Security

Baghdad removes concrete barriers, checkpoints from streets

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

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Iraqi authorities have launched a plan to remove all signs of militarisation from the capital Baghdad. In this photo, posted December 26th, vehicles remove a concrete barrier from a street in al-Karkh. [Photo courtesy of the Baghdad Operations Command]

After years of visible signs of militarisation, the Iraqi capital is now seeing the removal of military infrastructure from its streets in a sign of improved security.

A plan launched December 16th saw Baghdad Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Jalil al-Rubaie personally taking to the streets accompanied by a number of senior officers to oversee the removal of 22 security checkpoints and concrete barriers in various areas of Baghdad as a first phase.

This coincided with the partial opening of the heavily fortified Green Zone area to residents, 15 years after it was closed off for security reasons.

Baghdad is rife with hundreds of security checkpoints set up at the entrances to residential neighbourhoods, near government offices and on vital roads, while concrete blocks close off entire neighborhoods, block many side roads and fence in the entire Green Zone.

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Concrete barriers are being removed and streets reopened in al-Harithiya district in Baghdad on December 17th. [Photo courtesy of the Baghdad Operations Command]

Baghdad to be free of checkpoints

"The plan calls for the removal of all concrete barriers and checkpoints from the capital within a period of six months," said Mohammad al-Rubaie, deputy head of the Baghdad provincial council security committee.

Intelligence agencies will take on the responsibility of maintaining security and pursuing terror groups, he told Diyaruna, noting the widespread network of surveillance cameras that security agencies have begun to install.

"The security situation in Baghdad has now been normalised, especially after the victory over the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS)," he said.

Political conditions also have improved, said al-Rubaie, and there are emerging signs of improvement in the economic situation and upswing in trade.

Continued vigilance and precaution are required, however, "as the enemy is still ferocious and awaiting opportunities [to attack]", he added.

The measures taken to demilitarise Baghdad came a few days after Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi announced the government would reopen part of the high-security Green Zone, home to key official offices, for five hours each evening starting December 10th.

"The opening of the Green Zone comes as part of the directives issued by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to open all closed streets in Baghdad," said Maj. Gen. Jassim Yahya, a commander in the special task force in charge of protecting the Green Zone.

The removal of concrete barriers and reopening of streets is being done through joint efforts by Amanat Baghdad, the Baghdad Operations Command and the special task force, he told Diyaruna.

Eliminating sleeper cells

Iraqi security agencies have succeeded in eliminating most of the sleeper cells inside Baghdad, "which pose the most serious threat to security inside the cities", Iraqi military analyst Safa al-Asam told Diyaruna.

They also have established security outside the capital, especially in the security belt zone around Baghdad after crushing the sleeper cells' incubators and positions in Jurf al-Sakhr and areas leading to Anbar province, he said.

"The decision to remove the checkpoints was not an arbitrary one, but was made after seven months of planning and preparations during which there was an improvement in the security situation and stoppage of security breaches," al-Asam said.

The decision "will evoke a positive reaction among ordinary citizens", he said, noting that it will lead to increased citizen co-operation with security forces.

Past security concerns surrounding Baghdad "will not occur again" as long as the international border with Syria is closely guarded to prevent the infiltration of terrorist groups, he added.

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