x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Baghdad checkpoints frustrate citizens

Residents say checkpoints designed to protect them are causing more problems than they prevent.

Iraqi security forces search a car at a checkpoint in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday.
Iraqi security forces search a car at a checkpoint in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday.

BAGHDAD // Maysam Ahmed, an emergency-room surgeon, walks three hours to work at a Baghdad hospital, because it is faster than going through the vehicle checkpoints that have been set up after a spate of Al Qaeda attacks during Ramadan.

He believes the nearly 100 security checkpoints could have the opposite of the intended effect. "The bombs have occurred," he said, "and what's happened has happened. We all know that the bombings are not over, but these extra checkpoints will not prevent them; they will only make them worse."

He explains that Al Qaeda wants concentrated areas of people for their attacks, and that is what these checkpoints facilitate for them.

"I woke up early and went out before 5am, hoping to reach work by 8," he says, adding that before the security checks were in place he could drive to work in 20 minutes.

Vehicles are searched and vehicle identification papers and drivers' licences scrutinised at each checkpoint. Some security points use dogs to help in the search, causing additional delays.

"Where do you come from?" and "Where are you going?" are the always-asked questions.

Al Qaeda's front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, said it carried out 131 attacks, mainly against security forces and Al Qaeda militiamen in Diyala province and south of Baghdad, this past Ramadan.

More than 400 people were killed in attacks countrywide during that time, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) tally based on security and medical sources.

Eight policemen were killed and 12 more injured in two armed attacks on checkpoints in the mainly Sunni Mashada neighbourhood in one incident. In another, gunmen killed three security members of the Sahwa, or Awakening movement, at a checkpoint north of Baghdad.

The Sahwa are Sunni Arabs who joined forces with the US military to fight Al Qaeda at the height of Iraq's insurgency. Abo Malik, 61, who now walks two and half hours from his house to a medical centre, to get his blood pressure medication, agrees that the extra security is causing more problems than it is preventing.

"The checkpoints do nothing and can't stop any terrorist action," he said after a two-and-a-half hour walk to the Khadimiyah Health Centre. "I just want them to open all the streets and let us live our lives normally. It's hard to live, seeing thousands of soldiers filling the streets, like we live in prison. I want to have my medication on time. I want my life to become easy. I just don't care about the security procedures."

The additional checkpoints have also created problems for those trying to help people who have been injured.

Rajah Saied, an ambulance driver for Khadimiyah General Hospital, said sometimes it is impossible to get his ambulance through the narrow traffic jams caused by the stops, directly endangering the lives the security points are supposed to be saving.

"It's hard to make my way through, when I'm responding to a call or picking up people injured by bombs," he said.

"People are hurt by the bombings, but are losing their lives in the crazy traffic jams, because they are losing blood, and I feel guilty, because I can't save them".

At least 179 people were killed and 676 injured in attacks in Iraq this month, according to an AFP tally.

 

nlatif@thenational.ae