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Radio Free Iraq: Correspondents' 'Neighborhood Watch'

Baghdad residents have been able to 'breathe easier' in recent weeks
Correspondents on the ground for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq regularly send their assessments of the security situation from the viewpoint of ordinary Iraqis. In mid-June, correspondents and contributors in four hot spots -- Baghdad, Mosul, and the central cities of Ba’quba and Hilla -- reported on the conditions amid an apparent lull in the violence throughout many parts of the country.

Correspondent Sa’ad Kamil in Baghdad:
The citizens of Baghdad have been able to breathe more easily during this past period. There has been a tangible improvement in the security situation and there are positive changes on the security front in most areas, even those that used to be described as hot spots. Coffee shops are open late into the night, and the shopping streets have revived with new movement.

But some recent incidents have had a negative effect on people, and we have seen two days of empty streets and very little shopping activity. Even the shops that were open were preventing vehicles from stopping near them, and those entering and leaving the larger shops and malls were being searched. There is a lack of trust, even with the visible military presence and the security measures, but there seems to be a weakness in the security personnel who are simply using hand signals while giving passing vehicles a cursory glance. This does not prevent those who want to hurt people from choosing their own time and place, like the incident in Al-Hurriyah. The general view of the streets of Baghdad shows one or more security vehicles stationed about 100-200 meters apart, but this does not allay fears among the people.

Correspondent Mohammad al-Katib in Mosul, Nineveh Governorate:
Security operations are continuing, and military activity is still ongoing. There have been some security breaches, such as car bombs and explosive devices, and some assassinations including a local Nineveh TV broadcaster. In spite of all that, life is going on normally; people are shopping on the streets where there is normal traffic movement. Again, this is in spite of the ongoing presence of checkpoints and concrete barricades on the streets.

There is a degree of hope and optimism among the people here that the security operation will succeed and achieve its goals. There is also optimism that life in the city will return to normal, and that the people will resume their normal lives and activities. [Residents'] comments on the security breaches indicate that such breaches are likely to occur anywhere in Iraq, regardless of any security operation.

[Regarding areas outside the full control of Iraqi security:] There is no particular area to single out, because such tensions can be present anywhere, but the Right Bank and some parts of the Left Bank [of the Tigris River] are affected.

Diyala Governor Ibrahim Bajellan in Ba'quba:
Two weeks ago, during a meeting of the Diyala Council, we asked the federal government to carry out a law-enforcement operation that would build on the previous operations. The operations in Baghdad, Mosul, and other parts of Iraq have resulted in some terrorists fleeing to Diyala Governorate, and particularly to the area south of Baladrooz, Hamreen, Sa’adiya, and Jalawla’a, and also to the Imam Weys area. The gangs in these areas are mounting roadblocks and killing innocent people; they kill according to the person’s identity.

[Violence has decreased] particularly in Ba’aquba and Muqdadiya, where we have seen, from time to time, operations by women suicide bombers who have come to Diyala Governorate. To date, 16 suicide women bombers have blown themselves up, leaving behind them a number of martyrs and injured people. There have also been some car bombs and roadside bombs. But their presence here as a base seeking to establish an Islamic state in Diyala has been eliminated. The army and the police in Diyala have obtained substantial evidence of this.

[Regarding attacks on the so-called Awakening movements in Diyala Governorate,] there has been a reduction in the number of kidnappings, particularly within the former hot spots of cities such as Ba’aquba and Muqdadiya. The calm that has spread within the cities would not have been possible without the help of the Awakening councils. The official security forces shared 50 percent of the success with the Awakening councils and with former Al-Qaeda dissidents. There are still widespread areas between Khalis and Ba’aquba and other parts of the governorate which are still being protected by the People’s Committees.

Correspondent Ala’a Razzaq in Hilla, Babil Governorate:

The situation is clearly tending toward stability, especially during the past two months, and this has been widely reflected on the streets of Hilla. During the past days and weeks there has been no record of any terrorist crimes, prompting some officials to point out that the terrorist crime rate has fallen steeply. There have been some crimes aimed at the wealthy and members of the medical profession, and officials are indicating that at least ten gangs responsible for such crimes have been neutralized.

Stability has been apparent in daily life on the streets of Hilla, particularly since the security agencies have relaxed the night-time curfew, and we now see vehicles on the streets through the late night hours. People are also showing their sense of security by stepping out to do their shopping, as evidenced particularly on certain streets within the governorate, where the music shops and the shops housing the bands that play at weddings are operating openly and using loudspeakers to advertise themselves. Celebrations after the national football team’s wins have recently filled the streets with thousands of celebrating fans, something which was not seen prior to the implementation of the governorate's security plan. [Previously] when the Iraqi team won the Asian Nations Cup, and when young people took to the streets to celebrate, many of them were beaten by members of some of the extremist factions. There has also been an increase in the number of security personnel on the streets who have been provided with large numbers of specialized security vehicles. The security situation thus appears to be stable.

[Regarding the notoriously dangerous Baghdad-Hilla highway:] In the past, we have recorded a large number of incidents on this stretch of highway, which has been dealt with in an organized way. Citizens took over the positions that were considered terrorist hideouts, and a number of operations were carried out to root out the bases that housed the armed gangs. Fixed and mobile patrols were also used to secure the area completely. The area is now witnessing a reconstruction effort as a result of the governorate's decision to allocate one-third of its budget to the former "Death Triangle" [in Babil Governorate.]