Thursday, January 27, 2005

Across Baghdad, Security Is Only an Ideal


“On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

"I would definitely say it's enemy territory," said Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division that is responsible for patrolling a wide area of southern Baghdad with a population of 1.3 million people.

In the week that ended Sunday, according to figures kept by Western security companies with access to data compiled by the American command, Baghdad was hit by 7 suicide car bombings, 37 roadside bombs and 52 insurgent attacks involving automatic rifles or rocket-propelled grenades. The suicide bombs alone killed at least 60 people and injured 150 others.

… When American troops entered Baghdad and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein 21 months ago, Raad al-Naqib felt free at last.

But Dr. Naqib, a 46-year-old Sunni dentist who opposed Mr. Hussein, will not vote Sunday when Iraqis will have their first opportunity in a generation to participate in an election with no predetermined outcome. It is, he said, far too dangerous when insurgent groups have warned that they will kill anybody who approaches a polling station.

Although the American military command has cited surveys purportedly showing 80 percent of Baghdad's residents are eager to vote, many people interviewed by reporters are like Dr. Naqib who say they will stay away.

"Every day, when you leave your home, you don't know what will happen - bombs, bullets, kidnapping," Dr. Naqib said as he braced himself against the near-freezing cold in the garden of the private sports club where he had taken his wife and three children for lunch, their first family outing in months. "You ask me about hope - there is no hope. On ordinary days, I cannot even allow my children to play in the garden. To them, a garden is something they only see through windows."

In one Baghdad office, only one of 20 people who were asked said he intended to vote; the others, all citing the fear of being attacked by insurgents, either as they walk to the polls - all civilian vehicle traffic has been banned on election day - or after they return home. American commanders have included Baghdad among four Iraqi provinces where they say security issues pose a major threat to the voter turnout.

The other 14 provinces, all with heavy Sunni Muslim populations, are Anbar, which includes the cities of Ramadi and Falluja; Salahadin, with the troubled cities Samarra and Bakuba; and Nineveh, whose capital is Mosul.

But for the elections' credibility, Baghdad may matter most, because it is the nation's capital, and because, with its intermingled population of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and other groups, it is Iraq's most cosmopolitan city and thus, American officials believe, the most promising place for the civic norms represented by the election to take root.

If any one area demonstrates just how out of control parts of Baghdad are, it is along Haifa Street, two miles of tree-lined boulevard that run down the west bank of the Tigris River right to the Assassin's Gate, the northern entry to the vast command center for the American and Iraqi officials who now, together, effectively govern Iraq. Any journey on Haifa Street - as central to Baghdad as Fifth Avenue is to Manhattan - is fraught with the risk of ambush by insurgent groups from the dun-colored office and apartment buildings that flank it.

It was on Haifa Street that masked insurgents with drawn pistols ambushed three Iraqi election workers last month, forcing them from their vehicle, making them kneel in the road and shooting them in the head. Dozens of other attacks have made the street synonymous among the people of Baghdad with imminent death.

Every American attempt to root out the insurgents has failed, and their dominion is written loudly in graffiti on freshly painted, and repainted, walls. "Long live the resistance!" they say. "There is no God but Allah and his Prophet!"; "Death to the Americans and their Iraqi lackeys!"

American military units travel in heavily armed convoys, gunners in helmets and goggles swiveling 50-caliber machine guns on expressways and along inner-city shopping streets to ward off attacks, and not infrequently opening fire, with civilian casualties.…
con·cept: Across Baghdad, Security Is Only an Ideal