BAGHDAD, March 29 — The two men showed up on Tuesday afternoon to evict Suaada Saadoun’s family. One was carrying a shiny black pistol.
Ms. Saadoun was a Sunni Arab living in a Shiite enclave of western Baghdad. A widowed mother of seven, she and her family had been chased out once before. This time, she called American and Kurdish soldiers at a base less than a mile to the east.
The men tried to drive away, but the soldiers had blocked the street. They pulled the men out of the car.
"If anything happens to us, they’re the ones responsible," said Ms. Saadoun, 49, a burly, boisterous woman in a black robe and lavender-blue head scarf.
The Americans shoved the men into a Humvee. Neighbors clapped and cheered as if their soccer team had just won a title.
The next morning, Ms. Saadoun was shot dead while walking by a bakery in the local market.
After the police took the body away, all that remained in the alleyway was a pool of blood, a bullet casing and the upper half of Ms. Saadoun’s set of false teeth.
This reporter met Ms. Saadoun when the Kurdish soldiers he was accompanying helped arrest the two Shiite men on Tuesday.
The final hours of Ms. Saadoun’s life reveal the ferocity with which Shiite militiamen are driving Sunni Arabs from Baghdad house by house, block by block, in an effort to rid the capital of them. It is happening even as thousands of additional American troops and Iraqi soldiers have been sent to Baghdad as part of President Bush’s so-called surge strategy.
The task of preventing or reversing the sectarian displacement is daunting. The United Nations estimates that at least 727,000 people have been displaced within Iraq since the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in February 2006 set off waves of sectarian violence. About two million people have fled the country.
After the new security plan began on Feb. 14, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a conservative Shiite, said the government would crack down on sectarian evictions and help families return to their homes, but the displacement is continuing all the same.
"The forced evictions started up again this month," said Capt. Benjamin Morales, 28, a Bronx native who commands a company of the 82nd Airborne Division that oversees a swath of western Baghdad taken over by Shiite militias last year. "In my area, that’s the biggest thing that’s going on."
Captain Morales’s unit, Company B of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, was among the first additional American units to enter Baghdad. It moved into the Ali Salah neighborhood at the start of February to work alongside Kurdish soldiers brought in from northern Iraq.
The first month was quiet. A couple of explosions, some shooting here and there.
But a few weeks ago, the eight remaining Sunni Arab families living near the American and Iraqi base had again begun to receive threats, Captain Morales said.
Four families lived to the north of the base. Militant Shiites marked those homes with big X’s, splashed red paint across their front doors and shot at the buildings with Kalashnikovs. Two families moved out. Last week, the other two woke up one morning to find that the militants had chained their doors shut.
The other four Sunni homes, including that of Ms. Saadoun, lay west of the base. Dozens of Sunni families fled that area last year when Shiite militias began moving in. Ms. Saadoun and her family were among the refugees — they left for Syria in late 2006 after someone threw a grenade into their backyard.
Ms. Saadoun returned in February with four daughters, a son-in-law and grandchildren after hearing that American soldiers had moved into the neighborhood. Her three sons stayed in Syria.
Determined not to be driven out a second time, Ms. Saadoun was the only person in any of the four remaining Sunni households to complain to the Americans and Kurds when militant Shiites began issuing warnings this month.
"She started calling us, then she started calling the Kurds a lot more than us," Captain Morales said. "She even visited the base a few times."
She received her final threat on Tuesday afternoon, when the two Shiite men drove up in a gray sedan.
One of them, Zuhair Naama, had a pistol tucked into his waistband. They pulled out papers. They said they were guards from the Ministry of Finance, which is run by a hard-line Shiite political party backed by an Iranian-trained militia called the Badr Organization.
The men told Ms. Saadoun they had been authorized by the ministry to repossess the home on behalf of the Iraqi government.
Ms. Saadoun’s home was one of 80 or so in the area that had belonged to the government before the American invasion of March 2003. That summer, Ms. Saadoun paid $10,000 to buy the house from squatters. Then she sold two rooms to Abu Bariq, a Sunni Arab soldier, who moved in with his wife and three children.
"Imagine a person who doesn’t possess any property finally being able to have a home for his family," he said.
About 15 people from three families were living in the house as of this month.
Ms. Saadoun said she knew the papers that the two Shiite men showed her were fake. They had tried the same thing the previous week.
