Thursday, August 08, 2013

Baghdad's Concrete Walls

I can't find where, but years ago Tim Burke speculated on what the long-term effects would be of the concrete barriers erected between Baghdad neighborhoods during Iraq's civil war.  Today Amin Alsaden writes about how they allow the government a form of control of the city that prevents large popular mobilizations:
Baghdad is divided into various neighborhoods controlled by an extensive system of blast walls and checkpoints. The oppressive pervasiveness of this system can only be experienced by those negotiating its spatial stranglehold. Many Baghdad streets are still lined with the seemingly endless concrete barriers, which come in different shapes and are deployed in various formations. Since the majority of Baghdad buildings are one to two stories high, this means that one's view in several parts of the city consists solely of the ubiquitous grey walls, contributing to an overwhelming sense that one is constantly navigating an open-air prison. The barriers blend effortlessly with preexisting walls that were erected around sensitive government buildings in the Ba’athist era and with those surrounding extant Saddam Hussein palaces, becoming reminders of sinister continuities of the old Iraq. Yet, the city is in a constant state of gridlock not only because of how these walls hamper mobility, but also because of the numerous checkpoints strewn across Baghdad, in each major street or neighborhood. The resulting slow traffic is exacerbated by the painstaking procedure of inspecting vehicles individually, which is conducted by exposing cars to the controversial—and according to locals completely ineffective—hand-held explosive detectors. This comprehensive system—the efficacy of which is disputable given the sheer number of attacks taking place on a regular basis—makes Baghdad one of the most controllable cities in the world today. The system gives the Iraqi government an unprecedented local power, allowing it to place the entire city under curfew, or to encircle parts of it at will, as witnessed recently. In other words, the system in place is ineffective in providing security, but exceptionally effective in controlling Baghdadis and their movements.



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