Iraq: Anti-terror measures ridiculed by public

IRAQI authorities are resorting to desperate measures to quell rising violence – ordering huge numbers of cars off the roads, bulldozing football fields and even building a medieval-style moat around one city in an effort to keep car bombs out.

Iraqi army soldiers guard a moat surrounding the city of Kirkuk. Picture: AP
Iraqi army soldiers guard a moat surrounding the city of Kirkuk. Picture: AP

Many Iraqis question the security benefits of the heavy-handed efforts, lampooning them online and complaining that they only add to the daily struggle of living in a country weathering its worst bloodshed in five years.

Over the weekend, authorities began banning several hundred thousand vehicles from Baghdad streets each day in a bid to stop the increasing number of car bombings. Cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers are allowed on the streets one day, followed by cars with even-numbered plates the next. Government cars, taxis and lorries are exempted from the policy.

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“Easing the traffic load on checkpoints will make it easier for security forces to search vehicles without causing long lines,” an Interior Ministry official said. Big backlogs of cars, he said, “put pressure on the security forces to do hasty searches”.

Deadly violence, much of it caused by car bombs, has risen in recent months as insurgents capitalise on rising sectarian and ethnic tensions. The scale of the bloodshed has reached levels not seen since 2008. More than 4,000 people have been killed over the past five months alone, according to United Nations figures.

Many Iraqis think the licence plate policy is a step too far.

“Our genius security officials have turned licence plates into the sole solution for all of Baghdad’s security problems,” said Haider Muhsin, a government employee and father of three. He fears he’ll lose out on a good chunk of the £250 in cash he earned on the side each month by shuttling colleagues to work, and won’t be able to take his children to school on certain days.

The new policy has become a big topic among Iraqis on social media sites.

Many posts ridiculed the decision, with some joking that the government will next allow people to go out only according to the first letter in their names. Underneath a photograph showing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II getting off a bus, someone quipped that her plate number must end in an even number on an odd-number day.

The al-Sharqiya television channel, known for its anti-government stance, has launched what it is calling the “Pedal It” initiative, offering more than 2,000 bicycles to Baghdad residents affected by the licence plate limits. It started handing out the first batch of bikes this week.

In the volatile province of Diyala, north-east of Baghdad, the local government recently launched a campaign to bulldoze several football fields after a series of deadly bombings

during games killed or wounded dozens of spectators.

The head of the local football federation, Salah Kamal, said more than 20 fields have been razed, causing the cancellation of several matches and angering young people who have few options for leisure activities.

“The solution should have been providing better security at the fields instead of punishing the youth,” he said.

Police turned down earlier requests for extra protection, he added.

And north of the capital, authorities are constructing a medieval-style dry moat around much of the city of Kirkuk.

Rakan al-Jubouri, the deputy Kirkuk governor said the 35-mile-long trench will significantly improve the security of the city by keeping many car bombs out.