Reuters reported Wednesday that Baghdad is more and more characterized by "the thousands of tons of concrete walls that have been erected around dozens of markets, public places, and even entire neighborhoods."[1]  --  Presented as security measures, many complain that their most important effect has been "to divide Baghdad along sectarian lines," Waleed Ibrahim wrote.  --  A Dutch journalist who returned to Baghdad after two years' absence wrote Thursday that "In those two years Baghdad has become an even stronger fortress.  More concrete walls, roadblocks, and barbed wire.  But in particular it's also become an almost impregnable fortress for journalism.  Organizations like CNN and the BBC stayed, but mainly withdrew into their secure houses.  And like the New York Times, for example, they had their local staff do the real work on the ground."  --  But at present, Hans Jaap Melissen said, "Baghdad seems safer, also for journalists.  I'm hardly afraid here at all."  --  A Baghdad blogger wrote on Monday about the one-and-one-quarter-mile wall that has been constructed between two "expensive" neighborhoods of Baghdad, Ghazaliya and Shu’la.[3]  --  "The Iraqi Government initially opposed construction of the walls, but later relented when the U.S. and Iraq’s own Defense Minister made it clear that construction would continue. . . . On September 11, 2007, hundreds of people participated in demonstrations calling for an end to building the wall in between the two communities.  Similar demonstrations occurred in Adhamiya previous to the construction of the wall in Ghazaliya, as we have shown previously.  Today the walls still stand, and it is unclear when or if they will be removed.  Although Baghdad appears safer, it is only as a city divided." ...

1.

Feature

BAGHDAD SECURITY WALLS CURB VIOLENCE, AT A COST
By Waleed Ibrahim

Reuters
February 6, 2008

http://wiredispatch.com/news/?id=35246

BAGHDAD -- To some Iraqis they are the reason it is safe to shop. To others they are like big jails.

Nothing symbolizes the year-long security offensive in Baghdad more vividly than the thousands of tons of concrete walls that have been erected around dozens of markets, public places, and even entire neighborhoods.

But as violence has fallen in the capital, some Iraqis have begun debating whether the 12-foot (3.5-meter) high walls should come down. Does the inconvenience and ugliness of the grey barriers outweigh the protection and peace of mind they provide?

Most seem to want the walls to remain at markets and even be strengthened -- especially after two female bombers killed 99 people at pet markets last Friday in attacks blamed on al Qaeda.

"I don't mind having the walls for years if they keep the market secure. Many of my neighbours and relatives are still in hospital because of explosions," said Um Haitham, a woman in her 60s as she shopped in the Sadriya market in central Baghdad.

Added Abu Mohammed, 45: "I don't like these walls, they make me sick. But if you ask me, no matter how much inconvenience they cause, I prefer them because they provide security."

The walls are designed to stop suicide bombers ramming cars filled with explosives into crowded places and to keep out gunmen by setting up security posts at entry points.

During 2006 and into the first half of 2007, suicide car and truck bombers turned Baghdad's popular outdoor markets into killing fields until the U.S. military began putting up the concrete blast walls to block access to vehicles.

The U.S. military said about 65 markets and some 50 neighbourhoods were either partially or fully protected by concrete blast walls throughout the greater Baghdad area. All are integrated with security checkpoints.

"FUNDAMENTAL" TO SECURITY

While walls are good at stopping cars, suicide vest bombers can still slip through. Some markets are also set up on sidewalks, like the pet markets, making them harder to protect.

But Major-General Qassim Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, said the walls were "absolutely fundamental" to security and there was no plan to tear any down.

"Who would want to remove these walls? Can you imagine a house without a fence. These walls will remain until we have imposed security in all of Baghdad," Moussawi told Reuters.

U.S. and Iraqi officials blame most car bombings on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, saying the militant group is trying to tip the country into all-out sectarian civil war.

Until the launch of the Baghdad security plan on Feb. 14 last year, most of the concrete blast walls were used to protect government buildings and some major hotels.

Protecting markets and other public places became a key element of the Baghdad security offensive, which involved the deployment of an extra 30,000 U.S. troops.

CONTROVERSY AT ADHAMIYA

But controversy erupted in April when the U.S. military began putting up a 5-km (3-mile) wall around Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab neighbourhood surrounded on three sides by Shi'ite communities and where bloody clashes were common.

Residents complained the walls would isolate them and sharpen tensions between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs. Those sentiments are little changed nearly a year later.

"These walls have enhanced sectarianism. It is painful to see them without knowing when they will go," said Ahmed Mustafa, 50, an accountant, adding the walls created traffic jams.

The U.S. military has defended itself against criticism of the construction of walls around neighborhoods including Adhamiya, saying the work was approved by the government.

It has said the aim was to protect some residential areas and not an attempt to divide Baghdad along sectarian lines.

"The additions have reduced the fears of Baghdad residents in all areas where they work, congregate, and sleep," said Major Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad.

In an attempt to make the drab-looking walls less of an eyesore, the authorities last year brought in painters to spruce up the barriers in central Baghdad with colorful scenes of meadows, horses, camels, and marshes.

