Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi streets a site of constant danger

`SUDDEN DEATH' Drivers in Iraq are constantly faced with the danger of being hit by gunfire, missiles, carbombs, landmines, and being mistaken for suicide bombers

AP , Baghdad, Iraq

When Adnan Shalaal left his job at the Sheraton Hotel on Friday afternoon, he went from being a valued employee and father of three to a statistic on a police blotter -- one of dozens recorded daily in one of the world's most dangerous cities.

Shalaal and his three young children inadvertently drove through a shootout between insurgents and police. The 30-year-old hotel administrator was shot in the head, his blood and brains splattering over the youngsters. Although his children were unharmed, Shalaal was not expected to survive.

By day or night, Baghdad has become a cacophony of automatic weapons fire, explosions and sudden death, its citizens living in constant fear of being shot by insurgents or the security forces meant to protect them.

Streets are crammed with passenger cars fighting for space with armored vehicles and pickup trucks loaded with hooded and heavily armed Iraqi soldiers. Those who dare to drive worry about car bombs, as well as roadside bombs targeting Iraqi forces and their American allies. More worrisome still: the risk of being shot by US troops who could mistake them for suicide attackers.

Hundreds of bombs in recent months have made mosques, public squares, sidewalks and even some central streets extremely dangerous places in Baghdad.

But even some of the world's meanest streets, where suicide bombers killed nearly 100 people one February weekend, have far deadlier places -- especially in the hours of darkness.

There's Haifa Street, where rocket-propelled grenades sometimes fly through traffic. There's Rashid Street, a favorite for roadside bombers near the Tigris River.

And then there's Sadoun Street, once teeming with Western hotels and home to Firdous Square -- the landmark roundabout in central Baghdad where Iraqis toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein.

In the two years since Saddam's ouster, Sadoun Street become an avenue of blast walls -- thick concrete slabs 2 to 3.6 meters high -- that protect government buildings and hotels now home to the few Western contractors and journalists who remain.

"At night, I don't drive, unless it's very necessary or an emergency case, to avoid being shot," said Ali Fahim, 35, an engineer. "I don't want to be a victim, so it's better to stay at home. Even during the day, I avoid streets with barriers, and when I have to go by them, I drive as quickly as possible to avoid any attack."

But even Sadoun Street has its bane: a small hotel that is a jumble of concrete slabs, gun positions and concrete bunkers that insurgents seem convinced is a den of American spies -- or in their minds more so than the other hotels.

Gunmen often drive by the hotel before dawn, opening fire at its guards. Returning fire, the guards are then joined by nearly every police officer, guard or soldier in the area that has a gun. The crescendo generated is such that residents can often tell which direction the insurgents are traveling.

On March 9, residents of central Baghdad were shaken out of their beds when a suicide attacker in a garbage truck set off a huge bomb outside one of the hotels -- which al-Qaida in Iraq described as a "hotel of the Jews." The blast killed four people and wounded 40 -- including 30 American contractors.

"It's rather dangerous to drive at night, especially to pass through streets like Haifa or Rashid, or Sadoun. Random shooting might start at any minute on any of these streets. Every day, we hear many stories of many people killed," said Mohammed Aziz, 23.

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