Baghdad to become sealed city


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

September 16, 2006

Iraqis Plan to Ring Baghdad With Trenches

BAGHDAD, Sept. 15 ‹ The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad within weeks 
by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic 
checkpoints to control movement in and out of the violent city of seven million 
people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The effort is one of the most ambitious security projects this year, with cars 
expected to be funneled through 28 checkpoints along the main arteries snaking 
out from the capital. Smaller roads would be closed. The trenches would run 
across farmland or other open areas to prevent cars from evading checkpoints, 
said the ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf.

³We¹re going to build a trench around Baghdad so we can control the exits and 
entrances so people will be searched properly,² he said in a telephone 
interview. ³The idea is to get the cars to go through the 28 checkpoints that we
set up.²

American officials said the military had approved of the plan, which has been in
the works for weeks. General Khalaf said he did not know how much the 
construction would cost or how many laborers would be employed.

There has been a surge in the number of Iraqis killed execution-style in the 
last few days, with scores of bodies found across the city despite an aggressive
security plan begun last month. The Baghdad morgue has reported that at least 
1,535 Iraqi civilians died violently in the capital in August, a 17 percent drop
from July but still much higher than virtually all other months.

American military officials have disputed the morgue¹s numbers, saying military 
data shows that what they refer to as the murder rate dropped by 52 percent from
July to August. But American officials have acknowledged that that count does 
not include deaths from bombings and rocket or mortar attacks.

American commanders have made securing Baghdad their top priority. They have 
shifted troops to Baghdad to try to contain the sectarian conflict raging in the
capital, which threatens to plunge Iraq into all-out civil war. A security plan 
promoted in June by American officials and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki 
involved setting up traffic checkpoints throughout Baghdad, but failed to quell 
the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, which reached a peak in July.

Last month, the Americans and the Iraqi government began a new tactic, flooding 
troubled neighborhoods with thousands of troops and doing searches block by 
block, then leaving battalions behind to try and win the confidence of 

That offensive began in southern and western Baghdad and is now moving into 
eastern neighborhoods controlled by the Mahdi Army, a powerful militia that 
answers to Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric.

It is unclear whether Baghdad can really be sealed off, given the city¹s 
circumference of about 60 miles. With so much terrain, guerrillas might find 
areas that are unconstrained by the trenches and checkpoints. On the main roads,
traffic could be snarled for miles, especially in the final days of Ramadan, 
when people travel to celebrate with their families.

Studies are still being conducted to determine how traffic patterns will be 
affected. If the outer perimeter proves effective, then perhaps some checkpoints
now being operated inside the city could be taken down, easing the traffic, 
officials said.

President Bush said at a news conference on Friday that the Iraqis were 
³building a berm around the city to make it harder for people to come in with 
explosive devices, for example.² Military officials said the Iraqis had 
considered such a project earlier, but decided to go with trenches instead.

The wide cordon to be erected around the city is critical to the new security 
plan and will be completed within weeks, General Khalaf said. American and Iraqi
officials have long said the capital is easily infiltrated because it abuts 
restive areas such as Anbar Province and the region to the south known as the 
Triangle of Death. Without a ring of security around Baghdad, insurgents and 
militiamen outside could return to areas cleared during sweeps, General Khalaf 

Similar perimeters have been set up around troubled cities that are much smaller
than the capital.

The most prominent example is Falluja, the insurgent stronghold in western Iraq 
that had 300,000 residents before a Marine-led siege in November 2004. Since 
then, the American military and Iraqi security forces have run the city as a 
mini police state, with people who want to enter required to show identification
cards at checkpoints.

The American military built dirt berms with limited entry points around Samarra 
in the north and Rawah in the western desert.

The second-ranking American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, 
stressed in an interview the importance of securing Baghdad. ³I¹ll be perfectly 
clear with you, our main effort right now is Baghdad,² he said. ³It¹s our 

There are few quiet days in the capital.

Seven bodies were found in four different parts of Baghdad on Friday, an 
Interior Ministry official said. An American soldier was killed by a roadside 
bomb south of Baghdad, and another was killed Thursday night by a bomb northwest
of Baghdad, the military said. A soldier was missing after an attack in Baghdad 
on Thursday in which a suicide car bomber killed two soldiers and wounded 30 
others. In Anbar Province, a marine died in combat.

On the political front, a senior Shiite cleric rejected any immediate move to 
create autonomous regions in Iraq, further threatening a proposal by a Shiite 
politician to establish a legal process for partition.

The cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, a fundamentalist Shiite, said that he
believed in ³maintaining the unity of the country² and that autonomous regions 
could not be formed without ³preparing the proper conditions,² according to a 
statement released Thursday by his office in Najaf.

The strong stand against autonomy by Ayatollah Yacoubi further calls into 
question the viability of a proposal for a mechanism to carve up Iraq that Abdul
Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Parliament¹s Shiite bloc, tried to put to the 
Parliament earlier this month. Mr. Hakim has long been a strong proponent of 
creating a nine-province autonomous region in the south that would be ruled by 
religious Shiites and would include the country¹s main oil fields.

He called for Parliament to vote on a proposed mechanism much sooner than 
virtually anyone had expected.

Sunni Arabs generally oppose dividing Iraq because their provinces have little 

The bloc answering to Mr. Sadr, the Shiite cleric, later opposed any immediate 
move toward autonomy. Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim are bitter rivals, both struggling 
for dominance in the new Iraq, and both commanders of powerful militias that 
have skirmished several times since the American invasion.

Ayatollah Yacoubi is close to Mr. Sadr, and their united stand could be enough 
to block any serious consideration of autonomy for now.

Basim Sharif, an official in the ayatollah¹s Fadhila Party, said the ayatollah 
could decide to support the legislation if it included language saying that Iraq
would not break up into autonomous regions anytime soon.

Khalid W. Hassan and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reporting from Baghdad, 
and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Najaf.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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