Arab summit security irks Baghdad residents
BAGHDAD HOSTING an Arab summit may be Iraq’s way of opening up after years of conflict, but Baghdad’s residents have been left smarting as swathes of the city have been largely shut down for it to do so.
The Iraqi capital’s already gnarling traffic has all but ground to a halt, and the government has declared a week of holidays on the days surrounding the March 27-29 summit to encourage people to stay at home.
Prices at markets, where people have flocked to buy supplies to avoid having to venture too far from home, have shot up as short-term demand has soared and the time required to bring in new goods has lengthened because of tighter checkpoint searches and longer traffic queues. “Prices have doubled because of the transport crisis,” said Mehdi Jassim, who was shopping at a greengrocer’s shop in Baghdad’s central commercial district of Karrada.
Blaming authorities for going ahead with plans to host the summit, the first Arab League meeting to be held in Iraq since now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Jassim continued: “Politicians are just looking after their own interests, not the people’s.” Muhanad Ali, 30, chimed in, complaining the price of his regular food purchases had as much as tripled.
“The expenses for this summit would have been better spent on improving public services,” the labourer said, alluding to Baghdad’s frequent power cuts, patchy main water supply and poor sewerage. Officials have trumpeted their hosting of the summit as evidence of the country’s relative stability after decades of conflict and sanctions, a sign that Iraq is ready to play a leadership role in the Arab world.
But insurgent groups have nevertheless been able to mount massive attacks, including a wave of shootings and bombings, claimed by Al Qaeda, that left 50 dead nationwide on Tuesday.
Among the attacks was a car bomb that went off in a car park directly opposite the foreign ministry.
In response, security forces have closed off several key roads and most of the bridges that traverse the Tigris River, and drafted in thousands of extra policemen and soldiers to bolster security in the capital.