Baghdad is peaceful, but Iraqis are not convinced

By Jamal Hashim, Xinhua,

Baghdad : At sunset, the thoroughfare of Khadraa district, which bisects the Sunni neighbourhood in western Baghdad is crowded. The lull in violence in the Iraqi capital has encouraged people to appear in the street, which only sometime back, was one of the hottest sectarian battlegrounds in Baghdad.

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Life seems to have gone back to normal here, where people jostle on the sidewalk, families spend hours walking in the market where shops and stalls showcase their wares, old men gather in cafes, smoking “hukka” or water pipes, drinking tea and socializing, while teenage girls giggle and talk at ice-cream shops.

However, the calm, emerging after over five years into the Iraq war, still seems too good to be real for many of the traumatized Iraqis, who keep asking: “Is it a real and sustainable peace?”

“People here are happy to see life back to normal, but I am not sure of that. The calm is still very fragile,” said Saad Hameed, a 22-year-old college student.

The increased presence of US troops, uprising of Sunnis against Al Qaeda and the ceasefire by a major Shia militia are the major factors contributing to the improved security.

The US military says violence has dropped to a four-year low across Iraq. The Iraqi government is also calling for expediting the political reconciliation process and the return of refugees.

Doubt persists, nevertheless.

“I am not sure that we will have real peace, because nothing tangible happened that may change the violent course of life in Baghdad. To me I think the reason behind the violence is that the country was not ready for the change the Americans and their allies want after the invasion,” said Nu’man Jabir, a 48-year-old electronic engineer.

“After the collapse of Saddam (Hussein)’s regime, the civil society and its organizations were not ready to show up and take the lead, while the religious parties were better organized and took the lead in the political process. They were behind the profound division in the Iraqi society,” he added.

In Baghdad, Sunnis and Shias live in separate neighbourhoods, which are secured by concrete walls and barricades.

“It is not the Baghdad I knew. The city is now divided with thousands of barrier walls into smaller and smaller areas to protect people from bombings, sniper fire and kidnappings, ” said 54-year-old Mahir Abbas, a government employee.

Signs of war are everywhere in Baghdad districts, with the US vehicles patrolling the city neighborhoods, along with the heavy presence of Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

Concrete barricades and walls, which block access to schools, mosques, markets and every place that could be attacked, become part of the people’s life in the city.

There are also the military “rules of engagement” which give the US troops and the Iraqi security forces immunity of being prosecuted by the Iraqi law, which keep reminding people that the calm is externally imposed, and thus could be volatile.

“Things are much better,” said housewife Maha Hussein, “but you know this calm is not like everywhere in the world, because those who make troubles still exist and may appear at any time.”