Ms. Saadoun invited the men into her home, then quietly called Captain Morales and a Kurdish officer, Maj. Zirak Nuri Salah, on her cellphone.
Blocks away, inside the Kurdish barracks of the old Muthanna air base, Major Salah’s phone rang at 2:46 p.m.
"The men are here," Ms. Saadoun said.
The major rounded up a dozen of his soldiers and piled into three armored vehicles. Captain Morales did the same with his men.
Someone called the two Shiites on their cellphones and warned them that the Americans and the Iraqi Army were coming. The men jumped into their car and drove away, but were stopped at a checkpoint run by Kurdish soldiers at the mouth of the street.
All Major Salah saw was chaos when he showed up.
The soldiers already on the scene had forced the two Shiites to stand against a wall outside Ms. Saadoun’s home. Residents of the house crowded around the front gate. Neighbors milled about.
Ms. Saadoun was screaming at the Shiite men, and they were screaming back.
"Everybody shut the hell up right now," an American officer yelled. "Everybody shut the hell up, OK?"
Ms. Saadoun spoke up. "Those two guys are both from the Mahdi Army," she said, reflexively invoking the name of the country’s most feared Shiite militia. "They’re trying to kick us out because we’re Sunnis.
"We’ve been threatened for almost a year, a full year," she continued. "I’ll go to the Green Zone if you don’t solve my problems."
The two Shiite men were made to kneel on the ground. They were middle-aged and stocky. American soldiers took the black pistol from Mr. Naama and tied their hands behind their backs with plastic cuffs.
"We didn’t do anything illegal," said Mr. Naama’s friend, Abbas Radhi. "We have an order from the government, from the courts. The homes in this area belong to the government."
Captain Morales stared at the documents the men had been carrying. They had Ministry of Finance letterhead. But the captain’s Iraqi interpreter said the papers referred to homes in another neighborhood. They had nothing to do with this area.
The captain ordered his men to take the detainees back to the base. Ms. Saadoun smiled.
A neighbor in a gray Manchester United tracksuit looked on from across the street. His name was Zaid Hamoud. He was 22 and a Sunni Arab.
"I’ve been threatened, too," he told this reporter. "They called my cellphone and said, 'You have two days to leave your home or we’ll blow your head off.’ "
The Americans drove off in their Humvees, and the Kurds walked down the street to their own vehicles. The neighbors clapped. The day had seemingly yielded a minor victory in a very long war.
"I don’t understand why they kill each other," Major Salah said. "I don’t care if they’re Sunni or Shia. I just want to get to the truth."
That night, Captain Morales had the two Shiite men transferred to a detention center near Baghdad International Airport. He also ordered a patrol of Americans and Kurds to scour the neighborhood for a man known as Abu Hazem. Ms. Saadoun had said Abu Hazem worked with the two Shiites.
The soldiers walked down a series of dark streets looking for the right house.
They pulled a man dressed in white robes from his home, thinking he had information. He pointed the patrol to an ice cream shop. The owners of the ice cream shop pointed down the block.
Someone had told the soldiers to look for a house number 33, but there did not seem to be a 33. The patrol kicked in the door of the wrong house, breaking the door in half, and apologized to the family.
Captain Morales heard the news about Ms. Saadoun the next day around noon. She had been shot in the market earlier that morning, just northeast of the base and within spitting distance of the same checkpoint where the two Shiite men had been stopped. The captain paced around the hallway inside his command center. His face was ashen.
"What can you do?" his first sergeant said to him. "It’s their problem. This is their country, and they need to work it out among themselves. There’s nothing we can do about it."
An American patrol rolled out to Ms. Saadoun’s home at 2 p.m. More than a dozen women dressed in black sat wailing in the backyard, awaiting the arrival of Ms. Saadoun’s body from the hospital.
"I told you, 'Don’t go out, they’ll kill you,’ " one daughter cried out. "I told you, my lovely mother, 'Don’t go out, they’ll kill you.’ "
By the next morning, everyone living in the house had fled.
Abu Bariq, the Iraqi Army soldier, said he had moved his family to a relative’s home.
"The neighbors were upset," he said when reached by telephone. "They said, 'No, stay here, we’ll protect you. We’ll look after you.’ I said, 'No thanks.’ "
He added: "I’ll probably move in with another relative next week. This life is like that of cats, moving from home to home."
Now there were three Sunni Arab households left in the neighborhood.
Warzer Jaff and Wisam A. Habeeb contributed reporting.