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June 23, 2006

Curfew in Iraq
Posted by Michael Signer

Without making any policy pronouncements or partisan postures on Iraq, it's useful now and then just to try and put yourself in ordinary Iraqis' shoes.  The WaPo had a story last Sunday on the leak of a startling internal memo from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq showing that Iraqi employees at the Embassy can barely tie their shoes without worrying about being assassinated.  Now today finds an unsettling story, again in the WaPo, describing the curfew that was just announced -- abruptly and with no notice -- in Baghdad:

Adding a new layer of confusion to the security crackdown gripping Baghdad, the Iraqi government today imposed a last-minute ban on pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic throughout the city.

The 2 p.m. curfew was announced late in the morning, after many people were already traveling to work or to mosques for weekly Friday prayers. Originally, it was supposed to last all night. But hours later, a bulletin on Iraqi television announced the curfew would end at 5 p.m. (9 a.m. in Washington).

Here's how a taxi driver described the day-to-day reality of the curfew:

"Aren't they supposed to give us a day's notice? How are people who went to work or to pray supposed to get home?" said Muahmmed Saleh, 28, a taxi driver. "This is a decision by someone who is not wise, not reasonable." Nearby, a barber who lives in the southern neighborhood of Dora shuttered his shop quickly and set off walking home.

I've never lived in a city with a curfew.  It's hard for me to imagine.  I have a lot of friends who were in New York during and after 9/11, and they talk movingly about the conditions imposed on travel below Houston. 

I live right now in Arlington, Virginia -- what would it be like if the government suddenly sent officers into the street with megaphones telling me I couldn't leave my house? 

What if we couldn't walk openly on the street -- if when I go to the CVS (where nowadays I tend to do my grocery shopping -- life of a lawyer), I had to look both ways before leaving with my cereal and milk? 

What kind of "nation" would I feel I was living in?

Not deep thoughts, I know -- more banal ones.  But that's the point.  What constitutes a functioning nation -- a secure city -- are the most banal things.  Like being able to leave your house at 2 in the afternoon.


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That State Dep't memo is astonishing. The CIA has 500 people in Iraq. If our ambassador is relying on water-cooler gossip to find out who's guarding the Green Zone, then what exactly is the CIA doing?

This also doesn't reflect well on Green Zone security.

In April, employees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be more militia like. One employee asked us to explore getting her press credentials because guards had held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to nearby passers-by "Embassy" as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.


What kind of "nation" would I feel I was living in?

You are already living in that nation needn't look any further than New Orleans.


But the fact remains that 10 months after the city's levees failed to hold back the storm surge, scores of neighborhoods - from the tony shores of Lake Pontchartrain to the ruined houses of the African-American middle class in New Orleans East to the rubble of the lower Ninth Ward - are still deserted and ripe for looters and squatters.

A lively drug trade has helped send New Orleans' murder rate, long ranked among the nation's worst, even higher than it was before Katrina by some reckonings. And anxiety is spreading.

As the American Library Association opened the Big Easy's biggest convention since Katrina on Thursday, tourism leaders worried that a resurgence of crime could jeopardize any comeback by the city's largest industry. Hotels received dozens of phone calls from fretful librarians asking whether it was safe to come.

In hotel lobbies, visitors receive a paper telling them to enjoy strolling through the French Quarter. But it warns, "Refrain from venturing into areas of the city that are sparsely populated, particularly after dark."

Sitting on porches along the hot, mean streets of Central City, in an area that cops call "the Triangle of Death," perspiring folks are fatalistic.

"I love Central City. I was born and raised here," said Tiba Hankton. "But it's the real world. It's not Mayberry where you can lay inside and leave your door open."

It's no surprise that guns and drugs and sudden death have returned along with residents, said Robert Taylor. The computer programmer had come down from Clayton County, Ga., for a few days to oversee the rebuilding of his mother's home.

"We never had a shooting like that before, but there have been other incidents," Taylor said. He said he misses New Orleans but is considering living in metro Atlanta permanently.


The last comment should've been pointed towards the author of this entry, Michael Singer and not the previous comment made by Cal. My appologies.

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