Wed, Jul 06, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Baghdad divided as US walls off its seat of power

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

Abdul Kareem Jabbar, left, relaxes with family members in his backyard next to Baghdad's ``Green Zone'' as the newly fortified barrier looms over them in this June 26 file photo.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Iraqis call it Assur, the Fence. In English everyone calls it the Wall, and in the past two years it has grown and grown until it has become an almost continuous rampart, at least 16km in circumference, around the seat of US power in Baghdad.

The wall is not a small factor in the lives of ordinary Iraqis outside it. Khalid Daoud, an employee at the Culture Ministry, still looks in disbelief at the barrier of 3.6m high five-tonne slabs that cuts through his garden.

This is one snapshot of life for countless Iraqis who live, work, shop and kick soccer balls around in the shadow of the structure. Many despise the wall, a few are strangely drawn to it, but no one can ignore it. Fortifications of one kind or another abound in the city, but there is nothing that compares to the snaking, zigzagging loop that is the wall.

Sometimes likened to the Berlin Wall by those who are not happy about its presence, the structure cleanly divides the relative safety of the Green Zone, which includes Saddam Hussein's old palace and ministry complex, now used by the US authorities and heavily patrolled by US troops, from the Red Zone -- most of the rest of Baghdad -- where security ranges from adequate to nonexistent.

But for all the problems faced by residents across the city, the neighborhoods within a few blocks of the wall have become a world apart. Mortar rounds and rockets fired at the Green Zone fall short and land there. Suicide bombers, unable to breach the wall, explode in shops just outside it. And the maze of checkpoints, blocked streets and rumbling US armor may be thicker here than anywhere else in Baghdad.

"We are the new Palestine," said Saman Abdel Aziz Rahman, owner of the Serawan kebab restaurant, hard upon the northern reaches of the wall.

Two weeks ago a man walked into a restaurant a few doors from the Serawan and blew himself up at lunchtime, killing 23 people, wounding 36 and sending pieces of flesh all the way to Rahman's establishment.

One of the paradoxes of the wall is that while many are repelled by it, others are drawn by the feeling that they will be protected by the overwhelming might that lies just on the other side. US foot patrols, rarely seen elsewhere in Baghdad, are fairly routine along the outside of the wall, and residents know that any sustained guerrilla incursion near the zone would draw a swarm of Apache helicopters and Humvees, as well as a tank or two if necessary.

The stretch of wall near the Serawan, which is faced with a stucco-like material, is not new. It is there that the wall encloses the Assassin's Gate, the bulky arch above a boulevard leading to Saddam's former Republican Palace. Even though the Americans doubled its height with a chain-link fence, barbed wire and a green tarpaulin on top, there is little sense that the structure has blighted the neighborhood.

Soad Harb, an engineer who lives with her family next to the July 14th Bridge in a well-appointed apartment that senior officials in Saddam's government abandoned in 2003, said she was happy to live so close to the southern boundary of the Green Zone, where she sometimes finds work with Fluor, a big US contractor.

Harb said that while the US checkpoint at the end of the bridge made the neighborhood dangerous and noisy, the soldiers who walked through the area talking with children made the barrier seem less intimidating.

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