Security forces and civilians gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, April 3, 2014. (AP Photo)
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As Iraq suffers its worst violence in years, gangs claiming ties to powerful militias have been commandeering empty homes in Baghdad with little official sanction, victims and rights groups say.A community that once numbered more than 1 million nationwide, and upward of 600,000 in Baghdad alone, has since fallen to fewer than 400,000 overall, according to Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako.Many of those who left did not sell their properties, ostensibly in the hope of returning one day. Sadr himself has publicly disavowed the practice, and insists those who occupy the houses are not connected to his group.According to Warda and victims who spoke to AFP, the groups commandeering the homes typically reach settlement by offering to buy the properties at prices dramatically below market rates.
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