To Qusai Ali, 32, the paint job has had little effect.

"They are trying to fool us with these drawings to pretend they are nice . . . They are not just content with imprisoning people, they want to put whole cities in prison," he said.

(Writing by Dean Yates, Editing by Dominic Evans)

2.

BACK IN BAGHDAD
By Hans Jaap Melissen

Radio Netherlands Worldwide
February 7, 2008

http://www.radionetherlands.nl/thestatewerein/otherstates/080207-Baghdad-Dutch-blog

It's a cold, dark evening in Baghdad. Deathly quiet too, especially in this hotel. I'm the only guest. Surprised by my unexpected visit, a couple of hotel staff are trying to get the electricity working. Internet is meant to be the next step.

But what does it matter? I'm back, in the city which until two years ago I so much liked to visit.

In those two years Baghdad has become an even stronger fortress. More concrete walls, roadblocks and barbed wire. But in particular it's also become an almost impregnable fortress for journalism. Organizations like CNN and the BBC stayed, but mainly withdrew into their secure houses. And like the New York Times, for example, they had their local staff do the real work on the ground.

But OK, at least they were there. And hopefully they didn't do what a Scandinavian journalist told me -- he was even proud of it. He had everything staged. An item on the refuse collection service, for instance, featured a garbage truck doing a round of the blocked-off road outside his hotel…

Personally, since being in Iraq as an 'unembedded' journalist during the invasion five years ago, I've often had the feeling I was seriously pushing my luck. Or I had the feeling thrust upon me, sometimes by other Iraq-goers, more and more of whom were quitting.

Indeed, when my interpreter was killed a couple of years ago, beheaded by extremists, I also nearly quit. But then Iraq kept calling me.

The death of Martin Adler, a Swedish journalist I once knew from Bagdad, worried me more. Although it wasn't in Iraq but in Somalia he was shot.

And at a certain point I decided to give Baghdad a miss. Until today.

On a plane full of mercenaries I arrived from Jordan in the early afternoon at Baghdad International Airport. The flight was perhaps the most dangerous part of the journey. The mercenaries ("contractors" the Americans call them) from countries like South Africa, Bosnia, and the United States, weren't so happy about the video I was making on board. Although none of their faces were shown, they came to protest loudly. "If I have so much as my nose on YouTube, I'll lose my job," said one of them.

And so I was very glad when the plane landed and I was able to go into town with my interpreter, who has returned specially from the United States. We drove round Baghdad for hours. I've been shopping, visited people's homes, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my work.

Baghdad seems safer, also for journalists. I'm hardly afraid here at all. And the uneasiness you feel about coming here in the safety of the Netherlands is something you have to shake off immediately. Otherwise before you know it you'd be making your own fear the subject of a report. And that usually produces curious results. Perhaps I'd rather order the garbage truck again for an extra round…

3.

BAGHDAD WALLS DIVIDE NEIGHBORS, FRIENDS

Alive in Baghdad
February 4, 2008

http://aliveinbaghdad.org/2008/02/04/baghdad-walls-divide-neighbors-friends/

In order to reduce the rate of violence between the Ghazaliya neighborhood and the Shu’la neighborhood, the Iraqi Government and Coalition Forces built a wall to separate these two neighborhoods. The Iraqi Government initially opposed construction of the walls, but later relented when the U.S. and Iraq’s own Defense Minister made it clear that construction would continue. This was to prevent infiltration by insurgents and traveling between the two neighborhoods and planting IEDs and assassinating people from the opposing sect.

The wall is one and a quarter miles long, measuring from the northern to the southern side of the two neighborhoods and the height of the wall is approximately three meters.

Some rejection demonstrations was taking place around the Wall describing it as another method to separate the Iraqi society, and the crowed was contains both Sunni and Shia Iraqis

Ghazaliya is considered as an expensive neighborhood for Sunni Iraqis, and Shu’la is considered an expensive neighborhood, primarily for Shi’a Iraqis. In Ghazaliya you can see a large building called the Muslim Scholar’s Association which is the head of the Sunni Organizations all across Iraq. On the other side of the wall, in Shu’la there are several offices for the Sadr Movement.

In 2006 Ghazaliya was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad, due to a high number of assassination and kidnapping operations that were taking places on both sides of Ghazaliya, the first side is near the Baghdad highway and the other side marks the border with the Shu’la neighborhood. Then mortar attacks became something very normal between the two neighborhoods, many Iraqis were killed by these attacks. Some people living in the two neighborhoods claimed that either Al-Qaeda or Shi’a extremists in Ghazaliya or Shu’la respectively, were responsible for those attacks. These witness claim they were not caused by regular people who lived in the neighborhoods.

On September 11, 2007, hundreds of people participated in demonstrations calling for an end to building the wall in between the two communities. Similar demonstrations occurred in Adhamiya previous to the construction of the wall in Ghazaliya, as we have shown previously. Today the walls still stand, and it is unclear when or if they will be removed. Although Baghdad appears safer, it is only as a city divided.