Saturday, February 17, 2007

Attacks in Baghdad down by 80%

Since the multiple bombings in Shroja market district on the 12th, Baghdad hasn’t seen any major attacks and there’s a tangible decrease in all kinds of attacks.

Not only official statements say so (Defense ministry officials said today that attacks are down by 80% in Baghdad). It’s a reality I live in nowadays, at least in my neighborhood and its surroundings. It is also what I hear from friends and relatives in other parts of the city.
We are hearing fewer explosions and less gunfire now than two weeks ago and that, in Baghdad, qualifies as quiet.

I agree with what some experts say about this lull in violence being the result of militants keeping their heads down for a while. It is also possibly the result of the flight of the commanders of militant groups. Grunts left without planners, money or leaders wouldn’t want to do much on their own.

During my tour in Baghdad today I had to pull over to be searched at several checkpoints — something that has rarely happened to me before. When you are searched soldiers or policemen check the identity cards of passengers, and the registration papers of the vehicle along with a thorough physical search. Checkpoints deal even more strictly with large vans and cargo trucks.

The interesting thing about new checkpoints is the constant shifting of their location. One hour the checkpoint would be here and two hours later it would relocate to another position within the area. I think this helps security forces avoid becoming targets instead of hunters.
In addition to soldiers and policemen, most checkpoints have one or more traffic policemen reportedly being equipped with laptops that enable them to flag suspected vehicles by offering instant access to vehicle-registration databases.

Side by side with new security efforts is a campaign to clean and redecorate many streets, circles and parks in Baghdad. New trees are planted and damaged street medians and sidewalks are being refurbished. This offers a small yet much needed breeze of hope and normalcy to the traumatized city.

The most significant and encouraging development is certainly this report from al-Sabah:
Brigadier Qasim Ata, an authorized Baghdad Operation spokesman, told al-Sabah that for the 3rd day in a row dozens of displaced families are returning to their homes. 35 families returned in Madain, 7 in hay al-I’ilam and small numbers of families in various districts of Baghdad.
Later reports in the local media indicate that the total number of families that returned home is as high as 130 families across the city, including several families in the, until recently, hopelessly violent district of Hay al-Adl.

The report adds that Maliki ordered that the Bab al-Muadam and al-Shuhada bridges on the Tigris be reopened to traffic next week. This decision came in response to the “notable increase in traffic activity which in turn is a result of the growing feeling of safety”.
Confirming what we said earlier about the recovery of civilian activity, the spokesman said “most stores in the Alawi al-Hilla districts have reopened after times when this area was a scene for repeated terrorist attacks”.

As the effort continues in Baghdad, four other provinces are launching simultaneous plans to support operation ‘Imposing the Law’. Officials in the provinces of Diwaniya, Salahaddin, Wasit and Babil announced that the security forces are implementing a security plan to support and empower the ongoing operation in Baghdad, and to deal with the threat of possible infiltration by terrorists coming from Baghdad.

The progress made so far invites hope and optimism, but it’s still too early to celebrate. Terrorists will keep trying to carry out attacks similar to those in Sadriya or Shorja. They want sow as much death and destruction as they can in order to shake the people’s confidence in the security plan. Such criminals attacks are still quite possible in Baghdad, but even if happen we must not let that stop us from pursuing the objectives of our efforts to stop the death and deterioration, to turn the tide and make progress.

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