January 18, 2009 / 11:50 AM / 9 years ago

Iraq checkpoint flowers can't mask fear and danger

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Flowers and paint cannot mask bullet and shrapnel marks in the concrete blast walls of Iraq’s checkpoints, where recruits like 23 year-old Jawad Jaddou face frequent attacks doing one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.

“When I leave the house I tell them not to ask for me ... I won’t get married because I have this job. I can’t leave a woman and children on their own,” Jaddou said.

In addition to bomb attacks, the often young army and police recruits who man the barricades face scorching heat, an irate public and driving standards almost as lethal as the bombs.

Inspirational slogans are painted or sprayed on the concrete to try to reassure the public. “You respect, we respect” reads one. “Nobody is above the law” says another “Together, Iraqis crush the terrorist cowards,” reads one more.

Some blast walls are painted with idyllic images of Iraq, such as palm groves, and many checkpoints are adorned with garlands of plastic flowers to make them look less forbidding. One features flowers planted in old artillery shells.

But reminders of the extreme danger people at checkpoints face are often close by.

Near Jaddou’s post is a picture of a police captain who died at a checkpoint, one of many such posters commemorating the sacrifice of dead security men that are put up close to roadblocks around Iraq.

Many were killed stopping suicide bombers. Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq in the past year, but insurgents have shown they are still able to conduct spectacular bomb attacks.

Last week, a bomb left near a checkpoint a few minutes walk from Jaddou’s killed a guard who had been married for a fortnight.

Soldiers manning another checkpoint were fatalistic.

“You could die in your in wife’s lap ... If I kept thinking I might die, I wouldn’t do anything,” said soldier Abu Ahmed.

PEOPLE FED UP

Much maligned by drivers, who resent the traffic jams caused by Iraq’s rash of checkpoints, the security measure has been credited with contributing to a dramatic fall in violence.

Before they were in place, some of sections of the road from Baghdad to Iraq’s second largest city Basra were no-go zones.

At the height of the sectarian violence that raged in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, insurgents stopped cars, dragged the occupants out of the vehicle and shot them on the side of roads simply for being either Sunni or Shi‘ite.

Now security men and giant grey concrete blast walls that have turned Iraqi streets into canyons, block traffic at regular intervals, sometimes as short as 50 meters.

Many Iraqis allow hours to commute to work. Before the checkpoints, it might have taken just 20 minutes. As a result, some people are fed up.

“I understand why they are here, but they add hours to my day. It’s awful in the summer. And some of these guys are heavy handed -- they just want to show they have power over you,” driver Abu Fahd said as he queued at a checkpoint.

The security men at checkpoints concede their job can make them curt, but a little appreciation can reduce the tension.

“There are people that need to understand that this employee is standing in the street in the cold, in the heat, just to protect them,” said a police captain who declined to be named.

“No matter how tired this employee gets, if you tell him, ‘God help you’ or even ‘Hello’ he forgets all of it.”

Additional reporting by Yasser Faisal; Editing by Louise Ireland and Michael Christie

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