Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tearing down of neighborhood barriers breathes new life into Baghdad

The Guardian International Edition Michael Howard Baghdad Security may still be unpredictable, but officials in the Iraqi capital are planning to tear down Baghdad’s network of concrete barriers and razor wire in the coming months as a measure of reconciliation creeps through its neighbourhoods. The towering grey concrete barriers, known as T-walls, sprang up as sectarian conflict intensified in 2006 and 2007. Streets were closed and checkpoints established. Entire communities were isolated or divided, and familiar landmarks all but disappeared. Residents cowered or fled. Now, improved security means that teams of cranes and trucks are stealing out under cover of darkness from municipal depots across the capital and removing the barriers, street by street. A ministry of defence spokesman said that most of the concrete barriers would be gone by the end of 2009. “They are now the biggest obstacle to breathing new life into our city,” said Ali Dawoud, the head of reconstruction and development at Baghdad’s city council. He said that since January 10%-15% of the streets that were closed had been reopened and the barrier removal programme was growing month by month, security permitting. Security concerns still abound. Bombs and mortars are still a regular occurrence in Baghdad, with violence flaring across the country in advance of a 30 June deadline for US troops to withdraw from urban areas. Yesterday the volatility of the situation was underscored by a car bomb in the Shia heartland of Nasiriya that killed more than 30 people. But the Baghdad wall removal plan is part of a wider effort to beautify a city scarred by years of conflict. Sabah Sami, a spokesman for the Baghdad municipality, said: “Our role is to rehabilitate the streets and repair the damage made by the concrete walls to streets and pavements and because of their weight to the city’s drainage and sewerage system.” Each T-wall weighs about five tonnes. “Once they have gone from an area, we will clean and pave and then paint and plant,” Sami said. The only barriers to stay would be to protect ministries and other official buildings. Nobody knows how many barriers were deployed in the capital. Some residents likened them to tombstones, others to a thousand Berlin Walls. But as a result of the beautification campaign, city authorities have now found themselves in possession of thousands of unwanted reinforced concrete slabs, standard measurement 12ft by 5ft (3.7m x 1.5m). On a recent trip to a southern suburb the Guardian glimpsed a T-wall graveyard that appeared to stretch for miles. Suggestions have ranged from deploying them along Iraq’s notoriously porous borders to massing them into a large heap as a monument to the madness of war. “There’s really not much you can do with them, other than build more walls,” said an engineer serving with the US military in Iraq.

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