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Living In A Prison
High Security In Anbar Changes Iraqi Civilian Life

Kamal al-Ayash
There are checkpoints, security dogs, armed men and guns everywhere. Locals in Anbar’s biggest cities complain that the fight against extremists is turning their hometowns into one big military barracks.
2.08.2018

Nasser Obaid recently gave up his day job. The 39-year-old from the central Iraqi city of Ramadi used to drive a refrigerated truck, moving chilled food products between Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The province in which he lives – Anbar – has borders with both those countries. But recently he gave that up, parking his truck by the side of his home and opening a small store instead.

Obaid says he no longer has the patience to deal with all the security measures he has to pass through, as he exports or imports goods. The roads around Anbar have turned into military corridors, he complains.

It’s important for people to feel safe and secure without creating a state of intimidation.

“When we used to bring goods into the US military bases here, we’d have to wait one or two hours,” he says. “Now it takes at least ten days to transport goods between all the checkpoints. We need dozens of documents and we have to sleep on the side of the road and drive as slowly as turtles,” he says.

Obaid is just one of many civilians living in the province of Anbar who have complained about the creeping militarization of their hometowns and roads.

There are a number of different military groups who are supposed to be keeping Anbar safe, including army, police, military police and tribal militias, as well as other Shiite Muslim militias. The Sunni-Muslim-majority province was home to extremists from the group known as the Islamic State and it is thought that the group still has bases and sleeper cells in Anbar. So security is obviously a priority.

But now many residents feel as though the number of checkpoints and soldiers are starting to change the mood in the cities and their freedom to live normal lives.

“Intensive security measures provide a sense of protection,” says Tareq Youssef al-Asal, the leader of a local tribal force. “But it should not be at the expense of citizens’ right to live a normal life. And it shouldn’t be the only solution.”

Al-Asal says that the military should use more intelligence work to secure the area. “The security forces need to make the locals feel that they are there to serve them, rather than making them feel as though they live in a prison, where their entry and exit is restricted,” he told NIQASH. “Having security forces in the cities, wearing uniforms and carrying weapons makes the province feel as though it is under continuous threat. It’s important for people to feel safe and secure without creating a state of intimidation and without depriving people of a peaceful civilian life.”

 

Iraqi military on patrol in Anbar.

 

Khalaf Abu Zaid, a 59-year-old resident of a village around 10 kilometres east of Fallujah, says his solution is not to go into town anymore. “All the roads are occupied by the military,” he explains, saying he wishes to avoid the security blockades, sniffer dogs and various devices used for inspection. “Nobody can travel a distance of ten kilometres without having to deal with these. There’s nothing that can convince me to go into town.”

There are members of the different security forces in every city and each checkpoint tends to have representatives of each of the military units working in the area, which makes them huge, sprawling and over-staffed affairs.

The checkpoints also appear to operate according as they wish. They open and close according to schedules set by different groups and under a confusing-to-the-general-public set of rules.

In fact, even some of the men working at the checkpoints find the intense security a little tedious.

“There’s no need for such intensive and complicated procedures,’ says Ahmad, an Iraqi army officer speaking on condition of anonymity. “This province doesn’t need all these complex arrangements. The whole place feels like one big barracks, with so many uniforms and weapons and military vehicles everywhere all the time.”

 Ahmad says that for him it is a positive when he sees soldiers walking down the street, unarmed – it’s something that is happening more and more in Anbar’s cities and it means they are safer. “Then again that’s the same for any member of the military on an army base,” he muses.

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