IRAQ: Baghdad security plan shows progress, but challenges remain
BAGHDAD, 19 March 2007 (IRIN) - Baghdad’s month-old new security plan is showing signs of progress as the capital’s death toll has dropped by 30 percent and execution-style slayings have halved, say specialists.
As such, access for humanitarian relief deliveries has improved, say aid workers. However, car bombs and suicide attacks are still commonplace.
“If the high-profile car bombs can be stopped or brought down to a much lower level, we’ll see an incredible difference in the city overall,” Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the US military spokesman in Iraq, told a press conference in Baghdad on 14 March.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), the country’s only aid agency operating throughout the country, said that its teams are working like “bees” through its 40 offices in Baghdad.
“We are still able to reach anyone who needs our help and our movement has not been hampered… It’s better than before,” Mazin Abdullah Saloom, a Red Crescent spokesman said. “We still have access to displaced families in Baghdad and its suburbs while medicine and essential items are still being brought into hospitals,” Saloom added.
For the first time in many months, downtown shoppers have returned to Baghdad’s outdoor markets as the rattle of gunfire and the blasts of bombs can be heard much less frequently.
“For the first time in eight months, I can open my store for about seven hours a day and serve my clients,” said Jassim Hammad Ali, a 33-year-old barber in Baghdad’s northern neighbourhood of Adhamiyah.
“We were not able to open this long before because of the explosions around the area and the threats of extremists ordering us not to trim beards or do modern haircuts," Ali added. “Yet each explosion renews fears inside me that the horror is coming back.”
On 14 March, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman of the US-Iraqi security plan, said the number of civilians killed in the capital since the operation started a month before had plunged to 265, compared with 1,440 people killed during the previous month.
Moussawi also said 94 militants had been killed while 713 militants and 1,152 other suspects had been arrested since 14 February. In the same period, 24 kidnap victims had been released and more than 2,000 displaced families had returned to their homes.
However, despite the improvement in security, Baghdad residents said that Shia militias and Sunni insurgents were still around, lying low or hiding outside the city until the new security operation is over.
“They are still in their houses, offices, coffee shops and everywhere in the neighbourhood. They just walk without their weapons but they will do what they did once the [security] operation is over. We will not return,” said Abu Mohammed, 55, a Sunni who two months ago was displaced with his six-member family by Shia militia from Hurriyah neighbourhood.
The absence of Sunni insurgents and the radical Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr and his fearful militiamen is considered one of the reasons behind the reduced violence in the capital.
“But this doesn't mean they are gone forever; they are just adopting a new tactic by bowing to the storm to reorganise themselves more to resurface later," said Baghdad-based analyst Mohammed Abbas al-Hamad.
“Key leaders [of Shia militiamen and Sunni insurgents] have left the country or the capital while others are still around but have frozen their activities for the time being,” al-Hamad added.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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