Monday, March 19, 2007

Checkpoint and double checkpoint.

STOP! Official Checkpoint By orders of the Prime Minister and Commander of Baghdad Operations Checkpoint No. 4 Sector No. 6

A sign similar to this one greets you at all fixed checkpoints in Baghdad. These words authenticate the legitimacy of the checkpoint and emphasize who’s in charge in this or that area.

With the constant force buildup many streets now host multiple checkpoints, both fixed and mobile. All are positioned in a manner that allows soldiers in one to have visual contact with those in the next one.

As the operations continue, the interior ministry is introducing new identification measures for vehicles used by its personnel. The new armored vehicles are unique and leave no room for confusion, while the SUV’s are getting new light-green paint with the words ‘National Police’ well visible on the sides.

From my personal experience I can tell that the men staffing the checkpoints do not take their job lightly. One can feel that a long month of hard work did not exhaust them, and I am awed by the courage of those soldiers and policemen. In a city which has absorbed more suicide bombings than all other cities in the world combined every passing vehicle or motorcycle is a threat.
I can’t imagine myself in a position where my job requires I open dozens of trunks every day and each one of those moments might be the end of my life and those of the people around me. The physical and psychological pressure is enormous, yet those brave men continue to be our shield.

I was listening to the radio this morning and the first headline was ‘Policeman killed in an explosion south of Baghdad’. The story later explains that ‘south of Baghdad’ actually meant Babil. Babil is actually 60 miles away from Baghdad. The misleading headline underscored again how most media try to associate every piece of bad news with Baghdad to maintain the image of violence associated with the city.
No doubt people who follow the news as it is being reported in the West get the impression that we’re fighting a lost war, and I feel that there won’t be a day when our struggle to live a normal life and what we achieve in this path will make headlines that run above those of death.

You look around in Baghdad now and see hundreds of men working in the streets to pick up garbage; to plant flowers and paint the blast walls in joyful colors. Many of Baghdad’s squares are becoming green and clean. The picture isn’t perfect, but it’s a clear attempt to beat violence and ease pain through giving the spring a chance to shine.

Nights in Baghdad now are far from quiet, but the sounds cause less anxiety for me than they did before. I recognize the rumble of armor and thump of guns and they assure me that the gangs and militias do not dominate the night as they once did.
When an Arabs or westerners ask me about the situation and I answer that hope remains and that we’re looking forward to a better future most would say ‘Are you living in this world?’ I answer, ‘Yes, it’s you who live in the parallel world the media built for you with images of only death and destruction’.

If it surprised some of them that a poll found Iraqis optimistic, then I’m surprised that someone finally bothered to ask Iraqis how they feel.
Just as free birds would never return to the cage, we don’t want to return to the days of the tyrant. Birds do not care that beasts roam outside and would not feel nostalgic for a home or meal mixed with humiliation.
All that a free bird cares about is to spread wings and fly as it pleases.

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