don't you live in Azamiyah?" said al-Azami, referring to the Sunni-dominated enclave in northern Baghdad where he has a shop. He felt so nervous and unwelcome that he began looking for a house in Azamiyah a few weeks ago. Once he moves, he'll either rent out or sell his Shaab house.
"I will always be a stranger to them," he said, referring to his Shiite neighbors.
In a sign that he is not alone, rental prices in Azamiyah have risen by about $200 a month, said real estate agent Abu Abdullah al-Obeidi. Other Sunni neighborhoods of the capital like Adel and Khadra have also seen rent increases, he said.
"The people who are coming to Azamiyah to rent or buy are afraid that they will be killed during any possible sectarian war if they stay in the mixed areas," al-Obeidi said.
Iraq is the second largest Shia Muslim majority country in the world, right after its next-door neighbor Iran. Indeed, the regime of Saddam Hussein was as awful as it was partly because he, a Sunni Muslim, was holding together a very fractious country in which he was a member of the minority religious group. Now, the "bottom rung is on top," and the demographic mix of the country is likely to be an issue for a long time to come.
When Iraq's violence was at its worst, hundreds of thousands of people fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria. Most of them were Sunnis, and more than a million remain there.
But with a crisis in Syria and tightening visa requirements for Iraqis in Syria and Jordan, Sunnis now seem to be relocating around Iraq. Some, like al-Azami, are moving from Shiite to Sunni neighborhoods, others are going from Baghdad to Sunni-dominated cities such as Fallujah or Mosul or the relatively safer Kurdish region.
This means Iraq's sectarian map will have even more sharply drawn boundary lines.