In 2007, part of the new security plan for Baghdad involved building blast walls between neighborhoods. This created a lot of controversy at the time, both here and in Baghdad, for dividing the city and cutting into trade. Critics of the war accused the US of committing “ethnic cleansing”, but in fact the walls contributed to the rapid decrease in violence in the Iraqi capital.
Now, with the city pacified and life returning to normal, the time has come to take down the walls:
Market by market, square by square, the walls are beginning to come down. The miles of hulking blast walls, ugly but effective, were installed as a central feature of the surge of American troops to stop neighbors from killing one another.
“They protected against car bombs and drive-by attacks,” said Adnan, 39, a vegetable seller in the once violent neighborhood of Dora, who argues that the walls now block the markets and the commerce that Baghdad needs to thrive. “Now it is safe.”
The slow dismantling of the concrete walls is the most visible sign of a fundamental change here in the Iraqi capital. The American surge strategy, which increased the number of United States troops and contributed to stability here, is drawing to a close. And a transition is under way to the almost inevitable American drawdown in 2009.
Not all of the walls will come down soon. Blast walls still protect the Green Zone, for instance, and will for the foreseeable future. One or more Sunni neighborhoods still have blast walls isolating them. Many people have grown used to the security they have provided, and some of the people interviewed by the Times advise against removing them at all.