Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jisr al-Hadeed

This morning Baghdad lost one of its historic icons when the terrorists blew up the Sarrafiya Bridge. This was an attack on both a vital infrastructure of the city and our morale, let alone the innocent lives that were lost in this vicious attack. What we lost today was not just a bridge, it was a piece of the Baghdad history.

Jisr al-Hadeed (“the iron bridge”), as many Baghdadis like to call it, was the first fixed bridge to be built over the Tigris as a gift from the British to the Iraqi people back in the 1940s.
I have many beautiful memories of Jisr al-Hadeed; memories of how many times I sat in that coffee shop and stared at the glittering reflections of its lights on the water, of how many evenings I sat under it with friends. When we were young and couldn’t drink at home, the Nazla (the river bank immediately under the bridge) was one of our favorite spots. Once there we’d drink cold beers in hot summer nights, with the sound of the slow and small waves of the Tigris as our music….

With several other bridges closed to traffic permanently or occasionally, the Sarrafiya Bridge became of strategic importance to us as more people became dependent on it for their traveling between the two sides of the city.

The terrorists wanted to stop normal life with this attack and they succeeded. Transportation between Karkh and Rasafa just got more difficult than ever. In addition, many people will avoid being on bridges for fear of similar attacks in the future.
Technically, the northern half of the city is now left with no usable bridges. Those in the southern half are either too far for most Baghdadis, closed, or have a dangerous spot at one of their ends.

The timing of the explosion in the early morning suggests the terrorists were more interested in destroying the bridge itself than killing civilians. If the detonation had been by merely 2 or 3 hours later the casualties would’ve been much larger. Now that this has happened the idea that they may be planning more of such attacks is terrifying. It takes months to rebuild a bridge and the damage to the economy and morale is really severe.

Everyone I talked to today was more saddened by the bridge attack than the explosion at the parliament building that killed two of its members. They all seemed to agree that if there’s anyone to blamed for that it’s the members of parliament themselves. Parliament members are famous for complaining about ‘security measures’ in the Green Zone being “insulting” to them and to Iraq’s sovereignty. They didn’t want their vehicles and guards to be searched. This is the result.

The incident was no surprise to me, when we often hear that bombs, explosive vests and illegal weapons have been found in buildings inside the International Zone. You just knew that one day something bad was going to happen. The MPs know very well that there are bad elements among their guards, yet they didn’t move to tighten security measures in the area nor done anything to identify and remove corrupt guards.

Apart from who’s to blame for it, the parliament bombing will reflect in a bad way on its performance. I suspect reaching quorum in future sessions, which is necessary to vote on any law, will now be even more difficult.

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